An article published in the October issue of the Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden describes a new genus of tree of the Aptandraceae family, a group that is related to the sandalwoods (order Sanatalales). The genus, which has been given the name Hondurodendron, is endemic to Honduras and means “tree of Honduras.”
The Hondurodendron is from Parque El Cusuco, located west of San Pedro Sula, in the Department of Cortés. It appears to be widely, but sparsely distributed within the park. It’s found mainly as an understory tree, growing under a high forest canopy, also occurring in forests disturbed by natural tree-falls and alongside trails; it grows in well-drained soils, on slopes and ridgetops.
In the article, “Hondurodendron, a New Monotypic Genus of Aptandraceae from Honduras,” lead author, Dr. Carmen Ulloa, associate curator at the Missouri Botanical Garden, and co-authors, Dr. Daniel L. Nickrent, Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, Dr. Caroline Whitefoord, The Natural History Museum in London, and Dr. Daniel L. Kelly, Trinity College in Dublin, describe the genus as a tree about 40-feet-tall, with minute male and female flowers less than 2 mm (1/8 inch) wide, borne respectively on separate plants. The tiny stamens have rather unusual anthers opening by three valves. The fruit measures 2 cm (1 inch) across; it is tightly wrapped by the calyx which enlarges greatly as the fruit matures and eventually may even project beyond as a flared limb.
The authors named the single species known of this genus as Hondurodendron urceolatum with the Latin specific epithet meaning “shaped like a pitcher or urn” because of the striking form of the fruit. The first specimens of this genus were collected by Kelly and a team of researchers and students during a plot-based survey of the forest vegetation of Parque Nacional El Cusuco in northwest Honduras in 2004 and 2006.
The fruit of Hondurodendron is known by local people as “guayaba” because of its superficial resemblance to guava, Psidium guajava. However, the fruit is not succulent, but functionally a nut, eaten by small mammals.
Garden researchers publish more than a hundred new plant species each year. In 2009, Garden scientists published an estimated 145 new species, but only a few of them represented new genera.
“Although many botanists describe numerous species as part of our scientific work, to describe a new genus is perhaps a once in a lifetime experience,” said Ulloa. “This mysterious tree was brought to my attention in May of 2007 and involved morphological and molecular work from four researchers from four institutions in three countries to solve and finally show that this was not only a species new to science, but also a new genus of the family Aptandraceae.”