|Know your xNiduregelia ‘Ruby Ryde’!
Subtitled - I promise this will be the final name change!
by Derek Butcher 2002
Do you have a plant with any of the following names on the label? Wittrockia paradoxa, Nidularium paradoxum, xNiduregelia paradoxa, or ‘Butcher’s been at it again’, If so read on.
This plant has a fascinating history, so no wonder was it having trouble in keeping up with its name changes. At the 1995 Australian Bromeliad Conference I was handed a plant with a somewhat gooey centre by Ruby Ryde which I assumed she had obtained from Brazil a few years before. How could I ask Elton Leme to help me out with identification? I just had to poke around in the mushy mess where the flower had been. I felt sure I was handling Wittrockia paradoxa which had been described by Elton Leme in 1989 because I appeared to be dealing with a paradox with the number of oddities I found in the mushy mess! Incidentally, if you try to find Wittrockia paradoxa it is now called Aechmea paradoxa! 2 years later I was delighted to get an actual flowering specimen, again from Ruby. The plant looked like a Neoregelia with a Nidularium-like inflorescence. This time there was no mushy mess when I took the inflorescence apart and I found compound flowers in the outer part of the inflorescence and simple flowers in the centre. What am I talking about? I’ll digress. If you have ever looked closely at a Neoregelia inflorescence (well most!) you will find it boring because all the way through the inflorescence you will find one floral bract next to a flower. In a Nidularium you will find little bunches of flowers with a bract for the bunch as well as floral bracts for each flower ( This is compound! Mind you, in Nidularium you may also find bunches on the bunches making them compound compound or tripinnate!) This cannot be said to be boring! Elton Leme had described a Nidularium fraudulentum in 1987 which had these attributes. It was not a paradox, it was a fraud! This just had to be the name and I told the world of my discovery (Well, at least Bromeletter May/June 1997! ).
Meanwhile Elton in Brazil was rather worried about this plant with odd characteristics and investigated it further in conjunction with Walter Till. It was decided the plant was a bigeneric between Neoregelia and Nidularium.
In Elton’s book ‘Nidularium’ (2000) Shock! Horror! there are 3 xNiduregelia to pick from and none was an exact match to the plant that I thought should have been xNiduregelia fraudulenta. The closest one was xNiduregelia lyman-smithii but I could not get Elton to answer my Emails. The problem is a hard one to solve. Let me explain. In the wild there are fertile plants in a range and all share the same species name.As far as we are aware bigenerics in the Bromeliaceae are infertile and incapable of reproducing - in other words a genetic dead end. If I ever obtain an alleged hybrid and want to prove it is a hybrid I do not do pollen counts but try to set self-set seed and check on the resultant seedlings for similarities to or differences from the seed parent. So I was at a dead end too! Bigeneric hybrids are not easy to do intentionally as Mulford Foster experienced (See the article in http://fcbs.org on Julian Nally and letters in the 1960’s) and seem to be very rare in the wild. Mez 1935 reported 2 from the late 1800’s and Smith and Downs 1979 only 1 of these 2. It does seem strange that any bigeneric had not been collected in the intervening 80 years and now we have flurry of them!
These bigeneric hybrids of Elton’s are in a Chapter entitled ‘Doubtful and excluded Taxa’ but have been accepted as legal latinised names by the Bromeliad Identification Center in the USA. No one took records of what plants were growing in the vicinity of these plants at their supposed collection site so parents are unknown and only conjecture remains. To further add to the confusion, the third one of the trio, xNiduregelia edmundoi has a type locality of Bahia (leg. A.Seidel 1005) but a specimen was also supposed to have been found in Espirito Santo ( leg. A Seidel 1004). I suggest that the chances of having the same unknown parents from different genera and occuring in a different area would be astronomical! Add to this, the same happening occurred with different unknown parents in xNiduregelia fraudulenta but on this occasion in the States of Bahia (leg. A Seidel 1006) AND Rio de Janeiro (leg A Seidel 678)! What are the odds now?
I believe what really happened was that Seidel mixed up his collecting data with plants grown from seed and these seedlings reached Elton Leme for investigation not the original collections. I base this assumption on the fantastic odds of such bigeneric happenings in the wild from such widely spaced habitats, and something that Ruby has just told me. Ruby’s plant came from seed obtained from Seidel!
To my mind it would have been better to have named these plants under the ICNCP rules where only a clone retains the name of the Cultivar not a range of clones as under the ICBN rules for natural species.
In my role as Cultivar Registrar you can see my dilemma. Should I try to identify with the written descriptions of what I consider are dubious examples of wild plants or give the plant I got from Ruby Ryde a Cultivar name. The more I think of it the more I believe OUR plant is better called xNiduregelia ‘Ruby Ryde’ to stem the tide of name changes.