Ruellia capitata

Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,

Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before….

This is the stuff dreams are made of. The last 24 hrs in Brazil were some of my best on this planet. Nico and I had been driving like maniacs. We had one week remaining and so we punched it out to Mato Grosso to catch the edge of Amazonian botany. Returned via Tocantins and northern Goiás (one long, scary, risky day that we barely survived… but did; ask us in person). We drove late into the night to arrive at the town of Niquelandia, in hopes of searching for Ruellia capitata in the earliest of morning hours prior to driving to Brasilia to catch our afternoon flights.

And that we did – without a moment to waste, we rose at 5am, located the population, and studied hummingbird pollination of its flowers, all before the sun rose.

Ruellia capitata is a highly restricted-endemic species of Niquelandia and immediate surroundings. It is known from fewer than 10 collections, all of them within an area that is probably less than 10 square miles. How is this even possible? In this case, I do not think collector bias is to blame (i.e., the restricted-endemic nature of Ruellia capitata is almost certainly real). One possibility is neoendemism. With each field trip I take, I learn something new and important about how Ruellia species so love metal and cation-rich substrates. I think there is a lot more going on with edaphic specialization in this genus that I previously gave credit to. Another hypothesis to test.

Ruellia capitata is a remarkable species – I do not yet know what it is related to but whatever the sister species, she is a lucky one. One final comment – Ruellia capitata produces the most interesting floral color. Nearly red as in pelargonidin red, but not quite – there is a tinge of something else happening… burgundy-esque. I can’t wait to ask the HPLC for an answer.

Wild collected, Brazil, Erin Tripp #5968 w/ Nico Medina (COLO); Photos by Erin Tripp

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