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Atalaya (plant)

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Atalaya (plant)

Atalaya salicifolia (type species) habit, 30 Dec 2012 by Mark Marathon
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Eudicots
(unranked): Rosids
Order: Sapindales
Family: Sapindaceae
Genus: Atalaya
Type species
Atalaya salicifolia
(A.DC.) Blume[1]

See text

Atalaya is a genus of eighteen known species of trees and shrubs, of the soapberry plant family Sapindaceae.[1][2][3] Fourteen species grow naturally in Australia. Three species grow naturally in southern Africa. One species grows naturally in New Guinea and one species which grows in Australia, A. salicifolia, has a wider distribution through nearby Timor and the Malesian islands to the west of it.[2] This latter species, the most widely distributed of all the species, is the type species—the first to be formally scientifically named and described.

Biogeography, habitats and conservation status

In warmer places of mainland Australia, the twelve better known species—trees, shrubs and subshrubs—grow naturally in rainforests, brigalow scrubs, monsoon forests (rainforests with a dry season and drought–deciduous trees), tropical savannas, coastal scrubs, some arid desert areas and in similar vegetation associations further south than the tropics. Certain species particularly occur in Australia's restricted areas of naturally high nutrient soil types, for example soils built from limestone or basalt parent materials. Areas of more fertile than average Australian soils, have not surprisingly had their native vegetation associations preferentially destroyed for converting the soils to European–Australian agricultural methods. This has disproportionately brought about the decline of the specialised native plants of these soils.

Two Australian species have herbarium specimen collections and published informal scientific descriptions, but are awaiting formal scientific naming and publication. Collectively, the fourteen known Australian species range throughout the warmer parts of the continent, in the Northern Territory, Queensland, Western Australia, New South Wales and South Australia, with the exception of Tasmania and Victoria and the inclusion of parts of the semi-arid and arid zones. Some Australian species have very restricted ranges and natural habitats. Atalaya collina Yarwun Whitewood trees, have a very restricted known range of only two populations to the west of Gladstone, Queensland, hence this species’ populations have a national conservation status listing of "endangered" in the Australian government Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC).[4]

Ian D. Cowie and Glenn M. Wightman formally scientifically named and described the endemic, unique Atalaya brevialata subshrub species, in their recently published, late 2012, scientific paper.[2] Botanists have found this species growing naturally only in a very restricted area of the Darwin region of Australia. In their formal scientific description Cowie and Wightman have published the species global conservation status (IUCN) of "endangered" under the following criteria "IUCN B1, 2ab (i, ii, iii, iv, v)".[2] A. brevialata plants have the unusual and unique nature amongst species of Atalaya of a suffruticose growing habit; meaning, in this case, a species that has evolved from an ancestral group of woody–trunked shrubs or trees into having woody growth only underground and above ground only leafy growth. They grow naturally only up to 45 cm (18 in) tall subshrubs, with the woody rootstock and with the leafy above ground growth that dies back to the underground trunk for each dry season.[2]

In South Africa three species grow naturally. The scarcity of A. natalensis trees and their restricted range has received the global (IUCN) conservation status of "vulnerable D2".[5] A. capensis has a global (IUCN) conservation status listing also, currently of "least concern".[6]

In Papua New Guinea A. papuana grows naturally in coast monsoon dune scrub (coastal rainforests with deciduous trees on dune soils that become seasonally dry), tropical savanna forests and in regenerating areas of regularly burning swamp forests and rainforests.

Naming history and classification

The Atalaya genus was first formally scientifically described by Carl L. Blume in 1847 with the Timor type specimen of the species Atalaya salicifolia.[1] Two species were formally described in 1965 by Pieter Willem Leenhouts in preparations for the Sapindaceae treatment in Flora Malesiana.[7] In 1981, 1985, 1991, Sally T. Reynolds scientifically described several new Australian species in two scientific journal articles and her writing of the Atalaya section of the Flora of Australia (series).[8][9][10]


Australian species information was sourced from the authoritative Australian Plant Name Index and Australian Plant Census. For taxa growing naturally outside Australia, as for example species in Africa and New Guinea this list may be incomplete.[3]

Accepted by the authoritative Australian Plant Census while informally named, described and published, awaiting formal publication
  • Atalaya sp. Chillagoe (L.J.Webb+ 13226) Qld Herbarium (2006) – Queensland, Australia[3]
  • Atalaya sp. Scawfell Island (G.N.Batianoff+ 6098) Qld Herbarium (2006) – Queensland, Australia[3]


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