Jean-Claude Mouandza Mbembo of the Wildlife Conservation Society, Gabon, holding a fruit of Berlinia razzifera collected during a fieldtrip to Gabon in 2005.
Berlinia razzifera Mackinder & Wieringa
Vulnerable (VU) according to IUCN Red List criteria.
Riverine lowland rainforest.
About this species
The first known collection of Berlinia razzifera was made in April 2004 by Jean-Claude Mouandza Mbembo in Gabon. That first specimen was subsequently recognised as a species new to science by Kew botanist Barbara Mackinder.
The Latin word razzifera means ‘bearing rockets’ and refers to the plant’s erect inflorescences (flowering stems), which resemble a rocket-like firework. The glowing embers of the rocket are called to mind by the persistent, hanging, reddish-brown bracts, above which extends a long, straight axis of showy, white flowers.
Geography and distribution
Berlinia razzifera is native to the Loango National Park, on the west coast of Gabon, in west-central Africa.
Overview: A small to medium-sized forest tree up to about 20 m tall, Berlinia razzifera has a trunk about 50 cm in diameter.
Flowers: The showy, large white flowers are arranged along long terminal axes. One petal is markedly longer and wider than the other four. Unusually for this genus, the bracts (another floral structure) below the flower persist even after the petals have matured and fallen.
Fruits: The pods (fruits) are huge, oblong and flat, measure up to 40 cm long by 13 cm wide and contain 1–4 seeds. When mature, the pod releases its seeds by opening rapidly with a force thought to expel the seeds up to 50 m away, although the ejected seeds have never been collected.
Threats and conservation
Berlinia razzifera is known from only eight individuals from three nearby localities, all at similar latitudes in the Loango National Park, Gabon.
First collection of this species
The first known collection of Berlinia razzifera, comprising foliage and flowers, was recognised as a species new to science by Kew botanist Barbara Mackinder.
Jean-Claude Mouandza Mbembo returned to the field with colleagues from the National Herbarium of Gabon (HNG) and the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE) in 2005 to search for more trees of this new species and in particular to find, if possible, their fruits. The team was successful in finding both trees and fruits.
This species at Kew
Pressed and dried specimens of Berlinia razzifera are held in Kew’s Herbarium where they are available to researchers by appointment.
Symbiotic relationships with fungi
Berlinia razzifera is known to form symbiotic relationships (in which both partners benefit) in the wild with several species of ectomycorrhizal fungi, such as Lactarius chromospermus, Lactifluus gymnocarpoides and Russula meleagris.
Ectomycorrhizal fungi develop their symbiotic relationships with plants (often trees) by forming a sheath around the root tips that allows the fungus to absorb organic compounds from the plant whilst taking up water and nutrients for the host plant.
Many other tropical African trees from the pea and bean family (Leguminosae) or Fabaceae sensu APG III (2009), such as Isoberlinia doka and Gilbertiodendron dewevrei, are also thought to form ectomycorrhizal relationships with fungi.
Angiosperm Phylogeny Group. An update of the Angiosperm Phylogeny Group classification for the orders and families of flowering plants: APG III. Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society 161: 105-121.
Lewis, G., Schrire, B., Mackinder, B. & Lock, M. (eds.) (2005). Legumes of the World. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
Mackinder, B. & Wieringa, J. J. (2007). Novitates Gabonenses 58: Two new species of Berlinia (Leguminosae – Caesalpinioideae: Detarieae). Kew Bulletin 62: 159-164.
Mackinder, B. A. & Pennington, R. T. (2011). Systematic Botany Monographs Volume 91: Monograph of Berlinia (Leguminosae). The American Society of Plant Taxonomists.
Kew Science Editor: Barbara Mackinder
Copyediting: Emma Tredwell
Kew would like to thank the following contributors: David Harris (Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh); Jan J. Wieringa (Wageningen University Branch, National Herbarium of the Netherlands).
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