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A Global Catalogue of Genera and Species
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Welcome to the Homepage of Araliaceae Central: A Global Catalogue of Genera and Species

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Introduction to Araliaceae Central

The information provided in Araliaceae Central results from nearly three decades of collaborative research conducted by Pete Lowry (Missouri Botanical Garden) and Greg Plunkett (New York Botanical Garden), along with numerous colleagues from throughout the world. The primary goals of this research have been to: 1) improve our understanding of the evolution of Araliaceae and their relatives; 2) document and describe the family’s diversity through herbarium, laboratory, and field studies; 3) clarify the evolutionary relationships among its members; and 4) provide a modern taxonomy for the group.

Araliaceae are a family of 46 genera and approximately 2,000 species. Most genera are tropical or subtropical, typically small trees growing in humid forests, although the family also includes small herbs and large trees, some of which are epiphytic, and some species occur in temperate and/or dry areas. The compounds produced by secretory canals found throughout the plant bodies of all members of Araliaceae are responsible for the family’s use in traditional medicine. Most famous are the ginsengs, which include several species of the genus Panax (as well as Eleutherococcus), and are highly prized as adaptogens, promoting overall health, energy, and adaptation to stress. Other medicinal plants are known from Aralia, Hydrocotyle, and Polyscias, among other genera. The pith of Tetrapanax papyrifer was one of the traditional sources of Chinese rice paper. Many Araliaceae are cultivated as ornamentals, including species of Fatsia, Hedera, Heptapleurum, Kalopanax, Plerandra, and Polyscias (see Plunkett et al., 2018).

Starting in the second half of the 19th Century, botanists have attempted to make sense of the diversity within Araliaceae and among its species, starting with Bentham (1867) and followed by Seemann (1866), Harms (1894-1897), and Viguier (1906), as reviewed in Plunkett et al. (2004). Tseng and Hoo (1982) produced the last update to these classification systems just prior to the advent of molecular systematics. Since that time, there have been many significant milestones advancing our knowledge of Araliaceae, including:

    • the completion of many phylogenetic studies, including on the placement of Araliaceae within the order Apiales and on the relationships among and within most of its genera;
    • the publication of the World Checklist and Bibliography of Araliaceae (Frodin and Govaerts, 2004), which provided overviews and comprehensive synonymies for all genera and species recognized at that time;
    • a detailed treatment of Araliaceae in The Families and Genera of Vascular Plants series (Plunkett et al., 2018), providing descriptions of the family and each of its genera as recognized at the time, along with an identification key to the genera;
    • extensive field and herbarium work conducted throughout the world; and
    • taxonomic treatments of several groups and the publication of many new species and new or reinstated genera.

“Print media” (even those now produced and delivered exclusively by digital means) have many benefits, and they remain at the center of scientific publication. But the recent pace of change in understanding, documenting, and naming the species of Araliaceae has been very rapid, exposing some of the limitations of print resources. Even recent “comprehensive” treatments, such as those appearing in the World Checklist and Families and Genera series, have become quickly out-of-date.

Araliaceae Central seeks to address these limitations by presenting an up-to-date platform with information on Araliaceae that is continually refreshed, while also taking advantage of the many other benefits of digital resources. For example, species pages in Araliaceae Central include information about type collections and protologues, along with comprehensive synonymies, and most include images (photos of living plants from field collections and/or scans of herbarium specimens), collection records, and geographical distributional data, as well as results from phylogenetic and biogeographic studies. Moreover, most of the information in Araliaceae Central is inter-connected. For example, most taxon pages display photos, a distribution map, and a list of identified collections, each of which are linked to the corresponding record. Similarly, collection records include locality data along with photos (when available) linked to the corresponding image record, and a map (when geo-coordinates are known). The result is a powerful, highly integrated, and easy-to-use tool.

Information on how to use the various functions of Araliaceae Central is available in the How to Use link under the Useful Tools section of the Project Navigation Bar on the left. Araliaceae Central was conceived and is maintained and updated by Pete Lowry and Greg Plunkett. We welcome questions, comments, suggestions, and corrections. Technical assistance for the development of Araliaceae Central was kindly provided by Carlos Rodrigues-Vaz and Pete Phillipson.

Our research on Araliaceae has been supported by several grants from the U.S. National Science Foundation (DEB 9981641, 0613728, 0614152, 0943958, 1556139, and 1556327), the National Geographic Society (CRE 5793-96, 7415-03, and 8355-07), and the Thomas F. and Kate Miller Jeffress Memorial Trust, as well as by the Missouri Botanical Garden, the New York Botanical Garden, and Virginia Commonwealth University.

Citation of this on-line resource:
Lowry, P. P., II and G. M. Plunkett (continuously updated). Araliaceae Central: A Global Catalogue of Genera and Species. Missouri Botanical Garden, St. Louis and New York Botanical Garden, Bronx, U.S.A. [http://legacy.tropicos.org/Project/Araliaceae.
Accessed: , ].
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