To protect native plants and local genetic diversity

RESEARCH GROUP on conservation of polylepis forests

Polylepis incana

The Polylepis forests in Ecuador

The tree genus Polylepis is endemic of the Andean paramos (Fjeldsa and Kessler, 1996). Even now, Polylepis forests continue to disappear at an alarming rate, partly because people follow cultural traditions of cutting down, burning and shepherding and partly due to ever-increasing population growth and its increasing demands on the landscape. According to the scientific community, Polylepis forests need a careful systematic study and conservation biological investigation. In addition, an exotic species, P. racemosa, has been introduced into Ecuador from Peru, threatening the genetic integrity of native species. Polylepis racemosa has a wide distribution, ranging from Peru to Bolivia, with a hybridization history with other species from the genus. Interspecific relationships in Polylepis have been unclear due to presumed hybridization and polyploidy.


The genus belongs to Family Rosaceae, subfamily Rosoidea, tribe Sanguisorbeae (Simpson, 1979, 1985). The genus Polylepis has 28 species distributed in South America, from northern of Venezuela to northern of Chile and Argentina (Kessler, 2006).According to Simpson (1985) and Romoleroux (1996) the highest number of species occurs in Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia, but these groups of plants are not related to one another based on morphological characters. However, hybridization is very common among species of this genus and therefore their morphological recognition is very difficult sometimes (Romoleroux, 1996; Schmidt-Lebuhn et al., 2006). In the case of Ecuador, Romoleroux (1996) identified 8 species of Polylepis,  1 of them endemic (P. lanuginosa) and other introduced (P. racemosa).



Monica Jadan









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P. lanuginosa (endemic)

Trees  or shrubs with large and broad leaflets. Densely lanose. Long and straight trichomes.


DISTRIBUTION: Restricted to central and Southern Ecuador.

COMMON NAMES: Quinhal, quinhua colorada


P. incana

Trees of Shrubs. Leaves and racemes covered by short and twisted glandular hairs.  3- foliate leaves.



DISTRIBUTION:  Central Ecuador to Southern  Peru.

COMMON NAME: Palo Colorado

USES: throat inflammation, reforestation programs  



P. weberbaueri

Shrubs or small trees. Leaves very congested at the end of the branches. Margin of leaflets without sericeous hairs.

DISTRIBUTION: Central Ecuador to Northern of Peru



P. pauta


Trees. Leaflets ovate or oblong and crenate. Pubescence of the lower surface restricted to the veins.

DISTRIBUTION: Northern part of Ecuador


USES: Reforestation


P. reticulata 


Trees. Leafleats oblong and margin revolute. Pannose lower leaflet surface. Margin of leaflets with sericeous hairs.

DISTRIBUTION: North and Southern Ecuador

COMMON NAME: quinhua, yagual

Uses: Reforestation




Trees or shrubs.  Narrow and elliptic leaflets with the lower surface sericeous.


DISTRIBUTION: Venezuela to Central Bolivia.

COMMON NAMES: Coloradito, keshua, quinua


P. microphylla

Trees or shrubs. 3- 6 pair of leaflets. Leaflets oblong or obovate. Densely congested  at the tip of  the branches. Lower surface of leaflets densely villous.

DISTRIBUTION: Restricted to Chimborazo- Ecuador



P. racemosa (introduced)

Trees of Shrubs. Leaves and racemes covered by short and twisted glandular hairs.  3- foliate leaves.

DISTRIBUTION:  Central Ecuador to Southern  Peru.

COMMON NAME: Yagual, racemosa

USes: Reforestation




Romoleroux, K. 1996. Rosaceae. Pp. 50-95 In Flora of Ecuador, eds. Gunna Herling and L. Andersson. Council for Nordic Publications in Botany.

Simpson, B. 1979. A revision of the genus Polylepis  (Rosaceae: Sanguisorbeae). Smithsonian Contributions to Botany 43: 1-62.



Claudia Segovia Salcedo

Lab of Molecular Systematics and Genetic Evolution. University of Florida.

Gainesville, FL. USA.

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