Phyllanthus debilis
[Niruri]

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Close-up views:

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Young plant:

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Online Resources: | Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GRIF) | e-Flora of Thailand | Flora of Peninsular India |

The current accepted botanical name of this plant that include its authors should be Phyllanthus debilis J.G.Klein ex Willd where “ex” means that J.G. Klein had updated the description of the plant on top of the original description by Willdenow in the past.

I came across a 2004 publication [1] that outlined an interesting and yet complex evolution of the botanical name of this plant, Phyllanthus debilis.

Phyllanthus debilis was first described by Willdenow in 1805 and assigned this botanical name. In 1887, not knowing this name had already been taken, J.D. Hooker described another new plant using this same botanical name. According to the convention within the botanical community, the earliest name prevail and the subsequent name is invalid and downgraded to a homonym.

In 1984, Brunel & Roux named a new plant from Thailand as Phyllanthus airyshawii. This plant was later determined to be the same Phyllanthus debilis described by J.D. Hooker in 1887. Since Phyllanthus debilis is an invalid name of that plant, the second in line, Phyllanthus airyshawii took over as the accepted botanical name for that new plant.

This was not the end of the identity crisis of this new plant. In 2002, Chaudhary & Rao made a discovery that there was another name given to this plant before Brunel & Roux did so. That happened in 1977 where Sivarajan & Manilal named the plant as Phyllanthus kozhikodianus. Based on the same norm of the botanical naming convention, the name Phyllanthus airyshawii had to give way to Phyllanthus kozhikodianus and itself being downgraded to a synonym.

Subsequently in 2004, another group of experts disputed the finding from Chaudhary & Rao. They determined that Phyllanthus kozhikodianus is a different plant and not the same plant as Phyllanthus airyshawii based on the description of the plant in their publication. Hence, Phyllanthus airyshawii was resurrected to be valid botanical name once again. Also, they downgraded the name Phyllanthus kozhikodianus to be a synonym of another plant, Phyllanthus rheedei.

So far, the entire saga has nothing to do with the original Phyllanthus debilis described by Willdenow in 1805. But, something is brewing in the horizon. The Atlas of Florida Plants website mentioned that in the proposed revision of Phyllanthus, this species has been moved to the genus Moeroris based on a 2022 publication [2].

References:

[1] Gangopadhyay M, Chakrabarty T, Balakrishnan NP. On the status of Phyllanthus airyshawii and P. kozhikodianus (Euphorbiaceae). J Econ Taxon Bot 2004;28(3):585-590. | Read article |

[2] Bouman RW, Kebler PJA, Telford IRH, Bruhl JJ, Strijk JS, Saunders RMK, Esser H, Falcón-Hidalgo B, Van PC. A revised phylogenetic classification of tribe Phyllantheae (Phyllanthaceae). Phytotaxa 2022;540(1):1-100. | Read abstract |