Maria describing Solanum lanzae using herbarium specimens © Marcelo Sellaro
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.
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.
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.
Solanum croatii has stellate hairs © Maria Vorontsova
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
PhD Thesis on botanical systematics and phylogenetics
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International Plant Names Index (IPNI)
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Natural Sciences Tripos
Part II Plant Sciences