Monographs Details: Befaria
Authority: Maguire, Bassett. 1978. The botany of the Guayana Highland--part X. Mem. New York Bot. Gard. 29: 1-288.
Discussion:The genus Befaria ranges from southern Mexico to Boliva, and from south Georgia and Florida through the Caribbean to Venezuela. Its center of distribution lies in northwestern South America. It occurs in a wide amphtude of ecologic and topographic habitats from sea level to altitudes of 4000 meters in the Andes. Universally the genus seems to be restricted to sandy or acidic soils. In the region of Guayana it is invariably found on acidulous soils derived from sandstone (or conglomerate), from a low altitude of some 400 meters to nearly 3000 meters.
Befaria was considered the most primitive living member of the Ericaceae by Abbott (1936), Camp (1941), and Copeland (1943). Its unspecialized characters included distinct petals and variable numbers of floral parts, seven being most common. Other supposedly primitive features were the trilacunar vascular supply to the sepals (Copeland, 1943), and presence of glandular pubescence (Camp, 1941).
The only recent review of Befaria was made in 1935 by Mansfeld and Sleumer. These authors recognized 25 species, six of them ascribed to the area of the Guayana Highland. Of these, within B. glauca, itself of wide distribution, there are distinguished five varieties, four of which are attributed to Guayana.
With a large amount of material now assembled, the present authors are unable to assign many specimens with clarity to the entities so presented by Mansfeld and Sleumer. We find ourselves in agreement with A. C. Smith (1931) who wrote, "In the past too much emphasis has been placed on pubescence as a specific character, and a revision of this difficult genus will be feasible only in connection with intensive field study." It is even more abundantly clear now that this is so and further that there is little correlation of these characters with geographical or ecologic selectivity. It would seem that similar genetical complexities are to be found here that have been demonstrated for Rhododendron and Vaccinium.
We therefore refer anyone interested in the detailed identification of Befaria to the original work of Mansfeld and Sleumer. We do feel justified in proposing the following new taxon which does have geographic and morphologic consistency and cohesion.