Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Ruizia cordata

Ruizia cordata | Bois de senteur, Bois de chanteur, Bois de chanteur blanc, Sweet-scented Whitewood

Ruizia is an endangered, monotypic genus from Réunion Island in the Indian Ocean. It is closely related to genera such as Dombeya, Trochetia, Astiria, Helmiopsis and Helmiopsiella. The genus was named after the Spanish botanist Hipólito Ruiz (1754-1816).

Ruizia cordata is a small tree to 10m. The foliage of Ruizia is heterophyllous (variable) ―juvenile plants are markedly different from the adult plants. This resulted in several synonyms for the species, including Ruizia lobata, Ruizia laciniata and Ruizia variabilis. The plant flowers before reaching maturity. The inflorescence is 5-10cm long, bearing 7-15 pink flowers; Male flowers are about 1cm in diameter, female flowers are slightly smaller.

The xerophilous Ruizia cordata was once abundant in the the dry, low altitude areas of Réunion as well as on the semi-dry forest slopes. In the past, it was the dominant species of these regions but up until a few years ago, this species was still endangered and was actually believed to be extinct until it was rediscovered. In 1998 only 2 plants remained in the wild, but it has now been reintroduced into the wild by the Conservatoire Botanique des Mascarins. A number of trees are also in cultivation at the McBryde Garden of the National Tropical Botanical Garden on Kauai, Hawaii.

Local beliefs played a major role in pushing Ruizia cordata to the brink of extinction. Bark as well as other parts of the tree were believed to have magical medicinal properties and were sought after by local herb-doctors for their purported curative powers. Local traditional medicine used it to treat a number of diseases as well as to chase away evil spirits.

Historical Reference: RUIZIA. The name given to a few shrubs of the Sterculiaceae found in the Island of Bourbon, and closely related to Dmnbeya or Astrapæa, but differing in all the twenty stamens of the flowers being anther-bearing, as well as in their ten-celled ovary. The four species are named respectively palmata, lobata, cordata, and dissecta, from their palmate or maple-like, lobed heart-shaped or dissected leaves, which are stalked alternate and downy underneath. The white or rosy flowers, somewhat like miniature mallows, are disposed In axillary stalked cymes, each flower having a five-parted calyx with two bracts at its base; five oblong clawed petals ; twenty stamens; and a ten-celled ovary crowned with ten short styles. The fruits are ten celled globular capsules with two seeds In each cell. The name of Dr. Hlppolite Ruiz, an eminent Spanish botanist and traveller in Peru and Chile, is perpetuated in this genus.

   The treasury of botany: a popular dictionary of the vegetable kingdom
   By ‪John Lindley‬, ‪Thomas Moore‬
   Published by Longmans, Green, and co., 1874