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Taxonomic identity and evolutionary relationships of South African taxa related to the Spergularia media group (Caryophyllaceae)


The taxonomic identity and phylogenetic relationships of several South African perennial taxa often synonymised to the European Spergularia media are discussed. In particular, the case of Arenaria glandulosa Jacq., a species described as native to the Cape region of South Africa, was revisited. We found this taxon to be a Spergularia, endemic to salt-laden coastal (and rarely also saline inland) habitats of the Western Cape and Eastern Cape provinces of South Africa. This taxon is a prostrate to procumbent caespitose herb, densely glandulous all over, with small flowers solitary at the base of each leaf-like bract or in congested dichasial cymes, producing petals about equalling the sepals and free styles, among other characters. Further, we describe a morphologically similar species (often mistaken for S. media and S. bocconei) occurring in succulent Karoo scrub of Namaqualand, as a new species, named S. namaquensis. Both are glandulous dwarf subshrubs considerably differing from the recently discovered S. quartzicola, a soil-specialist endemic from Namaqualand quartzitic outcrops, by many notable vegetative and reproductive features. Molecular analyses of plastid (trnL–trnF region) and nuclear ribosomal (5.8S-ITS2 region) DNA sequence data support the morphological differentiation between the South African species S. glandulosa, S. namaquensis and S. quartzicola, representing an independent lineage when compared with the Northern Hemisphere members of the S. maritima group. Synonymy, new complete descriptions and ecological and distributional data are provided to facilitate further identification of species within the putative S. media group.

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Data availability

Information on voucher sources and GenBank accession numbers for the studied DNA regions is given in Table 2.


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We are grateful to the curators of the herbaria cited in the text, in particular to Ernst Vitek (Naturhistorisches Museum Wien) and Vanessa Rodríguez Invernón (Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle, Paris) for their help with the collections at W and P, respectively. Franci Siebert, Potchefstroom, kindly helped with some terms in Afrikaans. Two anonymous reviewers and the editors made notable suggestions which improved the final text. Herbarium specimens were collected under permission provided by CapeNature of Western Cape Province (collecting and export permits no. AAA005-00080-0028, AAA008-00031-0028, 0027-AAA008-00699 and 0028-AAA008-00203). L. Mucina acknowledges the logistic support of the Iluka Chair at the Murdoch University, Perth, Australia.


This work was partly supported by H2020 Research and Innovation Staff Exchange (RISE) Programme of the European Commission, project 645636: “Insect–plant relationships: insights into biodiversity and new applications” (FlyHigh), and the grants ACIE 16–01, ACIE 17–01 and ACIE 18–03 from the University of Alicante.

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MÁA, MBC and MMA conceived the idea and designed field sampling strategy. MÁA, MBC, MMA and LM equally contributed to sampled field material. MMA, MBC and MÁA contributed to molecular phylogenetic analyses, photographs, maps and graphical artworks. MÁA led the write-up of the paper, and all co-authors contributed to text writing and editing of the whole manuscript.

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Correspondence to Mª Ángeles Alonso.

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The Department of Environment and Nature Conservation of the Northern Cape Province (collecting and export permits numbers FLORA046/2010, FLORA047/2010, FLORA069/2011, FLORA070/2011, FLORA61/2/2015, FLORA61/2/2015, FLORA0057/2017, FLORA0058/2017) and CapeNature of the Western Cape Province of South Africa (collecting and export permits numbers AAA005-00080–0028, AAA008-00031–0028, 0027-AAA008-00699, 0028-AAA008-00203) provided permission to collect and export herbarium. We also thank all managers of the visited nature reserves for permission to work in areas under their care.

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Information on electronic supplementary material

Online resource 1. Additional studied vouchers of Spergularia.

Online resource 2. Nexus file for trnL-trnF sequence alignment of Spergularia.

Online resource 3. Nexus file for 5.8S-ITS2 sequence alignment of Spergularia.

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Alonso, M., Crespo, M.B., Martínez-Azorín, M. et al. Taxonomic identity and evolutionary relationships of South African taxa related to the Spergularia media group (Caryophyllaceae). Plant Syst Evol 307, 24 (2021).

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  • Cape
  • Molecular phylogenetics
  • Namaqualand
  • Nomenclature
  • Sperguleae
  • Taxonomy