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Mar 7, 2013: Abies equi-trojani

Today's entry was written by Raakel Toppila, who recently completed the Longwood Graduate Program in Public Horticulture. She's helping our Garden assess some collections management tools. Raakel writes:

Thank you to James Gaither (aka J.G. in S.F.@Flickr) for today's photographs of Abies equi-trojani (photo 1 | photo 2 | set).

The curious name of this species comes from its occurrence on Mount Ida of Trojan War fame in the northwest of Turkey. Equ, being the Latin word for horse, is likely reference to the legendary horse that brought victory to the Greeks. The distribution of the Trojan fir is limited to a total area of about 3600 ha, with a number of isolated populations ranging in size from 120 ha to 2400 ha in the northwest of Turkey. The tree is valued for its rapid growth rate and high quality timber which has threatened existing populations thanks to illegal logging. That, along with pollution and tourism, has resulted in the decline and endangerment of the species.

Priority was placed on its protection in a national plan for the In Situ Conservation of Plant Genetic Diversity in Turkey. But first, it had to be determined what exactly the target for protection was. Abies, along with many other genera, are known for their *ahem* promiscuity or interspecific hybridization.

The exact taxonomic placement of this particular fir is debated. It been treated as its own species and as a variety or subspecies of both Abies cephalonica and Abies nordmanniana. Additionally, it is remarkably similar to Abies bornmuelleriana which has also been treated as a subspecies and variety of Abies nordmanniana. To complicate things, its morphological intermediacy, hybrid vigour qualities and pollen sterility suggest that it is a hybrid. Recent work (PDF) using DNA fingerprinting techniques have indeed identified three separate species, Abies nordmanniana, Abies bornmuelleriana and Abies equi-trojani. Protection has been placed on the two latter species which have a limited distribution compared to Abies nordmanniana.

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