OOOH LAAH! A Heartthrob Eastern Time! I have been dreaming wistfully of this species for years. I was sure it was extinct. I was sure nobody in the world would ever see it again in the cellulose, including me. I was wrong. Known from < 5 total collections throughout history, it is with great happiness and relief to report that Ruellia longifilamentosa is in fact extant in the wild as of January 2015. Its rarity is presumably in part related to its habitat requirements: high quality, intact, wet, native forest at mid elevations, which are increasingly threatened (or already demolished) throughout the Neotropics. This habitat need applies to most other bat-pollinated (or please at least allow me to say: bat-adapted) Ruellia. As such, protecting these mid-montane mesic ecosystems will be vital to long-term preservation of an entire pollination syndrome of plants in this lineage. This population was collected in Cundinamarca, near Finca La Concepcíon along the banks of the Río Guane. The length of the exserted stamens (that surpasses the total length of the corolla) is enough to make you, too, dream wistfully.
Ruellia longifilamentosa is a small tree to 3m. Bat pollination in Ruellia seems to be correlated with this treelet growth form (as well as production of flowers in long, terminal panicles). It is in fact the case based on a formal analysis that I conducted waaaaaaay back in graduate school, but never published. Oh well – so much to do, so little time. In any event, this correlate must have something to do with getting ones flowers up off the ground and in a more aerial position for bat visitation. Says me. Ruellia longifilamentosa is sister to R. humboldtiana (red, bird), both of which are part of the Ruellia tubiflora (white, big bee) clade. That’s a lot of floral diversity over a small phylogenetic distance, if that’s the sort of thing that turns you on….
Wild collected, Colombia, Godden et al. #268 (COLO) and Tripp et al. #5262 (COLO); Photo by Grant Godden