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Passiflora quimbayensis, a new species discovered on the pre-Columbian footprints

Although its territory has been invaded by urbanization processes and expansion of the agricultural frontier, Passiflora quimbayensis Ocampo & Forero still thrives near roads, pathways, and fences and resists disappearing.

Passiflora Quimbayensis belongs to the passion flower family and is akin to the granadilla, the banana passion fruit, and the gulupa, among others. It thrives in secondary and tertiary forests between 1,000 and 1,250m (39,370 - 49,212ft) above sea level and in areas with an annual rainfall of 1,800mm (70.8in) and an average temperature of 21° C (69.8° F).

Thispassiflorastands out for its natural beauty and could have a market niche as an ornamental plant. The flower has white petals in its frontal face and purple in the back. The plant is always green and constantly produces flowers which open at first light and close at night.

Furthermore, it has a white crown in its sepals and a 2.54in fruit, which is not edible for human beings but good for birds, as described by Universidad Nacional de Colombia (UNal) in Palmira Professor John Ocampo and Luis Eduardo Forero Pinto, Curator of the José Cuatrecasas y Arumí Herbarium, who discovered the species.

The researchers dubbed their discovery in reference to the specific distribution in the Colombian provinces of Caldas, Quindío, Risaralda and north of Valle del Cauca and saying, “We wanted to pay homage to the Quimbaya indigenous community, for its important sculpture legacy and tradition, the best goldsmiths of America,” said Dr. Ocampo.

Just like the Quimbayas that lived in the territory for more than two thousand years and battled against colonization for almost a century, the plant has struggled to protect itself with mechanisms such as eyespots on their leaves which confuse butterflies and avoid them from laying their eggs so larvae do not eat the plant.

Need to preserve

“Lack of knowledge and appraisement is a great threat for biodiversity. This is why it is important for people to be cognizant of this species and to know it is exclusive of our territory and maintain them in their gardens, helping its preservation, as it is in the brink of extinction, although it has battled intervention, deforestation, and exclusion from its natural habitat,” said Ocampo.

Besides its ornamental use, another way of benefiting from this plant is to use its compounds for the pharmaceutical industry as its fruits, roots, and leaves contain passiflorine, a natural tranquilizer used for the production of sedatives. This is one alternative it can offer. At UNal-Palmira they are striving to preserve this plant by in vitro propagation and seed preservation.

According to the UNal Natural Sciences Institute, Colombia has 26,000 species of flowering plants, being the second country in this category, only after Brazil. The Colombian Administrative Department for Science Technology and Innovation (Colciencias, for its Spanish acronym) says this is thanks to 53% of the continental surface is covered by natural jungles, three Andean cordilleras and 311 ecosystem types.

Remote cousins

After researching these types of plants, the researchers observed that the features of Passiflora quimbayensis are not related to other passiflora´s of the region and are more similar to other plants not found in this territory.

According to Professor Ocampo, Passiflora quimbayensis is very similar to Passiflora magdalenae which could have been the same species before the emergence of the central Andean Cordillera, an event which possibly separated populations, yielding a speciation process. “Passiflora quimbayensis is different as it has hair on the ovary, the lobes of the leaves are less pronounced and the seeds are different, among other features,” added Ocampo.

From these observations, the researchers started taking DNA samples and after analyzing the molecular markers they concluded that the plant was a new unrecorded species. During this stage of the research, they had the support of University of Missouri Professor John MacDougal, a specialist in passiflora plants.

Last year, Ocampo participated in discovering another plant species in Colombia: Passiflora gustaviana. This species was discovered in the province of Cundinamarca and is also a threatened species. Loss of biodiversity for this type of species also supposes unbalances in the ecosystems in face of possible impacts on butterflies, birds, and insects which require their nectar to feed.   

“It is essential to combine forces in the study of new species in face of temporary happenings such as the lessening of guerilla warfare, which open new territories for exploration. The potential of the biodiversity of the country is still waiting to be discovered, inclusively in the least unexpected locations, where fauna and flora resist the passing of time, lack of knowledge and the intervention of human beings”, concluded Ocampo.

 

The scientific article documenting this discovery was published in Systematic Botany and may be seen in this link.

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