Ruellia cearensis

I was totally ecstatic when Alexander Popovkin sent me a photo of some indet Ruellia from Bahia, Brazil. I had only ever seen dried up, squished specimens of this thing in herbaria, yet even in that state the species is so very distinctive. I knew it right away – the photos were a solid match for Ruellia cearensis! This species belongs to an intriguing clade that contains purple, red, and magenta-flowered species and one I have long wanted to target for anthocyanin research. Species in this group also have a noteworthy geographic distribution…either Brazilian or Central American/Mexican, bypassing much of the rest of the Neotropics.

Thanks to AP for enlightening me with photos of this most amazing plant.

Update (Aug 2016): We finally made it to Brazil for a field trip, and part of the fun was traveling up to Entre Rios in northern Bahia and meeting Alexander in person–wild man, after my own heart. Great botanist. He agreed to take us on a fieldtrip in attempt to find Ruellia cearensis. Found it!! But sterile. Nonetheless – finally got to see this species in its native habitat (a special place on Earth) and soon I hope to see it thriving and flowering in the greenhouse. Super nice to meet Alexander, too…

Wild collected, Brazil, Popovkin #374 (HUEFS); Photo by Alexander Popovkin

Wild collected, Brazil, Erin Tripp #5902, w/ Nico Medina, Cíntia Kameyama, Alexander Popovkin (COLO)

Ruellia carnea

Ruellia_carnea_portion of holotype at Kew

What you get is what you get… in this case, not even an image of the species, but merely an image of the holotype of the species, which will have to do (and not even the ENTIRE holotype at that! …. not my fault… I have asked JSTOR Plants to make it easier for paying users such as myself to download high rez images of complete specimens…but so far I am told “it is not possible”).

In any case, consider yourself lucky to have even come this far. Ruellia carnea is a magnificent species that is one of many Acanthaceae that are endemic to the small Yemenese island of Socotra. Based on its stellate trichomes that paint the young leaves white, Ruellia carnea seems clearly allied to Ruellia nocturna and Ruellia discifolia, both of which are white-flowered, and night blooming compared to this red-flowered and day-blooming species. Other species in this phylogenetic neighborhood have similarly shaped and vestitured leaves, such as Ruellia bignoniiflora.

If you have plans to travel to Socotra anytime in the next 50 years, please: TAKE ME WITH YOU.

Photograph of the holotype, G. Schweinfurth 714, Kew.

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

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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