A small shrub from Madagascar, Gagnebina commersoniana was named in honour of the 18th century French naturalist J.-P. Commerson.
A member of the pea and bean family (Leguminosae/Fabaceae), Gagnebina commersoniana is native to Madagascar. It was named in honour of the French naturalist Joseph-Philibert Commerson who was in Madagascar in 1771. He once wrote: ‘Madagascar is truly the naturalist’s promised land. Here nature seems to have withdrawn into a private sanctuary in order to work on designs which are different from those she has created elsewhere’.
The generic name Gagnebina honours Swiss physician and botanist Abraham Gagnebin de la Ferrière (1707–1800). The genus Gagnebina only occurs in the Indian Ocean region (from Aldabra to Reunion).
Geography & Distribution
Flowers and fruits of Gagnebina commersoniana (Image: Gwilym Lewis)
Gagnebina commersoniana is native to Madagascar, where it occurs in Antsiranana, Fianarantsoa, Mahajanga and Toliara provinces.
It grows in thickets, secondary vegetation, shrubby savannah and dry woodlands and on limestone, sand, gneiss or lateritic soils.
There is also a variety, Gagnebina commersoniana var. aldabrensis, on the island of Aldabra.
Herbarium specimen of Gagnebina commersoniana
Overview: Small shrub up to 3 m tall. Leaves are bipinnate (divided into pinnae that are themselves divided again into leaftets).
Flowers: Flowers are borne in distinct clusters. Lower flowers are sterile, with white or pale pink staminodes (sterile male organs that do not bear pollen). Pale yellow upper flowers are bisexual. However, the inflorescences are pendent so the sterile, showy staminodal flowers are displayed uppermost.
Fruits and seeds: Pods (fruits) are narrowly oblong to oblong (elongated with parallel sides). Seeds are olive-brown, 3.0×1.5 mm, with a central, open pleurogram (a u-shaped line on both lateral faces of the seed).
Threats & Conservation
Gagnebina commersoniana is widespread and common in Madagascar. No major threats are known, and populations are believed to be stable at present. Gagnebina commersoniana seeds are stored in the Millennium Seed Bank as an ex situ conservation measure.
Conservation assessments carried out by Kew
Gagnebina commersoniana is being monitored as part of the IUCN Sampled Red List Index for Plants project, which aims to produce conservation assessments for a representative sample of the world’s plant species. This information will then be used to monitor trends in extinction risk and help focus conservation efforts where they are needed most.
Gagnebina commersoniana is used in the production of paper in Madagascar.
Millennium Seed Bank: Seed storage
The Millennium Seed Bank Partnership aims to save plant life worldwide, focusing on plants under threat and those of most use in the future. Seeds are dried, packaged and stored at a sub-zero temperature in our seed bank vault.
See Kew’s Seed Information Database for further information on Gagnebina commersoniana seeds.
This species at Kew
Gagnebina commersoniana is grown in Kew’s behind-the-scenes Tropical Nursery.
Pressed and dried specimens of Gagnebina commersoniana are held in Kew’s Herbarium, where they are available to researchers from around the world, by appointment. The details of some of these, including images, can be seen online in Kew’s Herbarium Catalogue.
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