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Taxonomy of the Babassu Complex (Orbignya spp.: Palmae)

Anthony B. Anderson and Michael J. Balick
Systematic Botany
Vol. 13, No. 1 (Jan. - Mar., 1988), pp. 32-50
DOI: 10.2307/2419239
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2419239
Page Count: 19
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Taxonomy of the Babassu Complex (Orbignya spp.: Palmae)
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Abstract

The taxonomic identity of the economically important group of palms known in Brazil as babassu (Orbignya spp.) has been a source of confusion for well over a century, largely due to a proliferation of species described from incomplete specimens obtained at a limited number of sites. To resolve this confusion, we collected complete material over a wide part of babassu's distribution in Brazil and Bolivia; additional material was obtained from Surinam. Based on the literature, biological data obtained in the field, and detailed morphological comparisons of specimens in the laboratory, we conclude that the babassu complex is comprised of two principal species, each with a pronounced tendency to hybridize. The most widely distributed species is Orbignya phalerata C. Martius, originally described from Bolivia, which is identical to a number of subsequently described (and consequently synonymous) species from Brazil. A second species, O. oleifera Burret, appears to be restricted to the Sao Francisco River Basin in Minas Gerais, Brazil. The wide geographic range of this complex and its propensity to hybridize have probably contributed to its high morphological variability. We suspect that this variability will prove to be a common theme in certain groups of palms currently thought to be comprised of many species.

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