Asteraceae, a very diverse family

Left: Frailejones are plants of the Andean moors. There are El Ángel and Llanganates varieties. Right: The Mutisia magnifica lives near Loja. Photos: Carmen Ulloa Ulloa and Archivo EL COMERCIO

February 7, 2021 00:00
Isabel Alarcon, Editor (I)

Plants such as daisies, chuquiraguas and even lettuce, which do not resemble each other at first glance, are part of the second family with the largest number of flora species in Ecuador. Although the Andean countries are generally associated with the group of orchids, asteraceae, or composites, are also abundant in this territory. There are about 12,200 varieties of these plants in America.

Carmen Ulloa Ulloa, curator at the Missouri Botanical Garden in the United States, explains that asteraceae differ from other plants due to their structure. These species have a set of flowers that form a single structure. This in botany is known as inflorescence. If you look at each of the petals, you can see that, in reality, it is a modified flower in the shape of a tongue.

These species have conquered the planet thanks to their capacity for adaptation and expansion Asteraceae form the largest family of flowering plants in the world. In America, orchids are the most diverse group, accounting for around 17,000 of the 129,000 vascular plants recorded in America. They are followed by the asteraceae, with 12,200 distributed in different heights.

The situation in Ecuador is similar to that of the continent. Of the 18,500 species of vascular plants registered so far in the country, orchids are the most diverse, with 4,200 varieties, followed by asteraceae, with 960. Of these, more than a third are endemic, meaning they are only found in this area of ​​the planet, making them extremely attractive for botanical studies .

According to the Red Book of Endemic Plants of Ecuador, published on the Flora Web portal of the Pontifical Catholic University of Ecuador, the Andes area is the center of diversity and endemism of these species. In addition, they inhabit the Coast, the Amazon and the Galapagos.

This family also ranks second in number of endemic species in the country with 380 varieties. Only 19 are considered not threatened and another 20 have not been evaluated due to other problems, such as lack of data. One of the most emblematic cases is the Delilia inelegans plant, which was collected by Charles Darwin, but it did not appear again in the expeditions of the researchers and is now considered extinct.

Ulloa Ulloa says that the increase in temperature in the mountains has consequences on the species that grow in the highest places. When the plants move upwards in search of a colder climate , those that are in the highest zone have nowhere to go.

The Red Book data reveal that the greatest threat to their existence is the deterioration of their habitats , “especially in the inter-Andean region, where there is less than 4% of natural vegetation”. 60% of endemic asteraceae are not found within the National System of Protected Areas ( SNAP ), for which they are exposed to the advance of the agricultural frontier and construction work.

Read the original coverage via El Comercio at:

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