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Brugmansia versicolor 

Scope: Global
Language: English
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Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
Plantae Tracheophyta Magnoliopsida Solanales Solanaceae

Scientific Name: Brugmansia versicolor Lagerh.
Synonym(s):
Datura versicolor (Lagerh.) Saff.
Taxonomic Source(s): Hay, A., Gottschalk, M. & Holguín, A. 2012. Huanduj - Brugmansia. Florilegium, Sydney & Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
Taxonomic Notes: One of the parents (with B. aurea Lagerh.) of the widespread anthropogenic hybrid B. x candida Pers. Sometimes found in close proximity to B. x candida with which it sometimes locally intergrades. 

Brugmansia species as a whole have sometimes been viewed as cultigens (e.g. Bristol 1966). This view was not accepted by Hay et al. (2012: 15) who view them as species long conserved through cultivation by indigenous people. There is no evidence for any of the species having come into being under human husbandry from wild progenitors, since no candidates for wild progenitors exist.

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Extinct in the Wild ver 3.1
Year Published: 2014
Date Assessed: 2014-03-25
Assessor(s): Hay, A.
Reviewer(s): Scott, J.A.
Justification:
Most of the rationale for this assessment applies to all species of the genus:
  1. There are no herbarium collections of any species of this genus made from confirmed wild plants.
  2. No botanist specialising in this genus has ever reported seeing wild plants of any species.
  3. (Verbal) Reports by non-specialist botanists of the occurrence of ‘wild’ plants are either misidentifications (usually of Datura), or misinterpretation of remnants or localised escapes from cultivation, usually along creeks and occurring by vegetative propagation from stem fragments. In all such instances investigated in Ecuador and Colombia, the plants are of the anthropogenic hybrid Brugmansia x candida (Hay et al. 2012: 172-177). It is quite clear that such instances do not represent self-sustaining sexually reproducing populations.
  4. The complete lack of evidence of fruit dispersal or spontaneous seedlings, combined with the presence of large numbers of fruits containing viable seed, suggests their dispersers are extinct.
  5. Hence, all the species should best be regarded as extinct in the wild.
  6. They are all threatened with total extinction in their native South America because of the ongoing practice of eradicating them from gardens because of their poisonous nature, combined with the progressive loss of the traditional (indigenous) knowledge of their multiple uses (which is what appears to have been the reason for their long-term survival, perhaps over millennia).
Previously published Red List assessments:

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description:Lockwood (1973) formed the view that, despite the exclusive association of brugmansias with human habitation, native distributions of the species could be defined and recognised by the presence of intraspecific variability and high levels of fruit set, in contrast to low variability and low or absent fruit set in clones taken outside their native range.

On that basis the distribution is understood to be restricted to lowland Pacific slopes of the Andes from the Guayas Basin and south along the Gulf of Guayaquil. Particularly huge-flowered examples occur in the vicinity of Santo Domingo de los Colorados.
Countries occurrence:
Regionally extinct:
Ecuador
Additional data:
Lower elevation limit (metres):100
Upper elevation limit (metres):750
Range Map:Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population:Since this genus survives only in cultivation, the wild population of this species is zero. There are anecdotal views expressed by some indigenous healers that plants of this (and other) Brugmansia species are being eradicated from some indigenous gardens due to its toxicity and the declining numbers of healers expert enough to use it safely. However, there are no quantitative data.
Additional data:

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology:Cultivated in relatively low altitude indigenous gardens, up to about 750 m altitude, on rich soils in areas with high but more or less seasonal rainfall of ca. 2000-3500 mm. Higher altitude instances are regarded as extensions beyond the native range (see Hay et al. (2012: 125). Occasional as a remnant in abandoned gardens (and there probably transient as the plants are not shade tolerant).
Systems:Terrestrial

Use and Trade [top]

Use and Trade: There is a wide range of medicinal and spiritual uses, many shared with other species and hybrids, among the indigenous people who cultivate it (Hay et al. 2012: 22-73). It is grown as an ornamental plant, and is valued by horticultural collectors and hybridizers in North America, the European Union and Australia in particular.

As with the rest of this genus, its usefulness, far from being a threat, appears to be what has allowed it to avoid complete extinction.

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): As with all other species of Brugmansia, there are no confirmed records at all of wild populations of B. versicolor

The absence of wild plants was first recorded (albeit in relation to other Brugmansia species) by Ruiz & Pavón in the late 18th Century (Schultes & von Thene de Jamarillo-Arango 1998: 114). Later, in spite of decades of field work in NW South America, R.E. Schultes and his students Lockwood and Bristol, who specialised in this genus and other neotropical psychoactive plants, recorded finding no wild brugmansias at all (Bristol 1966, Lockwood 1973). Recent examination by Hay of numerous herbarium collections has turned up no specimens collected from the wild (Hay et al. 2012: 172).

While it is valued by those who know well how to use it both medicinally and as an entheogen, it is feared for its toxicity and superstitions about its ‘evil’ nature by those who do not, and it is anecdotally reported as being eradicated from gardens, sometimes at the behest of local authorities in response to the use of scopolamine for criminal purposes.

Loss of interest in cultivating this species, through loss of traditional healing skills, as well as active steps to eradicate it in places are the principal and current threats, as with other Brugmansia species.

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: The complete absence of wild plants suggests, as with other Brugmansia species, that the disperser(s) is extinct. The continued existence of this species within its presumed native range is currently dependent on its being cultivated by indigenous people. 

Its ongoing survival appears dependent on maintenance or rehabilitation of cultural traditions in which it is used. Education about its cultural and practical value, as well as its precarious conservation status seem essential to counteract the negativity with which these plants are often seen. Legal protection may be desirable to counteract knee-jerk eradication of the plants by local authorities in response to criminal use (burundanga). 

Getting a representative range of non-hybrid clones into cultivation in tropical botanic gardens, and breeding them, would seem a practical step.

Citation: Hay, A. 2014. Brugmansia versicolor. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2014: e.T38125A58908295. . Downloaded on 18 November 2017.
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