Monopyle paniculata


Monopyle paniculata was discovered by Richard Spruce 150 years ago, and was thought to be known only from his original collection. Recently my friend, gesneriad expert John Clark, and I unravelled some of the confusion surrounding this species.


   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 and Gloxinias).

    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 confusion.

    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.