Previously considered extinct, the bromeliad Alcantarea hatschbachii has recently been re-discovered in the Brazilian highlands.
About this species
Alcantarea hatschbachii is a handsome green-flowered member of the Bromeliaceae (pineapple family). It was first described in 1975 as Vriesea hatschbachii from a specimen found in the highlands near Gouveia in Minas Gerais, the state with the largest plant diversity in Brazil. Collected by Gert Hatschbach, it was named after him by Lyman B. Smith and Robert Read. Although botanists and amateurs tried to discover more about this species over the succeeding years, it was believed to be extinct until very recently.
However, during a field survey in 2009, this curious bromeliad was finally found again growing amongst rocks beside a stream. Rafaela Forzza, a Brazilian specialist in the Bromeliaceae, was told of this exciting discovery and confirmed that this find represented a second location for the, until then, lost species. The point of collection was recorded using GPS (global positioning system), and plans are now underway to revisit the site to collect living plants for study and conservation in the Botanic Gardens of the Fundação Zoobotânica in Belo Horizonte.
The most recent phylogenetic work available (published by Michael Barfuss et al. in 2005), presents two possible approaches regarding Alcantarea and Vriesea. The convention accepted here (following Rafaela Forzza et al., 2010) involves the subdivision of the large genus Vriesea into 3 genera: Vriesea, Alcantarea and Werauhia. However, the World Checklist of Selected Plant Families project supports the use of Vriesea without subdivisions.
Geography & Distribution
Known from only two locations in the Cadeia do Espinhaço in Minas Gerais, it was originally described from Gouveia, an area affected by frequent, fierce fires, but has now also been found in Santana de Pirapama.
Detail of the top of the inflorescence of A. hatschbachii (Image: W. Milliken)
Alcantarea hatschbachii grows in rosettes, with long, strap-shaped, pale green, leaves. The leaves are over 80 cm long and about 5 cm wide. The pale green inflorescences are borne on stalks up to 1.2 m long, and have boat-shaped greenish-cream bracts packed towards the end of the stalks, enclosing groups of flowers that, when open, all face to one side. The flowers have three yellowish sepals and three cream petals, all of which are erect. The anthers are white, and are exposed above the petals.
The inflorescence bracts are filled with a mucilaginous substance that protects the flower-buds against desiccation in the arid climate. It is thought that pollination is carried out by bats, and that the resulting small seeds are wind-dispersed.
Threats & Conservation
After its discovery in 1975, no specimens were found for more than 30 years and it was believed to be extinct, until its recent rediscovery. This rare species is known from only two localities.
The discovery of this species
A team of botanists pressing plants at the furthest point of fieldwork visited during the Toucan Cipó project, October 2009 (Image: W. Milliken)
Alcantarea hatschbachii was discovered at the furthest point of a strenuous 10 km hike over mountains, whilst mapping and describing vegetation types in the municipality of Santana do Pirapama for conservation management purposes. This fieldwork was part of Kew's ongoing Toucan Cipó project, during which many other new species of plants were discovered, for example the bromeliads Encholirium ctenophyllum and Encholirium agavoides.
The Tropical America team at Kew focuses on conservation surveys in interesting and biodiverse areas of Brazil and other South American countries, providing data to improve the management of protected areas.
Keep up to date with events and news from Kew
This species belongs to...
The clock vine can reach up to 10 metres in length with hanging stems of stunning yellow and reddish-brown flowers.
- newly discovered
- around the world
- of use
- ground breaking
- garden plants
- english garden
Plants & Fungi blogs from Kew
25 Jan 2013
He may be a Seed Morphologist but Wolfgang Stuppy of Kew's Millennium Seed Bank discovers there is more to the snake gourd than just some strange fruit and eccentric seeds.