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updated: 01/19/11 

(Gentianaceae: Helieae)

more images
The convoluted history of the name Lisianthus

Symbolanthus Symbolanthus
Common name:  Ring-gentian

Latin name: Symbolanthus G. Don, Gen. Hist. 4: 175 (1837).
Synonym: Lisianthus sect. Symbolanthus (G. Don) Benth. in Benth. & Hook. f., Gen. Pl. 2: 814 (1876)
Synonym: Leiothamnus Griseb., Gen. Sp. Gent. 205 (1839 [1838])

Etymology: Symbolanthus is formed from the two words symbole (Greek for fusion or unity) and -anthus (= flower). This probably refers to the corona in the corolla tube that fuses the base of the stamens.

Species: c. 30, several are still undescribed.  This group of gentians are currently being studied by Lena Struwe.  

Distribution: Neotropics, primarily in mountainous areas; Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guyana, Panama, Peru, Venezuela. 

Habitat: Rainforests, cloud forests, paramo, montane shrubby and grassy areas.

Characteristics:  Shrubs, rarely small trees or herbs. Flowers over (5-)8-15 cm long. Trumpet-shaped corollas with long corolla tube, white, green, yellow, pink, or red, often with white stripes in corolla mouth. Low corona at base of stamens inside corolla tube. Anthers linear, often strongly recurved after anthesis, on slightly bent filaments of varying lengths. Fruit a fleshy capsule, usually over 3 cm long.

Phylogeny and related plants:  Symbolanthus belongs to the Symbolanthus clade in the tribe Helieae, and is most closely related to Wurdackanthus and Chelonanthus.

Economic uses: None known.

Notes: Hummingbirds are pollinating the large, pink flowers of Symbolanthus pulcherrimus in Central America.

Selected species (synonyms in parenthesis) and their distribution:

Symbolanthus aureus  Venezuela (Bolivar)
Symbolanthus australis Struwe Bolivia, Peru
Symbolanthus brittonianus Bolivia, Peru
Symbolanthus calygonus Peru (Huanuco)
Symbolanthus camanensis Maguire & B. M. Boom Venezuela 
Symbolanthus daturoides Peru
Symbolanthus elisabethae (M.R. Schomb.) Gilg (Leiothamnus elisabethae M.R. Schomb.; Lisianthus elisabethae (M.R. Schomb.) Griseb.; Helia elisabethae (M.R. Schomb.) Kuntze) Brazil, Guyana, Venezuela

Symbolanthus huachamacariensis Steyerm. (Symbolanthus elisabethae subsp. occidentalis Maguire & Boom)

Symbolanthus pterocalyx Struwe Colombia
Symbolanthus pulcherrimus Costa Rica, Panama
Symbolanthus rosmarinifolius Struwe & V. Albert Venezuela
Symbolanthus sessilis Steyerm. & Maguire Venezuela
Symbolanthus tetrapterus Struwe Colombia
Symbolanthus vasculosus Venezuela
Symbolanthus yaviensis Steyerm. (Symbolanthus yutajensis Maguire & Boom) Venezuela


References and publications
Gilg, E. 1916. Gentianaceae andinae. Beib. Bot. Jahrb. 118: 4-122.

Struwe, L. 2003. Two new winged species of Symbolanthus (Gentianaceae: Helieae) from Colombia. Novon 13: 133-140.

Struwe, L. & V. A. Albert. 1998b. Six new species of Gentianaceae from the Guayana Shield. Harvard Pap. Bot. 3: 181-197.

Struwe, L., J. W. Kadereit, J. Klackenberg, S. Nilsson, M. Thiv, K. B. von Hagen, & V. A. Albert. 2002. Systematics, character evolution, and biogeography of Gentianaceae, including a new tribal and subtribal classification. Pp. 21-309. In: L. Struwe & V. A. Albert (eds.), Gentianaceae: Systematics and Natural History, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Struwe, L., P. J. M. Maas, O. Pihlar, & V. A. Albert. 1999. Gentianaceae. Pp. 474-542. In: P. E. Berry, K. Yatskievych, & B. K. Holst, editors. Flora of the Venezuelan Guayana, vol. 5. Missouri Botanical Garden, St. Louis. (images)

Lena Struwe, 2002-2004


Gentian Research Network, 2002-2011.
For corrections and additions, contact Lena Struwe at