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New Species of Plant Named for ODU's Timothy Motley

New plant species

A new species of plant in the coffee family has been named in honor of Old Dominion University botanist Timothy Motley. The plant that will now be known as Chiococca motleyana had been classified during the 19th century as the only member of the genus Asemnantha.

Motley, who holds ODU's J. Robert Stiffler Distinguished Professorship in Botany and Horticulture, authored a journal article in 2005 describing DNA analyses he and colleagues had conducted on this small shrub. The article made a case for a reclassification to the genus Chiococca.

A recent article by Attila Borhidi, a botanist based in Hungary who is an expert on the coffee family (Rubiaceae), supported the reclassification and formally renamed the plant Chiococca motleyana. Borhidi's article, "Studies of Mexican Rubiaceae XXXV: Chiococca motleyana nomen novum," appeared in the journal Acta Botanica Hungarica.

Chiococca is a genus in the coffee family of about 20 species, with the greatest species diversity in Mexico and Central America, but with a few species extending into the Caribbean and South America. Chiococca motleyana is from southern Mexico and northern Central America.

"I have been studying the evolution and systematics of the coffee family for 20 years," Motley said. "This plant was originally placed incorrectly as the lone member of its own genus, but by comparing a large complex of genera using DNA analyses we showed that the species was just an unusual member of the Chiococca group. It was the publication in the American Journal of Botany (2005), in which we presented the data and detailed the need for reclassification, that led Borhidi to make the necessary taxonomic change and rename the species ."

Chiococca motleyana, which grows in arid regions, differs from all other species in two ways: its flowers have stamens (pollen-producing organs) that are fused in a ring and the flowers have four petals instead of the typical five. The plant produces attractive, small white berries that are dispersed by birds.

Motley, who directs the Kaplan Orchid Conservatory on the ODU campus, said the facility houses plants of a related species of Chiococca that he and students collected in the Everglades in 2008.