Tillandsia pucaraensis/guelzii at August 2005 by Butcher
Many of you will not have heard of these names, seen the plants, or have them in your collection, but plants under these names are around.
Both Len Colgan & myself, here in Adelaide, Australia, have this plant from David Sheumack, a Tillandsia collector from Sydney, and late in 1995 the plant flowered in Len's collection and I had the privilege of modestly examining it under the microscope.
Tillandsia pucaraensis from Pucara in Northern Peru had been named by Renate Ehlers in Die Bromelie 1/1989 together with a coloured photograph, but I had difficulty in matching Len’s plant with the name. The main problem was that the spike was fairly open and you could see the centre stem or rhachis. The description says the rhachis is not visible at flowering but is visible as the inflorescence dries out.
My difficulty in linking David Sheumack's plant with T. pucaraensis meant we had to contact him, who in turn contacted Pamela Koide of Bird Rock Tropicals from Carlsbad, California, who was his supplier. Pamela advised she had originally got her plant T321 while in Germany from Rauh in Heidelberg, and it had T. creseus, Rauh (Peru) on the label. As yet we do not know the significance of this name. It does not appear to be a place name and it is not in Stearn's "Botanical Latin”!. Anyway, when Renate Ehlers was in California she saw this plant and thought it could be her T. pucaraensis. Now I was really worried!
Needless to say, our next contact was with Renate Ehlers and things started to get really complicated. Both Renate Ehlers and Dr Walter Till, as long ago as 1989, believed T. pucaraensis was the same as a newly named T. guelzii by Rauh, only his plant was allegedly from Northern Argentina (just get out your Atlas to see how far this is from Nth. Peru!) Rauh has maintained that his ONE clump of plants came from Dorothea Muhr and must have been collected somewhere in the Province of Jujuy, and suggested that Ehlers had mixed collection data and the actual plants in her own collection in Germany. From the original description we see that Rauh did not get his plant direct from Muhr but from Guelz, hence the name but the plant originally had T. ixioides on the label. The 1979 Heidelberg Incoming Plant register shows 54925 in a list of plants received from Guelz as Till. ixioides which was amended to read guelzii Rauh. This is the plant that Rauh used to describe T. guelzii. In the same list there are plants that Guelz had got from Blass who, in turn, had got them from Strobel. In other words, collection numbers although important, have been forgotten and there is much plant movement without documentation! Who is to know that the T. ixioides that came from Guelz was not in fact a K192b (see below) that Guelz had got from Blass!!?
Living plants under the number 54925 are noted as T. guelzii by Elvira Gross so Heidelberg Bot Gardens are only growing T. guelzii. Offsets from 54925 went to Lydia Kohres and she (? on the advice of others) changed the name to T. pucaraensis before selling under this name. This is how Len Colgan got a plant called T. pucaraensis which should be grown under the name T. guelzii to link with the Heidelberg collection.
The only differences I can find from the original descriptions between the main contenders are:-
We now go back to 1964! In that year Wolfgang Krahn did a collecting trip from Cochabamba to Santa Cruz in Bolivia when his main interest was Cactaceae. It is noted that numbers 192 and 193 were Tillandsia and collected at km305 at 1560m. No.192a and c were identified as Diaphoranthema but 192b remained as an unknown. No.193 was identified as T. didisticha.
All these plants went to Alfred Blass. Some were further distributed including 192b. It is thought that some went to Renate Ehlers (she can’t remember, possibly because these were her ‘cactus’ days), Rauh at Heidelberg and the Linz Bot Garden. It is from the Linz Bot Garden that we get our clue because they have a specimen marked K192b. This plant has not been dissected to my knowledge but had been identified as T. guelzii by Lieselotte Hromradnik and only recently has she changed her name to T. pucaraensis. Note that this plant was in the collection of Blass for many years and could well have been the plant that got to Rauh instead of the alleged T. ixioides. If this is the case then it would make the type locality in Bolivia instead of Argentina. Dissection of K192b would be a great help in solving this mystery.
Let us now look at plants collected in Peru. In 1996 Butcher and Colgan bought plants called T. pucaraensis from Isley in the USA. Colgan flowered his plant which he says is the same as his alias ‘T. guelzii’ from Lydia but the plant has since died. Butcher’s plant did not die but has NOT yet flowered! At the time of purchase, after intense questioning, Paul Isley said the plant came from Peru where he had a collector (not Knize) operating. It seemed to be a bit hush hush! He knew no other detail. There is no link with the Koide plant T321. The identification of this T. pucaraensis could only have come from the Ehlers naming because T. guelzii was thought to be a different plant from a different area.
The holotype for T. pucaraensis P7953 was found in 1979 in Peru but not described until 1989. It is not certain which plants may have been distributed elsewhere – for example Heidelberg Bot Garden but as far as we can trace there are no specimens living at 2005. Heidelberg Incoming plant register for probably 1979 shows 54925a Till. pucaraensis Ehlers as a later added entry (?when added). But no plant 54925a is surviving at 2005 at Heidelberg.
In 1979 when T. pucaraensis was found, Renate ‘s group did cross paths with a group comprising Krahn and Rauh. In 1979 we know that Krahn collected in Peru and brought back six Tillandsia/Vriesea for Heidelberg. One of these, WK 595 became Tillandsia krahnii but another one called 50882 Till. nov. spec.? WK666, 1600m., L. Aricapampa is not alive as at 2005. Can this be linked to Renate’s collection in the same year?
While there appears to be some justification that these plants are synonymous the problem of distant habitats still remains. It is odd that neither taxon has been collected since. Is it a hybrid? Some say it has links to T. didisticha which is found in Bolivia and not in Peru and was used as a differential by Renate for her T. pucaraensis. Others take the side of Rauh in seeing similarities with T. vernicosa. Will it ever be found again in the wild?
This problem has been caused mainly by the length of time it took from collection of the plant to formal description. We know how easy it is to get labels mixed up in Botanic gardens and plant nurseries. I certainly know that I am guilty in mislabelling my own plants only to correct my mistake at a later date. So often are you doing a job and get distracted. To err is human! However, mislabelling is still rare and for it to happen twice and link all to a single collection (K192b) by Krahn in 1964 is very hard to imagine indeed. It would be so easy to consider T. pucaraensis and T. guelzii as synonymous if their collection areas were close to each other but to my mind the jury is still out.
I leave it to the academic taxonomists to make any formal judgements regarding synonymy.
I would like to thank Renate Ehlers, Lieselotte Hromradik, Pam Koide, David Sheumack, Timm Stolten, Paul Isley and Len Colgan for their indulgence and help.