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Maria Vorontsova
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Natural History Museum
Cromwell Road


Herbarium specimens

Maria describing Solanum lanzae using herbarium specimens © Marcelo Sellaro

Spiny Solanum in Africa and Madagascar

I am studying Solanum subgenus Leptostemonum in Africa and Madagascar as part of the PBI Solanaceae Source Project.The morphology of Solanum is variable and difficult  to interpret. I study thousands of dry specimens held in herbaria across the world to determine how many species there are, what their correct names are, and how to identify these species reliably.

Studying plants in the wild
Solanum polhillii sp. nov.

Solanum polhillii sp. nov. © Maria Vorontsova

Herbarium specimens are limited in their usefulness and there is a lot of information that is not preserved, such as flower colour or the ecological setting. It is important to study real populations in the wild and combine this information with measurements from herbarium specimens as well as distribution data and DNA sequence data.

Discovering new species

During my work with herbarium specimens I found three species of spiny Solanum not known to science. We travelled to Kenya to find these species and discovered that two of them are in serious danger from habitat destruction.

Stellate hairs of Solanum croatii

Solanum croatii has stellate hairs © Maria Vorontsova

How can we identify different species?

Distinguishing different species of Solanum can be difficult because obvious morphological features like shapes of leaves and prickles are very variable. One reliable identification feature is morphology of the hairs, although these are very small and a hand lens or microscope are needed to see them properly.

PBI Solanaceae Source Project



Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

PhD Thesis on botanical systematics and phylogenetics

Evolution of tribe Poranthereae (Phyllanthaceae or Euphorbiaceae sensu lato)



Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

International Plant Names Index (IPNI)

Editorial Assistant



John Innes Centre, Norwich

Research in Cytogenetics of wheat 



King’s College, University of Cambridge

Natural Sciences Tripos

Part II Plant Sciences


  • Vorontsova MS, Hoffmann P. ( 2008 ) A phylogenetic classification of tribe Poranthereae (Phyllanthaceae, Euphorbiaceae sensu lato). Kew Bulletin 63 : 41-59 . Kew Bulletin | 10.1007/s12225-007-9012-8
  • Vorontsova MS, Li Bingtao. ( 2008 ) Leptopus, In: Flora of China, Volume 11 . Missouri Botanical Garden Press : St. Louis , 164-169 . Flora of China, Volume 11
  • Vorontsova MS, Hoffmann P, Kathriarachchi H, Kolterman DA, Chase MW. ( 2007 ) Andrachne cuneifolia (Phyllanthaceae; Euphorbiaceae s.l.) is a Phyllanthus. Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society 155 : 519-525 . Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society
  • Vorontsova MS, Hoffmann P, Maurin O, Chase MW. ( 2007 ) Molecular phylogenetics of tribe Poranthereae (Phyllanthaceae or Euphrobiaceae sensu lato). American Journal of Botany 94 : 2026-2040 . American Journal of Botany
  • Vorontsova MS, Hoffmann P. ( 2007 ) Pistillate flowers of the Tanzanian endemic Paranecepsia. Kew Bulletin 62 : 285-286 .
  • Vorontsova MS, Shaw P, Reader S, Moore G. ( 2004 ) Effect of 5-azacytidine and trichostatin A on somatic centromere association in wheat. Genome 47 : 399-403 . Genome | 10.1139/G03-138
  • Corbet SA, Bee J, Dasmahapatra K, Gale S, Gorringe E, La Ferla B, Moorhouse T, Trevail A, Van Bergen Y , Vorontsova MS. ( 2001 ) Native or exotic? Double or single? Evaluating plants for pollinator-friendly gardens. Annals of Botany 87 : 219-232 . Annals of Botany