Rare Beauty: New Meriania Species to be Classified as Critically Endangered

With vivid pink, purple, and magenta blooms, new species of Meriania discovered by Missouri Botanical Garden scientists and collaborators in Peru are certainly eye-catching. But since many of them are critically endangered, they’re unlikely to catch many eyes in the wild. In fact, four of them are known from just a single population.

Describing these plants, and giving them a name, is the first crucial step in conservation. Once described, species are organized into classification systems that provide meaningful ways to talk about them scientifically and plan for their conservation.

The genus Meriania, first established in 1798, now comprises more than 120 species of beautiful flowering plants. Recent exploration has led to the discovery of many more species in the quickly disappearing forests in Brazil and Peru.

The nine Meriania species described by Garden scientists were discovered during botanical expeditions of the Peruvian Andes and through the study of herbarium material. They all face threats, many from deforestation in Peru caused by expanding agriculture.

From the Field

Meriania bicentenaria 

Recommended conservation status: Endangered

Meriania bicentenaria is known from five localities, growing in surroundings of the Yanachaga-Chemillén National Park.

Meriania bongarana

Recommendation conservation status: Critically Endangered

The only locality recorded for Meriania bongarana is located between two protected areas, Alto Mayo Protection Forest and Nieva River Reserved Zone. The pristine forests in Bongará province are decreasing due to the expansion of agriculture and livestock.

Meriania callosa

Recommendation Conservation Status: Critically endangered

Meriania callosa is known from two localities, both located outside protected areas or conservation
areas. In both localities, the forests are fragmented due to the recent increase of deforestation for agriculture and livestock.

Meriania escalerensis

Recommend conservation status: Critically endangered

Meriania escalerensis is known from a single collection from a conservation area. Currently, the main threats facing the Cordillera Escalera are the lack of a legal designation to protect it, specifically from the Moyobamba-Balsapuerto highway project and gas and petroleum exploration and production.

Meriania vasquezii

Recommended conservation status: Critically endangered

Meriania vasquezii is known from a single collection from Oxapampa province.

Meriania vasquezii is named in honor of Garden researcher Rodolfo Vásquez, who has incredible contributions to the knowledge of the flora of Peru in his 30 year career.

From the Herbarium

The Garden has one of the largest herbariums in the world, with more than 7 million specimens and counting. Given the breadth of the collection, there is a significant backlog of plants that have been collected but never identified. Some were even collected many decades ago. When researchers eventually get to study them, they often find it is a new species.

Meriania hirsuta

Recommended conservation status: Critically Endangered

The short range of occurrence of Meriania hirsuta is under the constant pressure of cattle
grazing and logging.

Meriania juanjil

Recommended conservation status: Critically Endangered

Meriania juanjil is known from a single collection from Bongará province. Currently, the pristine forests in the Bongará province are decreasing due to the expansion of agriculture and livestock.

Meriania megaphylla

Recommended conservation status: Data deficient

Meriania megaphylla is known from a single collection made in 1914. Increased deforestation in recent years and artisanal mining threaten the montane forests of Pataz, and these crucial
forests are at present virtually unknown.

Meriania sumatika

Recommended conservation status: Endangered

All Meriania sumatika specimens were collected in the Machu Picchu National Sanctuary. Within this sanctuary, the main threat are forest fires for the establishment of crops.

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