Systematic studies in Gnidia L. (Thymelaeaceae)
Beaumont, Angela Jane.
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Gnidia L., variously estimated to contain 100–160 species, is the largest genus in the sub-cosmopolitan family Thymelaeaceae. Most species are shrubby, and occur in tropical and southern Africa, with one species reaching southern India and Sri Lanka, and 14 species endemic to Madagascar. Assorted segregate genera have been established using characters considered by some as too few, too trivial or unreliable. Generic limits have been contentious with authors following either a narrower concept of Gnidia or a broader circumscription within which segregate genera are placed in synonymy under Gnidia. Regional treatments for African and Madagascan floras have been published over the last century until very recently, but the genus was last revised in its entirety 153 years ago. Today, a broad-based concept of Gnidia is generally recognised, but there is no modern infrageneric classification, and species relationships are poorly understood. Homogenous groups of species are identified by their similarities of leaf length and width or bract length and width ratios. Species comprising the homogenous groups for leaf ratios differ to those comprising the homogenous groups based on bract ratios, and there is no correlation between leaf and bract length and width ratios. This suggests that the factors influencing leaf diversity differ from those influencing bract diversity. Bracts differ most from leaves in species with capitate inflorescences, and involucres of several layers of bracts likely protect reproductive organs (flowers) in heads. Previously overlooked morphological and micromorphological details, and morphometric analyses of leaf, bract and floral dimension data help define individual species, and clades of species derived from phylogenetic analyses of molecular data. Evidence from a phylogenetic analysis of nuclear ribosomal and plastid DNA sequence data confirms the polyphyly of Gnidia. Three lineages contain Gnidia species and species of genera from southern Africa, southern South America or Australia, while another lineage corresponds largely to the previously recognized genus Lasiosiphon. The genus Lasiosiphon is reinstated characterised by flowers mostly in heads, bracts different from the leaves, and the presence of smooth hairs; it now includes species with tetramerous flowers as well as ones with pentamerous flowers. Gynodioecy is recorded for the first time in a single species and represents the first documented example of sexual polymorphism involving unisexual flowers in Gnidia and sub- Saharan Thymelaeaceae. The findings of this thesis are discussed in terms of their phylogenetic value and contribution to our better understanding of the generic limits of Gnidia and its relationships with other southern hemisphere Thymelaeoideae. The circumscription and generic affinities of Gnidia as suggested by results presented in this thesis are compared to previous classification systems for congruence and dissimilarity.