Plant 71

Barnadesia caryophylla (Vell.) S.F.Blake (Asteraceae)


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Barnadesia is a small (18 species), wholly South American genus with the vast majority of its species found along the Andean Cordillera. Barnadesia caryophylla is a spiny shrub, native to woodlands and scrub, from 600 m to 2,700 m altitude, in Peru, Bolivia and Brazil; it is the sole Brazilian species in the genus. Barnadesia caryophylla was first described from an illustration, and hence the species' type, is a line drawing published, in 1831, in José de Conceição Vellozo's part work Flora Fluminensis. Velloso's work has the distinction of being dismissed by Carl von Martius, architect of Brazil's standard flora (Flora Brasiliensis, 1840-1906), as a 'monstrous example of an ill-advised and overambitious literary enterprise' and by Sir William Hooker, nineteenth-century Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, as a 'magnificent abortion'.

As a glasshouse plant, Barnadesia caryophylla can reach 4 m in height and flowered in Britain, in the Duke of Northumberland's collection, before 1843. Although it is rarely grown, Barnadesia caryophylla attracts the attention of European gardeners because of the distinctive needle-like, paired spines, up to 3 cm long, arranged along the plant's stem and the large pink, red or purple flower heads (capitula), up to 5 cm long and 3 cm wide. Like the sunflower, Barnadesia capitula are composed of numerous silky-haired, tubular flowers packed closely together and surrounded by rows of long, narrow scales. The large quantities of sweet, sticky nectar produced by the capitula, together with field observations, have led researchers to propose that Barnadesia species are bird pollinated - by hummingbirds; a strategy rarely found in the Asteraceae.

Barnadesia and related genera in the subfamily Barnadesioideae were important in establishing that DNA characteristics could be used to understand plant evolution. In the late 1980s, using a laborious technique for comparing chloroplast DNA (cpDNA) structure, a group of researchers found the Barnadesioideae lacked a large, rare structural mutation (inversion) present in other members of the Asteraceae. The inversion was also absent from all other flowering plants investigated outside of the Asteraceae. This showed the Barnadesioideae were the most basal group in the Asteraceae and changed our ideas of Asteraceae classification. Subsequent research has precisely located the inversion in the cpDNA, and shown it probably occurred once 38-42 million years ago.

The name Barnadesia commemorates the eighteenth-century Spanish botanist and royal physician Miguel Barnades, who was instrumental in promoting Carolus Linnaeus's ideas of plant classification in Spain.

Jansen RK & Palmer JD 1987. A chloroplast DNA inversion marks an ancient evolutionary split in the sunflower family (Asteraceae). Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 84, 5818-5822.

Jansen RK & Palmer JD 1988. Phylogenetic implication of chloroplast DNA restriction site variation in the Mutisieae (Asteraceae). American Journal of Botany 75, 753-766.

Urtubey E 1999. Revisión del género Barnadesia (Asteraceae: Barnadesioideae, Barnadesieae). Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden 86, 57-117.

Stephen Harris

The 25th July 2021 marks 400 years of botanical research and teaching by the University of Oxford.

As a celebration and count-down to this anniversary, the University of Oxford Botanic Garden and Harcourt Arboretum, together with the Oxford University Herbaria and the Department of Plant Sciences, will highlight 400 plants of scientific and cultural significance. One plant will be profiled weekly, and illustrated with images from Oxford University's living and preserved collections.

  • Plant 70: Erythronium dens-canis
  • Plant 69: Trifolium dubium
  • Plant 68: Forsythia spp.
  • Plant 67: Ananas comosus
  • Plant 66: Theobroma cacao
  • Plant 65: Nostoc sp.
  • Plant 64: Sciadopitys verticillata
  • Plant 63: Garrya elliptica
  • Plant 62: Psilotum nudum
  • Plant 61: Cyclamen species
  • Plant 60: Hevea brasiliensis
  • Plant 59: Semele androgyna
  • Plant 58: Monstera deliciosa
  • Plant 57: Musa textilis
  • Plant 56: Piper nigrum
  • Plant 55: Viscum album
  • Plant 54: Dieffenbachia seguine
  • Plant 53: Salvinia molesta
  • Plant 52: Saccharum officinarum
  • Plant 51: Metasequoia glyptostroboides
  • Plant 50: Equisetum sp.
  • Plant 49: Fraxinus excelsior
  • Plant 48: Rosmarinus officinalis
  • Plant 47: Ptelea trifoliata
  • Plant 46: Acer saccharum
  • Plant 45: Brassica oleracea
  • Plant 44: Helianthus annuus
  • Plant 43: Ricinus communis
  • Plant 42: Simmondsia chinensis
  • Plant 41: Chara sp.
  • Plant 40: Zingiber officinale
  • Plant 39: Aristolochia clematitis
  • Plant 38: Allium cepa
  • Plant 37: Galium tricornutum
  • Plant 36: Artemisia annua
  • Plant 35: Rosa canina
  • Plant 34: Nepenthes rajah
  • Plant 33: D. caryophyllus x barbatus
  • Plant 32: Taraxacum sp.
  • Plant 31: Victoria cruziana
  • Plant 30: Lathyrus odoratus
  • Plant 29: Heliconia rostrata
  • Plant 28: Senecio squalidus
  • Plant 27: Paulownia tomentosa
  • Plant 26: Urtica dioica
  • Plant 25: Euphorbia characias
  • Plant 24: Heliamphora nutans
  • Plant 23: Laurus nobilis
  • Plant 22: Tulipa sylvestris
  • Plant 21: Pleurococcus sp.
  • Plant 20: Gleditsia triacanthos
  • Plant 19: Tillandsia usneoides
  • Plant 18: Marchantia polymorpha
  • Plant 17: Daphne mezereum
  • Plant 16: Citrus medica
  • Plant 15: Coffea arabica
  • Plant 14: Gossypium species
  • Plant 13: Stachyurus praecox
  • Plant 12: Encephalartos ferox
  • Plant 11: Aloe vera
  • Plant 10: Araucaria angustifolia
  • Plant 9: Isoetes echinospora
  • Plant 8: Hamamelis virginiana
  • Plant 7: Lithops species
  • Plant 6: Sequoiadendron giganteum
  • Plant 5: Commiphora saxicola
  • Plant 4: Buxus sempervirens
  • Plant 3: Picea abies
  • Plant 2: Cinnamomum verum
  • Plant 1: Taxus baccata

  • Follow us on Twitter @Plants400

    The data and images available on this site may only be used for scientific purposes. They may not be sold or used for commercial purposes. All images are copyright of the University of Oxford, unless otherwise indicated.

    The specimens at the Oxford herbaria and the living collections of the Oxford Botanic Garden and Oxford University Herbaria are being digitized using BRAHMS.


    Dr Stephen Harris (

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