Monographs Details:

Mori, S. A. & Prance, Ghillean T. 1990. Lecythidaceae - Part II: The zygomorphic-flowered New World genera (Couroupita, Corythophora, Bertholletia, Couratari, Eschweilera, & Lecythis). With a study of secondary xylem of Neotropical Lecythidaceae by Carl de Zeeuw. Fl. Neotrop. Monogr. 21: 1-376. (Published by NYBG Press)

Scientific Name:

Couratari Aubl.

Lecythopsis Schrank, Curataria C.K.Sprengel, Curatari J.F.Gmel.

Description - Medium to very large trees. Leaves entire to crenulate, glabrous or with simple or stellate pubescence. Inflorescences terminal or axillary, racemose or paniculate arrangement or racemes. Flowers 2-3.5 cm diam., appearing with or without leaves; hypanthium campanulate; Calyx-lobes six; petals six, oblong to oblong-spathulate; androecium markedly asymmetrical, extending unilaterally into large sterile hood which is spirally coiled inwards, the apical part abruptly folded back over hood to form a second hood which is either thick-fleshy, smooth to transversely plaited, or not thickened but covered with numerous slender sterile appendages, in both types there are often a few clavate sterile appendages at the apex of the inner spiral (Fig. 50); stamens 10-75, arranged in one to many rows around staminal ring, with short thin filaments, sometimes fertile stamens extending slightly up ligule; ovary 3-locular, with numerous ovules in each loculus; the style very short. Fruits cylindrical to campanulate, woody or thin and coriaceous, always longer than broad; operculum tack-shaped, readily dehiscent from base of Pyxidium, the columella triangular, detaching from base of Pyxidium. Seeds alate, surrounded by more or less symmetrical wings; embryo with foliaceous cotyledons.


The synonymy and nomenclatural changes made here indicate that there has been a large amount of confusion in circumscription of the species of Couratari. This began with the creation of the genus when C. guianensis, the type species of Aublet, was based on a mixed gathering in which fruit of Couratari was included with leaves of Lecythis poiteaui. The confusion in the genus is not because the species are hard to define, but because many species are based on incomplete type material. This is particularly compounded in Couratari by the fact that several species flower when leafless (e.g., C. multiflora and C. oblongifolia) and other species fruit when nearly leafless. In addition, species of Couratari are amongst the largest trees of the forest and are therefore hard to collect. Fruit collections gathered from the ground, without accompanying leaves and flowers, are commonplace in many herbaria.

Taxonomic History of Couratari

Couratari was established by Aublet in 1775 with his description of C. guianensis, a name based on the leaves of Lecythis poiteaui Berg and the fruits of C. guianensis. Howard (1983) has shown that Aublet frequently based his species on mixed collections (see discussion of Lecythis zabucaja in this monograph). This is especially easy to do with collections of Lecythidaceae because of the large size of many of the species and the close proximity with which many of them grow in the same forest. Aublet (1775: 724) says that he often found the fruits of C. guianensis on the ground which further supports the idea that this species is based on a mixed collection. I take Aublet’s description of the fruit to represent, C. guianensis and serve as the type of genus.

Schrank (1821) published the genus Lecythopsis which has been regarded as a synonym of Couratari by later authors. Since Schrank did not propose a species name in Lecythopsis it was not validly published until Berg (1858) placed two species in the genus.

The second species name to be proposed in Couratari was C. estrellensis Raddi (1820) (=Cariniana estrellensis (Raddi) Kuntz) which began the confusion between Couratari and Cariniana that prevailed during the nineteenth century. Couratari guianensis and Cariniana estrellensis were originally placed in the same genus because of their winged seeds, a character that is confined to Cariniana and Couratari. However, the wings of Cariniana are unilateral (Fig. 32G) whereas those of Couratari surround the entire seed (Fig. 32F). Couratari estrellensis was described from fruiting material only. Apart from the differences in seed wings, the fruits of the two genera are similar, and it is not surprising that Cariniana and Couratari were linked together on fruiting characters alone. The flowers are, however, very different.

Richard (1824) provided a detailed description of what he presumed to be the flowers of Aublet’s Couratari guianensis. He, in fact, described the flowers of a species of Eschweilera. Poiteau (1825) and de Candolle (1828) included C. guianensis and C. estrellensis in their synopses of Couratari. However, they added nothing new to the knowledge about the genus.

Cambessèdes (1829) added two more species to Couratari (C. rufescens and C. glabra), both based on flowering material. Couratari rufescens was described earlier by Vellozo (1825) as Lecythis pyramidata and is now known as Couratari pyramidata. Cambessèdes gave a full description of the flowers of Couratari in his generic description, and thus he provided the first description of Couratari flowers linked to that genus, although Smith (1812) had described them in his description of Lecythis multiflora, a species which was later transferred to Couratari. However, Cambessèdes’ description was not entirely of Couratari as defined here because his description included C. glabra, which is a synonym of Eschweilera compressa.

Martius (1837) described two new species in Couratari, which were later transferred to Cariniana. Martius also proposed a species name, C. lecythopsis for the material described earlier by Schrank (1821) as the genus Lecythopsis. Berg (1856) also treated Couratari and Cariniana together under the former name. Two years later, in his account for Martius’ Flora Brasiliensis, Berg (1858) divided Couratari into two sections: Eucouratari and Cariniana. Section Eucouratari contained C. guianensis and nine new species, four of which are now considered as Allantoma lineata, four as Courataris s. str. and one, C. uaupensis, is now placed in Cariniana. Section Cariniana accommodated three species of Cariniana (C. domestica, C. estrellensis, and C. legalis). Berg also recognized the genus Lecythopsis of Schrank, and he transferred the two Couratari species of Cambessèdes (1829) into Lecythopsis. Later authors have not recognized this genus and have placed it in Couratari where it belongs.

Bentham and Hooker (1865) included Cariniana within Couratari. Miers (1874) reinstated Cariniana and also transferred four of Berg’s species of Couratari into Allantoma. Miers thus removed all the species which do not belong to Couratari. Miers recognized eight species of Couratari, two of which were new. He considered Lecythopsis a synonym of Couratari. Miers’ new genus Allantoma also included species of Couratari known from flowering material (A. multiflora, A. subramosa, and A. fagifolia). His division of the genera into Couratari, Cariniana, and Allantoma, was based largely on fruit characters, and he described many species known only from fruits. Hence, it is not surprising that he misplaced the three species of Couratari known to him only by flowering material.

Niedenzu (1892) followed Miers in his generic classification by separating Cariniana from Couratari. He still included three species of Couratari in Allantoma.

Eyma (1932) was the first to clarify the problem in the separation of Couratari and Allantoma. He removed the three species of Couratari originally placed in Allantoma by Miers, and he gave emended generic descriptions which have since formed the basis for defining the two genera. Thus, the confusion among the three very distinct genera Allantoma, Cariniana, and Couratari ended with Eyma’s work. However, he only treated the Surinam species in detail.

Knuth (1939) followed Eyma’s definition of Couratari. He treated sixteen species (including five new species) in his monograph. All of these species belong to Couratari, but their exact circumscription, in some cases, is changed in the present work. The most notable change is in the interpretation of Aublet’s C. guianensis which included C. multiflora as a synonym in Knuth’s monograph. The latter is considered a distinct species by me.

Since Knuth’s monograph (1939), four new species have been described by Sandwith (1932, 1940, 1955); two distinct Amazonian species have been added by Rodrigues (1974); three species from eastern Brazil, one of which is not a Couratari, have been described by Rizzini (1976), and I have added four species (Prance & Anderson, 1976; Prance, 1981).

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