Missouri researcher’s genus discovery is ‘once in a lifetime experience’

Saturday, October 16, 2010

WASHINGTON - A new genus named Hondurodendron, which means “tree of Honduras”, has been discovered by a Missouri botanical garden researcher.

Dr. Carmen Ulloa, associate curator at the Missouri Botanical Garden, and co-authors Dr. Daniel L. Nickrent, Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, Dr. Caroline Whitefoord, The Natural History Museum in London, and Dr. Daniel L. Kelly, Trinity College in Dublin, describe the genus as a tree about 40-feet-tall, with minute male and female flowers less than 2 mm (1/8 inch) wide, borne respectively on separate plants.

The fruit measures 2 cm (1 inch) across; it is tightly wrapped by the calyx, which enlarges greatly as the fruit matures and eventually may even project beyond as a flared limb.

The fruit of Hondurodendron is known by local people as “guayaba” because of its superficial resemblance to guava, Psidium guajava. However, the fruit is not succulent, but functionally a nut, eaten by small mammals.

“Although many botanists describe numerous species as part of our scientific work, to describe a new genus is perhaps a once in a lifetime experience,” said Ulloa.

“This mysterious tree was brought to my attention in May of 2007 and involved morphological and molecular work from four researchers from four institutions in three countries to solve and finally show that this was not only a species new to science, but also a new genus of the family Aptandraceae,” Ulloa added.

When the specimens were first discovered, Ulloa and her team compared the plant to the country’s checklist and the new Catalogo de las Plantas Vasculares de Honduras (the Catalogue of Vascular Plants of Honduras), but did not find a match nor could assign it to any previously known Central American plant genus or family.

A molecular analysis based on four genes ultimately made it possible to detect its relationships accurately and the authors placed the genus in the family Aptandraceae. (ANI)

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