The genus Bucephalandra – Part 1 – Introduction and classification hierarchy
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The genus Bucephalandra – Part 1 – Introduction and classification hierarchy

Bucephalandra is a small flowering plant endemic of Borneo,  that has become quite popular in the recent years especially among the aquascapers community because of  his stunning colors.

In this article I will give you a little introduction to this genus and his nomenclature, trying to keep the reading easy understandable for everyone.

Let’s start from beginning, genus Bucephalandra was first described by Heinrich Wihlelm Schott in 1858, which described a plant collected in South Kalimantan region (Borneo), as Bucephaladra molteyana. The typus plant (the plant used for the description) is part of Kew Herbarium of the Royal Botanic Garden (England) but the plant was never found again in their natural habitat, it seems plausible that the concerned  plant was a local endemism that has been lost over the years, in fact such form of endemism are common in this genus. This fact mean also that all the Bucephalandra that we can find in our tanks or in the market are definitely not Bucephalandra molteyana, but other species!
Schott’s original description is meagre and contains errors, this also leaded in 1879 to the creation of a genus called  Microcasia by Beccari,  nowadays this genus is considered a synonym of Bucephalandra.


Original Bucephalandra drawing made by J. Seboth in 1858 – Image source:

Let’s take a step back, where does it come from  the name Bucephalandra?

Well, the name derives from the ancient Greek words: βούς (bous) wich mean ox, κεφαλή (kephalē) wich mean head and ἀνήρ (aner) wich mean man.

Now you will surely ask yourself why a scientist named the genus male ox-head? Was he a fan of Alexander the Great’s horse? Was he fascinated by the underworld guardian of the Chinese mythology?
No, nothing to do with that, the name is due to the horn shaped anthers (the part of the stamen where pollen is produced) that resemble an ox-head (see previous drawing).

Well, mystery explained, now can go forward and have a look at the classification hierarchy:

Kingdom: Plantae (plants)
Subkingdom: Viridiplantae (green plants)
Infrakingdom: Streptophyta
Superphylum:  Embryophyta (land plants)
Phylum: Tracheophyta (vascular plants)
Subphylum: Euphyllophytina
Infraphylum: Radiatopses
Class: Spermatospida (seed plants)
Subclass: Magnoliidae (flowering plants)
Superorder: Lilianae (monocotyledon)
Order: Alismatales
Family: Araceae
Genus: Bucephalandra

You may think that all this complex hierarchy is a crazy scientist invention made to make our life difficult, but actually if you take a closer look, you might discover that is very simple and give us already a lot of information about the plant.
For example, if one of your friends say:
in the next import, I’ll have a special plant from Borneo, from a plants hunter, I’ve no idea what it is, I only know that it’s called Bucephalandra and it’s and should be an Aroid, I’ll send you some as soon as arrive here.

And you think wow cool, I have something new to add in my collection, but is that a moss, a fern or something else? Mm let me check on wiki..unbelievable there are no information about, the page is still blank!!

Ok don’t panic, following this hierarchy and looking only at few of the names in the list without having idea of what kind of plant a Bucephalandra is, we can get some information like: is, a green plant that live on the land, is a vascular plant so it’s not an algae, emphatic or a moss, it’s a plant that make seeds so it’s not a fern, it’s a flowering plant.
Now at least we know something more than our friend, of course, if we go deeper, looking at all the names in the hierarchy  we can have more information.

I know, I know, you want me to write about the classification inside the genus Bucephalandra, well, this will be in an other post, it’s 2 in the morning, for today I’ll stop here.

In the second part I’ll talk about the natural habitat before get down to specifics.

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