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Project Name Data (Last Modified On 12/18/2012)
 

Flora Data (Last Modified On 12/18/2012)
Family LECYTHIDACEAE
Description Trees, usually massive and tall. Leaves alternate, exstipulate, simple, pinnately veined, entire or somewhat incised, usually large and clustered toward the tips of the branches. Inflorescence variously racemose or paniculate, usually few-flowered, terminal or lateral, occasionally cauliflorous. Flowers perigynous to epigynous, perfect, regular or zygomorphic, usually large and showy; perianth dichlamydeous but the calyx frequently reduced to inconspicuous teeth or a low rim, the petals 4-12, rather fleshy; stamens numerous and in several centripetally decreasing series, the filaments frequently more or less fleshy and petalaceous, united at the base into a common androphore which may be radially symmetrical and wholly fertile or strongly zygomorphic with a very prominent posterior, usually staminodial hood involute over the low disc of the anterior fertile stamens, the anthers basifixed, dehiscing longitudinally or rarely by terminal pores; pistil 2- to 6-carpellate, the ovary inferior or subinferior, 2- to 6-celled, with 2 to numerous anatropous ovules borne apically, laterally, or basally upon the axile placenta, the style usually very short, the stigma radiate to capitate. Fruit very rarely a large I-seeded berry with thin subcoriaceous flesh, but usually a large woody or fibrous pyx, indehiscent or dehiscent by a circumscissile operculum; seeds characteristically large and massive, rarely compressed and samaroid, sometimes accompanied by a more or less arillate funicle and fetid pulp derived from the placenta and endocarp, exalbuminous, the embryo differentiated or undifferentiated.
Note The Lecythidaceae (sensu stricto) are wholly American in distribution and are particularly abundant in the Amazonian rain forest or hylaea, extending northward in sharply decreasing numbers as far as British Honduras. Fifteen genera are recognized by Knuth in his treatment of the family for Engler's 'Das Pflanzenreich (4219a: 1-46. 1939).' The trees include some of the tallest and most massive of the forest and consequently are poorly collected. In Panama they occur mostly as incidental specimens rather than in aggregated stands or groves. Although the flowers are most attractive and curious, the thick-walled fruits are even more striking, particularly those of Lecythis, Eschweilera, and Couratari, which resemble nothing so much as crude earthenware pots. The characteristically large hard-shelled seeds represent the family the world over in the Brazil-nut of commerce (Bertholletia excelsa HBK.). As with several other intricate families of plants, the name of Lecythidaceae is inseparably associated with that of John Miers, who as an English mining engineer spent eighteen of his early years in Chile, Argentina and Brazil. During his resi- dence in South America, quite without the benefit of special training in the subject, without libraries or herbaria, botany became for Miers an avocation quite as absorbing and exacting as his profession of mineralogy and metallurgy, and he pro- ceeded to accumulate an incredible mass of original notes and sketches of various critical plant families to the elaboration and publication of which he devoted the remainder of his life in England until his death in 1879 at the age of ninety-one years. Thirty-six years after his return to Britain and at the age of eighty-five, Miers published his memoir 'On the Lecythidaceae' (in Trans. Linn. Soc. 302: 157-318. 1874) which is the embodiment of his voluminous personal information discovered in the field in South America and supplemented by subsequent studies in the libraries and museums of Europe. Whatever criticism may be directed against the occasional unreality of his taxonomic concepts, the fact remains that little has been added to our biological knowledge of the family in intervening years. The recent treatment of Knuth, to which reference already has been made, is an improvement over that of Miers in that it includes analytical keys and the citation of considerably more numerous specimens, as might be expected. It is a compila- tion without much original insight, nevertheless, and depends in the final analysis upon the first-hand knowledge of Miers. The keys, too, present a constant problem since they are divided into geographic couplets for the most part and because of the unfortunate fact that most species are represented by only one or a very few herbarium sheets either in flower or in fruit but seldom both. The possibility of replicate species therefore is great. Of chief aid in the study of the species of Panama is the short study by Pittier (in Contr. U. S. Nat. Herb. 26:1-14. 1927) on the Lecythidaceae of Central America which has the advantages as well, perhaps, as some of the disadvantages of extensive field study.
Key a. Androphore radially symmetrical, wholly fertile. b. Flowers large and showy; petals 6-12; anthers dehiscing by apical pores; Fruit a mediocre pyx containing few to several seeds, dehiscing through deliquescence or irregular shredding of the operculum. - .1. GUSTAVIA bb. Flowers small or mediocre; petals 4; anthers dehiscing longitudinally; fruit a mediocre coriaceous or fleshy indehiscent berry usually con- taining a large solitary seed- --------------------- 2. GRIAS aa. Androphore strongly bilaterally symmetrical, produced into a prom- inently involute, usually staminodial posterior hood. b. Stamens of the hood wholly fertile; ovary 6-celled; fruit a large globose coriaceous indehiscent berry, the seeds several, lateral, ovoid, immersed in fetid pulp. - 3. COUROUPITA bb. Stamens of the hood sterile at least in part. c. Hood simply involute, wholly staminodial, or the lower stamens sometimes fertile; ovary 4-celled; fruit a large woody subglobose dehiscent pyx, the seeds several, pendulous, thick and angular, with greatly enlarged fleshy funicles ............................-. 4. LECYTHIS cc. Hood spirally involute, wholly staminodial; ovary 2-celled; fruit a mediocre woody or subcoriaceous depressed-campanulate dehiscent pyx, the seeds several, basal, sessile, thick and angular 5. ESCHWEILERA ccc. Hood spirally involute then reversely revolute, wholly staminodial; ovary 3-celled; fruit a mediocre coriaceous narrowly campanulate dehiscent pyx, the seeds several, basal, very thin and broadly winged. 6. COURATARI
 
 
 
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