New species of Iridaceae or just some weird variation?

I decided to bring this topic up from the main site because … well, I would like some opinions… I would love an Iridaceae expert to help on this one :)

Well, it all started on this observation: I inmediatly looked at it and I was like “yes of course this is Hesperoxiphion niveum” and just accepted the ID. Then… well, I happened to look back at the original observation… and I noticed a lot of differences. A good lot of 'em. If you search for it the first thing there is is a POWO image collected close from said observation. And then hit the differences. I made a comparison image:

Note: none of the H. niveum observations (,,, other than that one resemble the specimen on POWO. I would really appreciate throughts…

this is my favourite species as of now :)


I know that in order to establish a new species you want more than just one odd specimen. At minimum, several, ideally dozens, and then it would still take years of work to establish whether or not the population can be defined as a species.
Otherwise, it could just be an unusual specimen, a one-time mutation, a closely related species, etc.


Are you sure it’s not just another species in the genus? Maybe one that hasn’t been observed yet?


@trh_blue There are more than one odd specimens. The “odd” form to the left has been reportedly observed before by many citable sources. The form to the right (the “iNat” form) is more common but has never seen the light of a reliable publication.

@zdanko The only other species I know is Hesperoxiphion pusillum, a synonym of Cypella pusilla, which is found on Brazil. If anyone could access a reliable publication on Hesperoxiphion (I can’t find one) I would be forever grateful :)

@trh_blue @zdanko Here, another register of the “odd form”! Some distance apart:

Sounds like a job for DNA barcoding!


It would be great! But, as the pandemic goes, I doubt I’ll be able to so such a work… I mean, I was the first one to notice this but…
Also, there is an odd variation of the odd form! see

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Also also, fishing down POWO’s site, I found the original isotype and another collection which fits more with the left one. So is the “iNat” variation the new species?

I’ll add my two cents worth in spite of knowing next to nothing about plants. In many moths the variation in appearance can be extreme (see the variation in Euxoa ochrogaster - Moth Photographers Group – Euxoa ochrogaster – 10801 ( Most life forms have inherent variation, so perhaps this is just a normal phenotypic variation. Domesticated plants have different cultivars. Again, take this with a grain of salt, as I’m not well versed in plant taxonomy or plant variation.

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Maybe the iNat ones are all H. huilense?

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There are no surviving accounts of H. huilense in color. Also it is a Colombian endemic, apparently.
The leaves and fruit look close enough but I have no photo of the flowers…

Also also, it goes way too south, all the way to Huanuco I think.? I will check on the previous observations and… well, if it turns out to be H. huilense, I’ll correct the ID’s

Wow, you certainly don’t ask a simple question here! Speaking as someone who has described a new species (and more on the way), determining whether something is a new species requires a lot of understanding. At a minimum, you need to have an understanding of the populational variability to know if there is any intergradation between the two forms. The simplest way is to find whether there is full continuity of form between the various forms or not, but this isn’t always enough. You usually also need to have some understanding of the environmental conditions that might cause differences in morphology. You also need to somehow exclude the possibility of weird, spontaneous forms that occasionally pop up in populations (usually looking at enough individuals to get a sense of this). Depending on the group, you may also want/need pollinator info, habitat info, substrate info, genetic/phylogenetic info, other ecological info, methods of reproductive isolation if applicable, etc. It all starts with understanding populational variability, though. The training to even understand the basics can take years. It’s not something to engage in lightly unless you are either interested in/have the time and motivation to become an expert in the genus and have access to an expert in the group. I would recommend looking through the primary literature to see if anyone has published on the taxonomy of the genus recently and reach out to them. If there is a current investigator into the group, they might enjoy the extra material, though taxonomists are an odd bunch and sometimes take time to respond, especially if they’re not interested. If you can’t find someone in the genus, you could try an expert in the family but expect that they may not know. More likely, an expert in the family will be your best shot at finding out if there’s an expert and how you can reach them.


You should verify:

  1. are there other names linked to Hesperoxiphion niveum (e.g. varieties, synonyms…) that could match with the “aberrant” individuals?
  2. if this variation is seen in just one/few individuals or in at least one large population and, in this last case, if it is ecologically and/or geographically distinct from the type

If the “aberrant” form is relatively well distributed, it is likely that some herbarium specimens could exist. You could consider the possibility to collect other specimens and start to measure the various part of the plants (or do it in the field) in order to make a comaprison using multivariate statistics.

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Hello Nathan! Glad to talk again since the “Euphorbia lasiocarpa” observations :)

Well, I think I will give my… umm… opinions on each point, since I didn’t explain myself on the first post a lot…

I have yet to find an intermediate form between Hesperoxiphion cf. niveum and Hesperoxiphion niveum sensu stricto. The differences are always the same, at least in the material I know: lorate, wide leaves with deep veins/gramineous, thin leaves; detailed golden and white appendices/even more detailed white and lemon-yellow with black stripes; cup-shaped center/thin, small center; clearly heart or arrow-shaped outer petals/more deformed petals.

The two have completely different habitats. Hesperoxiphion cf. niveum is always found on humid-cloud rainforest habitat; but the Hesperoxiphion niveum sensu stricto has been found in seasonally dry scrub and dry scrub, and, according to the last observer, “only flowers in the rainy season”.

Flor blanca de tres pétalos, tiene tres pistilos que parecen ojitos. Planta de bulbo, con hojas largas pero delgadas, la flor se abre a la luz del sol, solo florea en tiempo de lluvia.


White three-petaled flower, has three pistils that look like little eyes. Bulbous plant, with long, thin leaves, it opens with sunlight, only flowers on the rain season.

-original description of the last observation

There are, yes, oddities. Check out this! definitely an aberrant form of H. niveum sensu stricto. But the shape itself seems never to change.

Exactly. I have yet to see both forms alive (not in photos I mean) but I have entered in contact with the habitats described. I currently (not always) live two or three hours of driving from Udima (the main habitat of the “odd” or “iNat” species) and have visited the dry scrub where recently the original Hesperoxiphion niveum has been observed. On the other aspects I don’t know a lot but I plan to research them soon (hope to be done by year’s end).

It’s something I’m taking in account for my bachelor thesis, so yeah, I plan to study a little deeper about this.

My old Biology teacher… well, I think he has a PhD on Biology and he offered help on this project.

There is very few material on Hesperoxiphion that I could find. Very, very little. Most there is is mixed with other Iridaceae from South America. As I said, I was gonna consult the teacher I know but that’s gonna take a while. I’ll love to keep y’all updated!

oops, sorry if this was too long :sweat_smile:

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The only name is the previous basionym, Cypella nivea. As I said before, the habitat conditions and leaf morphology seem to be common with the Colombian endemic for some reason.}

The populations described from Hesperoxiphion niveum Ravenna are part of dry forest biome, seasonally dry scrub… while the ones from Hesperoxiphion sp. include always wet evergreen montane forest, so it’s both ecologically and geographically distinct from the type. The populations overlap in the native range of niveum at Cajamarca. I have little information about population density, but in photos Hesperoxiphion niveum Ravenna seems to be less sparsely distributed than it’s unknown counterpart.

It is very well distributed apparently, north to Bongara and south to Pachitea. The leaf morphology seems to be uniform all along the range. But there appear to be no collections from citable sources. I plan to do that by myself.

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Ok, then enjoy studying these plants.
I guess they are geophytes, arent’they? So cultivating them in parallel in the same conditions could be helpful in order to verify the stability of their morphology


Yep, geophytes. Bulbs red and onion-like; I know how they are supposed to look like because they are used as medicinal plants and in luck rituals (for some reason)

Exactly, that’s how it should be done. My Biology teacher just talked about the importance of doing so last time we had a lecture with other students.

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it may also be valuable to confirm that they are the same species, just a population with significant phenological differences…


Well, I mean, there is a similar species north but it is restricted to another country. Comparing both species in cultivation (as @blue_celery said) would be extremely useful. Even if it turns out to be H. huilense it would be a new addition to Peruvian flora and enrich the ecosystems it inhabits.