Petagnaea Gussonei: an Ancient Plant to Save

Project location: ITALY
Project start date: January 2008 - Project end date: January 2011
Project number: 2007-15
Beneficiary: Università degli Studi di Napoli Federico II


Petagnaea gussonei (Sprengel) Rauschert (=Petagnia saniculifolia Guss.) is a plant belonging to the Umbelliferae or Apiaceae family (subfamily Saniculoideae). It is endemic to Sicily with a small number of populations (stations) in Nebrodi Mountains. Up till now, half of the populations are internal of the homonym Park (National Park of Nebrodi). The plant has regarded as a relic of Tertiary flora (Wolf 1913), and it has an important historical significance among the Systematic Botanists, because it has been described by Giovanni Gussone (1787-1866), important Botanist which wrote a lot of excellent botanical works, and was also a director of Botanical Garden of Palermo, Caserta and Naples. Gussone dedicated Petagnaea gussonei to Vincenzo Petagna (Botanist, Doctor and Entomologist) native of Naples (1730-1810). This plant is perennial, rhizomatous and is about 10-45 cm high. The leaves are palmate and develop directly from the rhizomatous root (stolon). During May and June, the plant blooms with some small white infiorescences. This species grows on the lower edge of the moisture-loving vegetation belts bordering shaded woodland mountain streams or rivulets which do not dry out in summer. The plant prefers sites where water flow is calm and the substrate is soaked with water (Brullo et al. 1976). At the present, Petagnaea gussonei is a threatened species of extinction owing to its ecology and the few stations present in nature. For these reasons it is included in various lists of species deserving special protection (e.g., Appendix I - Berna Convention and Annexes II and IV - EC Habitats Directive). Its rarity, and the general difficulty of its sampling make it a very poorly known plant, and has caused a paucity of scientific contributions on its biology.

 The aim of this project has been to fill these scientific gaps through a complete research. In this regard, the project has been divided in four subproject: (1) ecological and environmental characterization of sites where Petagnaea gussonei occurs in collaboration with Prof. Marco Guida (University of the Study of Naples Federico II, Department of Biological Science, Section Health and Microbiology) and Prof. Lorenzo Gianguzzi (University of the Study of Palermo, Department of Botanical Sciences); (2) biochemical characterization of plant materials in collaboration with Dr. Daniela Rigano (University of the Study of Naples Federico II, Department of Chemistry of Natural Products); (3) ecophysiological characterization of Petagnaea gussonei in collaboration with Dr. Carmen Arena (University of the Study of Naples Federico II, Department of Structural and Functional Biology); and (4) molecular characterization of Petagnaea gussonei, nearby the laboratory of molecular biology of Dr. Olga De Castro (Scientific Responsible of the Project).

The Nando Peretti Foundation has co-financed this project to save and protect this rare and ancient plant

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