Oreostylidium - Botanical History and Taxonomy

Botanical History and Taxonomy

O. subulatum was originally described by Sir William Jackson Hooker in 1864 as Stylidium subulatum in the related genus Stylidium. Hooker based his classification on imperfect floral specimens and thus had to rely upon fruit morphology and habitat similarities. Working from the fruit morphology alone, Hooker noticed his specimen resembled several members of Stylidium subgenus Tolypangium. In 1878, Ferdinand von Mueller proposed that what was known then as Stylidium subulatum be included within the related genus Phyllachne based on flower morphology. In the same year, Sven Berggren proposed the move that created the most accepted classification within the genus he created, Oreostylidium.

Then in 1887, William Colenso described what he thought was a new species, Oreostylidium affine, based on specific morphological differences from previous descriptions of O. subulatum. He noted that he was rather unsure of the specific classification of this new species:

"This plant resembles Oreostylidium subulatum, Berggren, as carefully drawn by him; (which is also the "Stylidium? subulatum, n. sp.," of Hook. f., as given by him with doubt, from his imperfect specimens, in the "Handbook N.Z. Flora," p. 168;) and it would be by me referred to that species were it not for its differential characters."

Colenso also admitted in his description of O. affine that the location data for both O. affine and O. subulatum were very similar and at least one morphological detail of his plant specimens was damaged, which could have effected his analysis. O. affine was later placed under O. subulatum as a synonym.

Oreostylidium remained relatively untouched after that until an extensive review of the morphological details of Stylidiaceae was combined with genetic analysis of the chloroplast DNA genes rbcL and ndhF in 1998. The result of this study revealed that all major cladistic trees generated from the data suggested that the genus Oreostylidium is nested within the genus Stylidium. Based on that data, the authors of that study proposed that O. subulatum be known once again under its very first name, Stylidium subulatum and Oreostylidium should be reduced to synonymy of Stylidium. In 2002, another study based on molecular evidence determined that in the most parsimonious cladistic tree, Stylidium graminifolium and O. subulatum were closely related, with O. subulatum again nested within Stylidium. Based on molecular clock calculations and their data, the researchers concluded that S. graminifolium and O. subulatum shared a common ancestor about 3 million years ago. The researchers responsible for the 2002 study also concluded that Oreostylidium should be transferred to Stylidium and O. subulatum should retake its former name as Stylidium subulatum.

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