Synaphea spinulosa

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Synaphea spinulosa
Synaphea spinulosa subsp. spinulosa.JPG
S. spinulosa subsp. spinulosa
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Eudicots
Order: Proteales
Family: Proteaceae
Genus: Synaphea
Species: S. spinulosa
Binomial name
Synaphea spinulosa
(Burm.f.) Merr.

S. spinulosa subsp. borealis
S. spinulosa subsp. major
S. spinulosa subsp. spinulosa

Synaphea spinulosa is a species of small shrub in the flowering plant family Proteaceae. It is endemic to Western Australia. Together with Acacia truncata, it was the first Australian endemic to be scientifically described and named, and the specimen upon which that description is based is the oldest extant specimen of an Australian plant, and very likely among the first Australian plant specimens ever collected.


Synaphea spinulosa grows as a small shrub with multiple steps up to 50 cm (19.5 in) in height. The leaves are deeply divided into three lobes, and each lobe is usually also divided into three. The ultimate lobes are usually triangular, and even these usually end in up to three sharp points. The leaf lamina does not lie flat but is concave. Overall the leaves are from 2 to 7 cm (1 to 3 in) long, and 3 to 7 cm (1 to 3 in) wide, on a petiole 0.5–2 cm (0.20–0.79 in) long. Flowers are bright yellow, and occur crowded together in spikes from 2 to 5 cm (1 to 2 in) long, on a branched peduncle arising from the upper axils of branches.[1]


Taxonomic history[edit]

Tab. 87 from Nicolaas Laurens Burman's 1768 Flora Indica; engraving by Adolf van der Laan.[2] The upper plant, labelled Polypodium spinulosum, is in fact S. spinulosa.

Synaphea spinulosa bears the distinction of holding several 'firsts' in Australia botanical history. Together with Acacia truncata it was the first Australian endemic to be scientifically described and named, and the specimen upon which that description is based is the oldest extant specimen of an Australian plant, and very likely among the first Australian plant specimens ever collected.[3]

Nothing is known of the original collection of the specimen, except that it was necessarily collected before publication of the species description in 1768. Prior to this, the only known visit by Europeans to an area where S. spinulosa occurs was the voyage of Dutch mariner Willem de Vlamingh, who explored Rottnest Island and the Swan River in December 1696 and January 1697 respectively.[3] It is therefore very likely, but not proven, that the specimen was collected during that voyage, and thus predates by nearly three years the oldest authenticated collection of Australian plants, that made by William Dampier in 1699.[4] It is known that Dutch botanist Nicolaas Witsen asked Vlamingh to collect plants for him during the voyage,[3] and it is recorded that Vlamingh returned to Holland with plants, fruits, and wood samples.[5] Furthermore, it is difficult to credit that far more abundant and showy plants would have been passed over in favour of the unremarkable S. spinulosa and A. truncata, suggesting that these specimens may have been part of a larger collection. However, there is no record of a substantial collection reaching Holland, and somehow these two specimens ended up at Java where they remained for over seventy years.[3]

In 1768, Dutch botanist Nicolaas Laurens Burman acquired the two specimens and published names, descriptions and illustrations of them in his Flora Indica. S. spinulosa was wrongly identified as a Javanese fern, and named Polypodium spinulosum; A. truncata was similarly misidentified and misnamed. The specimen of A. truncata is now lost, but the specimen of S. spinulosa is extant, and currently lodged in the Herbarium of the Conservatoire et Jardin botaniques de la Ville de Genève (CJB) in Geneva, Switzerland; it is the oldest extant botanical specimen of an Australian endemic.[3]

The next known collection of S. spinulosa was made in December 1801, when King George Sound was visited by HMS Investigator under the command of Matthew Flinders. On board were botanist Robert Brown, botanical artist Ferdinand Bauer, and gardener Peter Good. All three men gathered material for Brown's specimen collection,[6] including specimens of S. spinulosa.[7] Neither Brown's nor Good's diary can be used to assign a precise location or date for the first collection of this species,[8][9] but one of Brown's specimen slips is dated "Decr 19 1801".[7]

Brown, however, did not recognise the species as distinct; in his specimen collection, specimens of S. spinulosa are attributed to S. polymorpha,[7] and when he eventually published the genus in his 1810 monograph On the Proteaceae of Jussieu, he assigned Burman's Polypodium spinulosum to S. petiolaris.[10]

In 1919, American botanist Elmer Drew Merrill identified Burman's Polypodium spinulosum with S. polymorpha. Claiming priority for Burman's name, he transferred P. spinulosum into Synaphea as S. spinulosa, relegating S. polymorpha to synonymy.[11] This synonymy was accepted for many years, though the more established name S. polymorpha was preferred. The species was finally recognised as distinct in 1995 when Alex George divided S. polymorpha into several species in his treatment of the genus for the Flora of Australia series of monographs.[1]

Relationships within Synaphea[edit]

The only published infrageneric arrangement of Synaphea is that provided by Alex George for the Flora of Australia series. In George's arrangement, Synaphea is divided into four sections. S. spinulosa is placed at the front of S. sect. Synaphea, by far the largest section with 44 members, because of its "entire to emarginate or shortly horned stigma":[1]

S. sect. Synaphea
S. spinulosa — S. endothrix — S. media — S. sparsiflora — S. canaliculata — S. cervifolia — S. quartzitica — S. incurva — S. polymorpha — S. intricata — S. parviflora — S. tripartita — S. constricta — S. bifurcata — S. oligantha — S. flexuosa — S. divaricata — S. interioris — S. tamminensis — S. rangiferops — S. lesuerensis — S. aephynsa — S. gracillima — S. drummondii — S. acutiloba — S. stenoloba — S. odocoileops — S. recurva — S. grandis — S. decorticans — S. panhesya — S. boyaginensis — S. whicherensis — S. preissii — S. obtusata — S. platyphylla — S. nexosa — S. petiolaris — S. otiostigma — S. flabelliformis — S. damopsis — S. cuneata — S. macrophylla — S. decumbens — S. xela
S. sect. Bicornis (4 species)
S. sect. Oulopha (1 species)
S. sect. Pinnata (1 species)
(1 species unassigned)


Three subspecies are currently recognised:

George notes that the species is highly variable, and there are several unstudied collections exhibiting interesting variability.[1]

Distribution and habitat[edit]

Endemic to Western Australia, it is widespread in the Southwest Botanic Province, and almost never found outside it.[12]


  1. ^ a b c d "Synaphea spinulosa (Burm.f.) Merr., Proc. Linn. Soc. New South Wales 44: 354 (1919)". Flora of Australia Online. Department of the Environment and Heritage, Australian Government. 
  2. ^ Hewson, Helen (1999). Australia: 300 years of botanical illustration. Collingwood, Victoria: CSIRO Publishing. pp. 19–21. ISBN 0-643-06366-8. 
  3. ^ a b c d e Hamilton, Jill, Duchess of, and Bruce, Julia (1998). The Flower Chain: The Early Discovery of Australian Plants. East Roseville, New South Wales: Kangaroo Press. ISBN 0-86417-922-7. 
  4. ^ George, Alexander Segger (1999). William Dampier in New Holland: Australia's First Natural Historian. Hawthorn, Victoria: Bloomings Books. pp. 2–3. ISBN 1-876473-12-6. 
  5. ^ Nelson, Ernest Charles (1990). "'... and flowers for our amusement': the early collecting and cultivation of Australian plants in Europe and the problems encountered by today's taxonomists". In Short, P. S. History of Systematic Botany in Australia. pp. 285–296. 
  6. ^ Hopper, Stephen (2003). "South-western Australia, Cinderella of the world's temperate floristic regions 1". Curtis's Botanical Magazine. 21 (2): 132–79. doi:10.1111/1467-8748.00380. 
  7. ^ a b c "Synaphea". Robert Brown's Australian Botanical Specimens, 1801–1805 at the BM. FloraBase, Western Australian Herbarium. Retrieved 2012-01-09. 
  8. ^ Vallance, T. G.; Moore, D. T.; Groves, E. W. (2001). Nature's Investigator: The Diary of Robert Brown in Australia, 1801–1805. Canberra: Australian Biological Resources Study. ISBN 0-642-56817-0. 
  9. ^ Edwards, Phyllis I. (ed.) (1981). "The journal of Peter Good: Gardener of Matthew Flinders voyage to Terra Australis 1801–03". Bulletin of the British Museum (Natural History), Historical series. 9 (Complete): 1–213. ISSN 0068-2306. 
  10. ^ Brown, Robert (1810). "On the Proteaceae of Jussieu". Transactions of the Linnean Society of London. 10: 156. doi:10.1111/j.1096-3642.1810.tb00013.x. 
  11. ^ Merrill, Elmer (1919). "On the identity of Polypodium spinulosum Burm.f.". Proceedings of the Linnean Society of New South Wales. 44: 353–354. 
  12. ^ "Synaphea spinulosa (Burm.f.) Merr". FloraBase. Western Australian Government Department of Parks and Wildlife. 

External links[edit]