Part 25 Loganiaceae - Lythracea
Loganiaceae are a small family of 400 species accommodated in 14 genera one of which, although not likely known to many as such, produce a chemical known by name to most. Strychnine is a poisonous alkaloid obtained from seeds of Strychnos nux-vomica. This intensely bitter, highly poisonous compound has had limited use, in very low doses, as a stimulant, but is used primarily as a poison against birds and small animals. It shows up in the occasional murder mystery as many readers will note.
Lacking the literary glamour of Strychnos and other nasty members of the family, Labordia's claim to fame lies in the fact that it is an endemic Hawaiian genus, although some authorities (them again!) chose to include its 15 species within the closely related Pacific Basin genus Geniostoma. The Hawaiian name for the genus is kämakahala . Again, we follow the authors of the Manual in recognizing Labordia as a distinct genus. I have never seen Labordia in flower in the field, but was fortunate to see the very beautiful L. hedyosmifolia (see image) in full flower in the Rare Plant Nursery at Volcano. This species occurs naturally on all of the main islands except Kaua`i (Kaua`i has its own members of the genus) where it can be found mainly in wet forest and bog margins. I have also included a picture of an individual of Labordia tinifolia var. tinifolia which, unfortunately, lacks flowers.
Lythraceae, the loosestrife family, are represented on the islands by two genera with naturalized species, Ammannia and Cuphea, and one with a single species whose origin seems still a bit in doubt. The latter is Lythrum maritimum (see image) known in Hawaiian by several names: pükämole, nïnika, pükämole lau li`i, and pükämole lau nui. Lau is the Hawaiian word for leaf, frond, leaflet, or greens, and, in the verb form, to leaf out (Pukui and Elbert, p. 194). It might appear that the folks naming this plant had a difference of opinion: lau li`i means little leaf, while lau nui means big leaf.
Lythrum maritimum occurs, other than on the Hawaiian Islands, in Peru. Authors of the Manual indicate that the species is indigenous, although they mark that statement with a question mark. That its presence on the Hawaiian Islands predates European contact is indicated by its having been known to all botanical collectors beginning with Archibold Menzies in 1794. They also note that the plant had some medicinal usage by early Hawaiians indicating that it could have been on the islands for some period of time. Although a disjunction between the Hawaiian Islands and coastal South America may seem at first glance to be a rather long jump, other similar distributions occur, for example in the close similarity of the strawberry Fragaria chiloensis subsp. sandwicensis with plants that occur on the Juan Fernandez Islands of Chile. We will meet the strawberries later in the series.
April 7, 2012