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Espeletia in Páramo de Guerrero (Colombia)
Scientific classification Edit this classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Eudicots
Clade: Asterids
Order: Asterales
Family: Asteraceae
Subfamily: Asteroideae
Tribe: Millerieae
Subtribe: Espeletiinae
Genus: Espeletia
Mutis ex Bonpl. in Humb. & Bonpl.
  • Carramboa Cuatrec.
  • Coespeletia Cuatrec.
  • Espeletiopsis Cuatrec.
  • Libanothamnus Ernst
  • Paramiflos Cuatrec.
  • Ruilopezia Cuatrec.
  • Tamania Cuatrec.

Espeletia, commonly known as 'frailejones' ("big monks"[2]), is a genus of perennial subshrubs, in the family Asteraceae.[3] The genus, which is native mainly to Colombia, Venezuela and Ecuador, was first formally described in 1808.[4] The genus was named after the viceroy of New Granada, José Manuel de Ezpeleta.

Espeletia grandiflora

The plants live at high altitude in páramo ecosystems. The trunk is thick, with succulent hairy leaves disposed in a dense spiral pattern. Marcescent leaves help protect the plants from cold. The flowers are usually yellow, similar to daisies. Some members of the genus exhibit a caulirosulate growth habit.[5]

The frailejón plant is endangered due to destruction of the páramo for agricultural purposes, especially potato crops. This activity continues, despite the Colombian government declaring it illegal. Since about 2010 the plants have also come under attack by beetle larvae, a moth and a fungus, some new to science but suspected to be related to climate change which allows lower-altitude species to flourish.[2]

Espeletia is well known for contributing to the world in water sustainability by capturing water vapor from passing clouds in its spongy trunk and releasing it through the roots into the soil,[2] thus helping to create vast high-altitude subterranean water deposits and lakes that will eventually form rivers.

Espeletia schultzii
Espeletia boyacensis, Duitama, Colombia
Espeletia pycnophylla
Espeletia pycnophylla


Species accepted by Plants of the World Online as of December 2022:[1]


  1. ^ a b "Espeletia Bonpl". Plants of the World Online. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. 2022. Retrieved 1 December 2022.
  2. ^ a b c Damian Carrington (9 April 2019). "In the land of El Dorado, clean water has become 'blue gold'". The Guardian.
  3. ^ Tropicos, Espeletia Mutis ex Bonpl.
  4. ^ Mutis, José Celestino Bruno ex Bonpland, Aimé Jacques Alexandre in Humboldt, Friedrich Wilhelm Heinrich Alexander von & Bonpland, Aimé Jacques Alexandre. 1808. Plantes équinoxiales recueillies au Mexique : dans l'île de Cuba, dans les provinces de Caracas, de Cumana et de Barcelone, aux Andes de la Nouvelle Grenade, de Quito et du Pérou, et sur les bords du rio-Negro de Orénoque et de la rivière des Amazones 2(9): 10-16 plates 70-72 descriptions in parallel French and Latin, commentary in French, full page line drawings
  5. ^ Zinck, Joseph Alfred; Huber, Otto (2011). Peatlands of the Western Guayana Highlands, Venezuela. Springer Fachmedien. p. 56.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Media related to Espeletia at Wikimedia Commons