Evolution and Systematics of Puelia and Guaduella
An in-depth knowledge of the morphological and molecular traits of these two unusual genera can lead to a greater understanding of grass spikelet evolution.
Puelia olyriformis is a rare and enigmatic plant of the forest floor in the West Afrcian jungle. Puelia may hold the key to understanding the evolution of the grass spikelet. Copyright M. Vorontsova
Ancestors of the modern grasses probably evolved in tropical rainforest understorey. Puelia and Guaduella are a small and poorly known West African group of "herbaceous bamboos", ca. 15 species of wet forest perennials with rhizomes and broad leaves. Their importance was not realised until ten years ago when molecular phylogenetics research demonstrated that Puelioideae are not directly related to bamboos but constitute one of the early diverging grass lineages. The evolutionary history of grasses is understood better than that of many other taxonomic groups, but a significant problem remains with phylogenetic reconstruction of deep nodes.
Out of the three early-diverging grass groups (Anomochlooideae, Pharoideae, and Puelioideae), Puelioideae are the sister group to all other grasses. Studying Puelioideae will advance our understanding of grass evolution, what the early grasses were like, and how the basic morphological characters of grasses developed. This project is working towards a better understanding of the evolutionary history of this group using molecular phylogenetic approaches and morphology based taxonomic work.