Richard Spruce is one of the most heroic
characters of South American botany. He was a Scotsman
who came to Brazil in the 1850s to study plants, especially
his favorites, the mosses and liverworts. He travelled from
Brazil all the way across the Amazon Basin, and then climbed
the Andes via my study area, the Pastaza Watershed. He lived
in my town, Baños, for a short time, and while he was
here he discovered many of the endemic plants of the Watershed,
including several treated in this book. To reach Baños
he had to pass over Cerro Abitagua, whose eastern flanks form
part of my Zone A. Here he discovered the beautiful Monopyle
paniculata, a gesneriad. ( Gesneriaceae is the family
that includes such well-known plants as the African Voilets
For some reason, later botanists who visited
the area found this same species and mistook it for a common
west Andean species, Monopyle sodiroana. The flowers
are very similar but the plant habit is quite different. It
seemed strange to me that there should be one isolated population
of a western species here on the eastern slope, and I was
eager to show it to my gesneriad expert friend, John Clark.
He visited me in May 2003 and I took him to see this plant.
As soon as he saw it, he realized it could not be Monopyle
sodiroana, because this species had its flowers in terminal
branching panicles while M. sodiroana had lateral
inflorescences. While we were out in the forest we could not
remember the Latin name of Spruce's Monopyle, but
as soon as I got home I looked it up and saw that it was a
perfect description of the plant we had seen. That night I
met John for dinner. He still couldn't remember the Latin
name of Spruce's Monopyle, so I asked him to dream
up the most descriptive Latin name he could think of for the
Monopyle we had seen. He thought for a second, then
said it ought to be named M. paniculata, after the
paniculate inflorescences that distinguish it from M.
sodiroana. I smiled inside and told him that was exactly
what Spruce's Monopyle was named....we had accidentally
solved the mystery of Spruce's lost Monopyle.
Incidentally, there is another
Monopyle species that, like M. paniculata,
is supposedly found only in my Zone A and nowhere else in
the world. It is called M. stenoloba. John and I
suspect that this too is just another name for Spruce's Monopyle.
John will do some herbarium research to straighten out the
Monopyle paniculata is listed
as Critically Endangered by the IUCN, but this listing was
based on the apparent absence of recent collections. Now that
we know it had been collected under the name M. sodiroana,
this listing should be downgraded. It is relatively frequent
in Zone A.
Another of Spruce's Cerro
Abitagua gesneriad discoveries is Cremosperma auriculata.
I have not found this yet, but I soon will make a special
search for it.