New Species of Legume Found Preserved in Dominican Amber

by johnsmith

Salpinganthium hispaniolanum grew in the forests of Hispaniola during the mid-Tertiary, between 20 and 30 million years ago.

Salpinganthium hispaniolanum. Image credit: Poinar, Jr.  & Chambers, doi: 10.17348/jbrit.v15.i2.1161.

Salpinganthium hispaniolanum. Image credit: Poinar, Jr. & Chambers, doi: 10.17348/jbrit.v15.i2.1161.

The flowers of Salpinganthium hispaniolanum were found in several lumps of amber recovered from an amber mine in the mountains of the Dominican Republic.

The new species also represents a new genus and belongs to the pea family Fabaceae.

“The flowers of Salpinganthium hispaniolanum are quite striking with their spreading sepals and petals, along with the 10 extended stamens,” said Professor George Poinar, Jr., from the Department of Integrative Biology at Oregon State University.

“While now darkened with age, the petals were probably white, yellow or even pink, which are the petal colors of the closely related purpleheart tree, whose strong, durable, purplish wood is prized by artists, ship builders, furniture makers and other crafts people.”

While purpleheart trees continue to grow along rivers in tropical rain forests in Central and South America, particularly in the Amazon basin, Salpinganthium hispaniolanum trees have disappeared.

“We can only speculate about why these fossil trees have become extinct,” Professor Poinar said.

“They could have succumbed to some unique biological and/or physical events, such as the loss of a pollinator, presence of a pathogen or climatic change that ravaged populations throughout their entire range.”

“Finding their flowers in five separate pieces of amber shows that they were well established in the Dominican amber forest. “

Professor Poinar and his colleague, Professor Kenton Chambers from the Department of Botany and Plant Pathology at Oregon State University, placed Salpinganthium hispaniolanum in the resin-producing tribe Detarieae; the tribe’s members have sepals and petals dotted with glands.

“Another member of this tribe, Hymenaea, produced the resin that became the world famous Dominican amber,” Professor Poinar said.

The discovery is described in a paper published in the Journal of the Botanical Research Institute of Texas.


G.O. Poinar, Jr. & K.L. Chambers. 2021. Salpinganthium hispaniolanum gen. et sp. nov. (Fabaceae: Detarieae), a mid-Tertiary flower in Dominican amber. Journal of the Botanical Research Institute of Texas 15 (2): 559-567; doi: 10.17348/jbrit.v15.i2.1161

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