Excerpts from Jim Conrad's
Naturalist Newsletter

from the June 19, 2016 Newsletter issued from Hacienda Chichen Resort beside Chichén Itzá Ruins, central Yucatán MÉXICO
VELVETSEED FLOWERING

Last December we found a poorly documented small tree endemic just to the Yucatan Peninsula, which we called Gaumer's Velvetseed, Guettarda gaumeri {see next section}. Since the tree is so poorly known, this week I returned to the same area, hoping to find it in flower, and I was successful. Below, you can see its small, pale yellow flowers clustered among hairy, dewy-wet leaves

Gaumer's Velvetseed, GUETTARDA GAUMERI, leaves and flowers

The flowers usually occurred in pairs, each with its own pistil and calyx. A side view of two flowers with four corolla lobes arising from each corolla tube is shown below:

Gaumer's Velvetseed, GUETTARDA GAUMERI, flower side view

A shot into a flower's mouth finding only two anthers visible at the stigmas level is shown below:

Gaumer's Velvetseed, GUETTARDA GAUMERI, flower from front


Gaumer's Velvetseed, GUETTARDA GAUMERI

from the December 27, 2015 Newsletter issued from Hacienda Chichen Resort beside Chichén Itzá Ruins, central Yucatán, MÉXICO
VELVETSEED

Along an isolated gravel road a tree turned up I'd never seen before, and when that happens it's always a big deal. It bore small, somewhat leathery, hairy leaves, two per stem node, with prominent venation, and what was most exciting, pea-sized, brilliantly red fruits, all shown above.

After all these years, how could I have missed something as eye-catching as this? Up close, the fruits were even more unusual, for they bore disperse, very slender, stiff, leaning-over hairs, and a conspicuous brown crown as shown below:

Gaumer's Velvetseed, GUETTARDA GAUMERI, fruit

The crown has to be the remains of a calyx, so this fruit has developed from an "inferior" ovary, meaning that the former flower's calyx, corolla and stamens arose above the ovary, not below. This is an important detail, because most flowers are "superior," not "inferior."

In the American tropics, whenever you see a woody bush or small tree bearing opposite leaves and inferior ovaries, the most likely plant family being dealt with is the Coffee or Madder Family, the Rubiaceae, simply because it's such a huge, commonly encountered family. To firm up the diagnosis, you need to look for scale-like "stipules" connecting the tops of the petioles, across the stem. In the above photo stipules should appear, but the stem is so hairy that it's hard to say.

This tree's flowering time had definitely passed, but some immature ovaries were found bearing not only browning calyxes atop them but also withering corollas. Below, you can see that the corollas are also hairy, with corolla lobes atop a long corolla tube:

Gaumer's Velvetseed, GUETTARDA GAUMERI, immature fruit with old corolla

Coffee-Family flowers are often just like this. The fruits were fleshy, containing hard seeds, as seen below:

Gaumer's Velvetseed, GUETTARDA GAUMERI, open fruit showing seed

The tree's bark was pale and blotchy, as shown below:

Gaumer's Velvetseed, GUETTARDA GAUMERI, bark

The tree turned out to be a good find, endemic just to the Yucatan Peninsula, and truly a member of the Coffee Family. It's GUETTARDA GAUMERI, which we'll call Gaumer's Velvetseed, since species of Guettarda often are called velvetseeds, and the species name honors its collector, George Franklin Gaumer (1850-1929), whose name has graced several of the endemic species we've run across over the years.

The species is not well documented, though its botanical description by Paul Standley in 1930 describes it as reaching 7m tall (23ft).