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Allium regelianum A. Beck. - a Rare Russian Endemic

Volume 2 Number 8 - July 1997
Gennady A. Firsov

A new species of Allium has been introduced into the Botanical Garden of the Komarov Botanical Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Saint Petersburg. This is Allium regelianum A.Beck, named after E.L. Regel, a Director of the St Petersburg Botanical Garden.

A. regelianum is a perennial bulbous plant, 30-60 cm high with 3-4 narrow semi-cylindrical leaves. It was first collected by the botanist Alexander Becker (1818-1901) at Sarepta in the neighbourhood of the former Krasnoarmeosk, which is now part of the city of Volgograd.

It was first described in a flora in the 1929 (Flora Jugo-Vostoka Evropeiskoi chasti SSSR 3:355-6).

In later publications Allium regelianum was considered to have a wide distribution, from the lower Volga to the Dnieper and the Caucasus (Flora SSSR 4:241Ä242 (1935). This wide distribution was not confirmed by later research.

Allium regelianum was included in the Red Data Book of the Soviet Union (1984) and the Red Data Book of the RFSFR (1988), as one of the rarest locally-restricted endemics. In the former it was noted as "apparently disappeared" and its distribution was shown only as the single point where it had been originally collected by Becker. Until the present day it has been considered to be completely extinct because its original habitat had been destroyed by building work.

Nevertheless in 1984 it was found at the same time at several widely-separated sites. These are all situated in the administrative territory of the Volgograd Region. The Red Data Book of the RFSFR shows two locations near the Volga-Don canal in the southern suburbs of Volgograd. One of these locations is now thought to have been destroyed; the other location is on the right bank of the Medveditsa River where it joins the River Don. The Red Data Book of the Volgograd Region (1992) shows another two localities: near Stanitosa Glazunovskaya (in the Kumilzhensky District) and near Stanitsa Raspopinskaya (in the Kletsky District). The populations at both these localities are small.

In July 1996 we found two new locations of A. regelianum in the northwest of the Volgograd Region, on the lower reaches of the Hoper River in the Kumilzhensky District. Although A. regelianum was first found in a zone of semi-desert, the two new finds are in a zone of mixed grasses ("feather grass steppe"). The first new find was on the right bank of the Hoper River where it is joined by the Kumilga River. A. regelianum was found growing in a community of steppe grasses and species of Artemisia, Kochia, Crambe and Origanum. A. sphaerocephalum L. grows nearby.

The second new location was discovered 10 days later, on the left bank of Hoper River, 30 km below the first site, in the Shemjakinsky Reserve. A. regelianum was found in water meadows between Lakes Gromok and Podpeshnoe. This area is occasionally flooded in the spring but is not subject to haymaking. It is situated about 7 km from the village of Bukanovskaya but is on the opposite side of the river.

The Red Data Book of the Volgograd Region states that A.regelianum usually flowers between the end of June into July - after haymaking, and so is difficult to find when in flower, but it survives in areas that are not mown. References in the literature to its flowering in August are not correct. At this time the steppe grasses dry up and fade until the autumn rains, when the steppe again turns green. Our observations over several years show that other species of wild Allium in this area (A. sphaerocephalum, A. lineare, A. flavescens and A. paczoskianum) flower in the period from the second half of June to the beginning of July. The plants of A. regelianum at the first site were in flower on the 9th July 1996 in a shade temperature of 30o-34oC. On 19th July at the second site we found that plants had seeded and were dessicating.

In the Komarov Institute Botanical Garden A. regelianum was planted outdoors in the Nursery and also potted up in a cool greenhouse. Here it retains its original growth pattern: it was bought into the Garden in August and new leaves appeared in the second half of September. According to its pheno-rhythymic type A. regelianum may be classified as a long-vegetating wintergreen plant.

It is important to confirm that this species is a true halophyte growing on saline soils. This assertion is based on the fact that A. regelianum was first collected by Becker on saline soil. To judge from the localities in which it has been found, this species tolerates a range of habitats, growing in different soils in different subzones of steppe grassland. Analysis of the soil at each location would help to determine the cultivation techniques needed for this plant.

Study of its seed formation in the wild is urgently needed. No references to this topic exist in the literature. The summer drought and densely-packed turf of the steppe grasslands are an unfavourable environment for growth from seed. A. regelianum has a remarkable ability to reproduce vegetatively. This may be its main method of reproduction.

A. regelianum is a very decorative plant. Its protection in the wild is urgently needed, as does its ex situ propagation and distribution.