Brief Summary

The flowering plant genus Coespeletia (Espeletiinae: Asteraceae), commonly known as frailejon (Rosa et al. 2002) contains eight known species of giant rosette plants characteristic of and endemic to the high-altitude, neotropical páramo ecosystems in Venezuela and Northern Columbia (Diazgranados and Morillo 2013).  Species in this group occur at elevations of 3800-4800 meters (12,500-15,700 feet), some reaching the highest altitudes of the tropical Andes, and show adaptations to the extreme daily temperature changes, intensified solar radiation, and daily and seasonal water shortages they experience at these altitudes.

Coespeletia plants long narrow linear leaves arranged in a rosette.  They produce multiple stout stalks bearing daisy-like inflorescences and small, spiny pollen grains thought adapted for wind dispersal.  Researcher have found giant rosette species have capacity to store large water volumes, thought to be an adaptation to highly variable accessible water quantities, and a mechanism for controlling tissue supercooling to avoid freezing. Coespeletia also has adaptations to cold such as pithy stems and a layer of thick hair covering the leaves (Diazgranados and Morillo 2013; Goldstein et al. 1985; Rada et al. 2012; Aparicio 2002).

The páramo ecosystem has been identified as a cool-temperature diversity hotspot, one of the richest known ecosystems with plant inhabitants showing high endemism, and many of the most rapidly diversifying lineages on earth (Madriñán et al. 2013).  Species C. moritziana has been recognized as potentially a species complex, and as including C. palustris, now considered a species in its own right, newly described by Diazgranados and Morillo (2013). 

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© Dana Campbell

Supplier: Dana Campbell


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