Ruellia californica


Despite the epithet, this plant doesn’t actually occur natively in California. Well, at least not the US version of California. This is a Mexican endemic, a Baja specialty, and a phylogenetic nightmare (unstable… perhaps of hybrid origin). Difficult on the inside, beautiful on the outside. Sink it in your yard for sure.

Not vouchered, cultivated in Lucinda’s back yard, originally from Mexico; Photo by Erin Tripp

Ruellia bulbifera

So very cool that John shared photos of this species with me…. prior to his having done so, I had only known this plant from herbarium specimens. But: an interesting species it is! Ruellia bulbifera is part of the “Ebracteolati Clade” sensu Tripp (2007, Systematic Botany). In that clade, it is member to a strongly supported clade of other species that inhabit savannas, cerrados, or other areas subject to fire; these species often produce thickened lignotubers, from which plants re-grow following fire episodes.

Interestingly, this clade is geographically rich: some species are southern South American (such as R. bulbifera, R. beyrichiana, R. eriocalyx, R. hapalotricha, and R. magniflora), and others are Mexican / Central American (R. donnell-smithii). One, R. geminiflora, is widespread.

Wild collected, Bolivia, Darwin Initiative Project 16-004; Photo by John Wood

Ruellia brevifolia

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

A common species of a large chunk of tropical South America. Widespread. Emblematic of the pedunculate species in the “Physiruellia” clade. In the second photo, note the woody capsule (fruit) with modified funiculi (hooks) that aid in seed dispersal when the fruit explodes, as all Acanths in the proper sense do.

(1) Not vouchered, seen in wild in Bolivia; Photo by Alexander Schmidt-Lebuhn

(2) Not vouchered, cultivated (DUKE greenhouses); Photo by Erin Tripp

Ruellia breedlovei

Ruellia breedlovei was named in honor of Dennis Breedlove (by our colleague Tom Daniel) for his many thousands of contributions to understanding the Mexican flora. Dennis was one of the great collectors of the botany of Mexico and worked long hours to understand, in particular, the flora of the highlands of Chiapas.

After years (now decades–I’m getting old) of international fieldwork to remote corners on various continents, Mexico remains one of my favorite places on this great planet: to be sure, among the most fascinating biologically, geologically, and culturally. Friendly people, foods, salsas, and native plants: life rarely improves and minimally achieves a more sophisticated state.

If you are an American and haven’t been to Mexico: DON’T WASTE ANOTHER MOMENT–RUN, DON’T WALK. (And, while in Chiapas, be sure to check out the market in San Cristóbal (probably the coolest culinary experience of my life) followed by Cascadas de Agua Azul (don’t miss Ruellia maya and Ruellia jussieuoides at the latter, both of which grow along the margins of these spectacular cascades).

Update (Jan 2016): Manuel, Amanda, and I were so fortunate to find Ruellia breedlovei in the field, in its native habitat. It is hot, in more ways than one. I am really fond of this species.

Wild collected, Mexico, Erin Tripp #5753 w/ Manuel Luján, Amanda Fisher (COLO); Photos by Manuel Luján

Ruellia brandbergensis

You ready for this?

Who said single-mountain endemics can only be found in the hyperdiverse wet tropics or in those wickedly endemic floras of New Caledonia, Madagascar, or the Tepui Highlands (yes, I’m talking about you, Maguireanthus ayangannae…)?

Here is an excellent example of such from Brandberg Mountain – the highest point in Namibia and a massive massif (if you will) of survival of the fittest in full swing. That place is scorching hot and gnarly dry. And Ruellia brandbergensis grows nowhere else on Earth except for in a couple of localities along its slopes. I have searched for it – twice now actually – with no luck. So you’ll have to deliberate its evolution using only a photograph of the type specimen…..

Not my photograph, not my collection, will I ever see it in the field? Sigh….

Ruellia brachysiphon

This morning, John successfully sent me images of several species of Ruellia that admittedly I don’t know enough about.

Cecilia (Ezcurra) says a thing or two about this one in her 1993 (MoBot) publication, a halation that was rather bible-like to me in grad school (if she had a dollar for every time I referenced it….). The epithet has been around for a long time. It is apparently somewhat widely distributed, which seems to always equate to ‘problem child.’

Including two photos of this one. John certainly knows more about it than I. Many thanks to him for graciously sharing his images.

Update (Sep 2016): We encountered two populations of this species while traveling through the eastern part of Bolivia from where it is known (as well as parts of Brazil and Paraguay). Each were observed at roadside in secondary forest of mixed wet forest/savanna. The individuals we collected were rather leggy herbs up to 1.5 meters.

Wild Collected, Bolivia, Erin Tripp #6008 & 6011 w/ Manuel Luján and Dina Clark; Photo by Manuel Luján; Blog post by Dina Clark

Ruellia bourgaei

I just love this species SO much. (I also love those tiny portable rulers that Carrie takes with her everywhere). Ruellia bourgaei is most certainly is among my top 5 favorites in the genus. WHOMPING bat-pollinated flowers…. probably the biggest in the genus. This species also produces the biggest fruits yet known in Ruellia. They are humongous – over 5 cm in length.

In the photo to the right, check out the filament curtain. This structure, which is unique to Ruellieae (see Tripp et al. 2013, International Journal of Plant Sciences), is a partition formed by the fusion of filament pairs and their adnation to the corolla wall. Who knows its function (but see Manktelow 2000 for some excellent hypotheses)… maybe in preventing nectar evaporation, maybe for overall floral stabilization, maybe in some other pollination-related function, or maybe nothing at all.

Ruellia bourgaei is endemic to Mexico, with most extant populations occupying the Sierra Madre del Sur. Part of the “Chiropterophila” or “bat loving” clade. Flowers at night, naturally. And, naturally, another plant named after a dead white guy – sigh.

Wild collected, Mexico, Tripp & Kiel #428 (RSA-POM); Photo by Erin Tripp

Ruellia boranica


Look at this one! Highly distinctive by it’s large, paired, leaf-life bracts, which otherwise is a feature best known in the genus Petalidium. This beautiful plant was seen inhabiting some killer hot landscapes of southeastern Ethiopia, several stones throw from the Somalia border. A few more degrees and I might have melted.

Ruellia boranica was described by our good friend and colleague Ensermu Kelbessa – a serious scholar of the Ethiopian flora, student of Acanthaceae, and a pretty fun guy to travel with.

Wild collected, Ethiopia, Tripp & Ensermu #903 (RSA-POM); Photo by Erin Tripp

Ruellia blechum


A common weed of Latin America (also naturalized elsewhere in the world) that you’ve almost certainly stepped on. Formerly of the genus Blechum L., which we offed….(see Tripp et al. 2009 ,Taxon). Note the characteristic four sided inflorescences (recapitulating the decussate pattern of vegetative development). The fruits dehisce in an interesting manner…. fracturing placentae, as we have termed it. Pick one up and check it out next time you’re dodging cow patties and walking on weeds.

Wild collected, Mexico, Tripp & Dexter #163 (DUKE); Photo by Erin Tripp

Ruellia biolleyi


A highly distinctive Central American specialty. Loves wet forests, and high-quality ones at that. Most flowers of this species are pale purple or pink and white, but there are greenish-yellow morphs near the Atlantic coast in Costa Rica.

Has fleshy leaves. Sort of makes me want to eat it.

Wild collected, Costa Rica, Tripp & McDade #134 (DUKE); Photo by Erin Tripp