Thursday 26 December 2019

Gagea spelaea: A new species of Star-of-Bethlehem from the Western Tian Shan of Kyrgyzstan.

The genus Gagea comprises spring-flowering, herbaceous Lilies know by the common name of Stars-of-Bethlehem. The genus is a taxonomically difficult group, which requires examination of living plants for precise identification. A number of features, including the structure of bulbs, the character of vegetative reproduction, the presence, length, and cross section of the basal leaf, the shape of the inflorescence and capsules, the colour of tepals, and so on, are important for taxonomic identification in this genus. For correct identification, the characters of not only generative but also vegetative individuals are usually required. There are different estimates of the number of species in the genus, from about 100 to more than 320. In Kyrgyzstan 36 species of this genus have been described, with several undescribed taxa known in the mountains surrounding the Fergana Valley.

In a paper published in the Journal of Asia-Pacific Biodiversity on 3 February 2019, Igor Levichev of the Komarov Botanical Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Chang-gee Jang of the Department of Biology Education at Kongju University, Seung Hwan Oh of the Forest Biodiversity Division at the Korea National Arboretum, and Georgii Lazkov of the Institute for Biology of the  National Academy of Sciences of Kyrgyzstan, describe a new species of Star-of-Bethlehem from the Sary-Chelek Nature Reserve in the Chatkal Range of the Jalal-Abad Region of western Kyrgyzstan, part of the Western Tian Shan Mountain Range.

The new species is named Gagea spelaea, where 'spelaea' means a den or small cave, in reference to the environment where the plants were found, on niches on conglomerate cliffs, in the Bokchop River Gorge. This species is distinctive in having completely white flowers, unlike the yellow or yellowish white. The species also has relatively small vegetative bulbils underground at the base, with a slender above-ground plant reaching about 25 cm in height.

Gagea spelaea: (A) general habit; (B) open flower. Georgii Lazkov in Levichev et al. (2019).

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