Lacistema aggregatum:
Holotype Distribution and Timeline

F E Young

Principal Researcher

Lacistemataceae Holistic Database @

2015 December 27


Lacistema aggregatum is one of 16 species of the plant family Lacistemataceae.

The family is distributed from Mexico in North America across middle America as far south as North Argentina.

This presentation will investigate:

  • What is a holotype?
  • How many there are?

and explore the data using:

  • Google distribution map;
  • Scientific name publication timeline.

The graphics were generated in R with the googleVis package.

What is a holotype?

Whenever a new plant species is discovered, multiple sets of material is collected from a large and/or woody plant or many complete smaller plants growing closely together. This material is dried, placed in paper folders (usually newspaper) and sent to herbaria across the globe.

From this plant material, one is choosen to be the holotype (the rest are isotypes) from which arises a new scientific name, possibly a common name, a full morphological description, where it was found, line illustrations of the plant and herbaria that hold the plant specimens.

However for this name to be official recognised by the scientific community it must be published in a scientific journal or book.

The first Lacistemataceae holotype was published in 1772 by P.J. Bergius in the article entitled Ternio graminum ex America novorum descripta & inconibus illustrata in the Acta Helvetica journal. It was believed to be part of the Piperaceae (pepper) family so was given the name of Piper aggregatum. In 1788 it was placed in a new genus Lacistema.

Lacistema aggregatum holotypes

Before the advent of long distance airplane flights, it was customary to travel to the Americas from Europe by boat across the Atlantic and along the American rivers, by foot and/or horse across land.

Some of the earliest explorers were members of religious societies who settled in foreign lands to educate the natives in the word of God.

Many were also naturalists that collected plants, animals and rocks. These specimens were sent back to naturalists in their home countries. These collections became the basis of our natural history museums across the world.

As authors did not have access to these global collections they just described what they found in the locations they visisted.

Lacistema aggregatum has 28 incorrect scientific names for this reason. The first Piper aggregatum in 1772 to Lacistema pacificum in 1950.

Botany experts now visit many herbaria to check out all the plant specimens collected in order to define a new species, but with the advent of the internet much of this material is being digitized for examination online. View the original dried plant specimen Piper aggregatum holotype.

Distribution and timeline of holotypes

Rather than looking at the boring list of 29 Lacistema aggregatum names found on the species page at Lacistemataceae Holistic Database.

The information is now available as a R Shiny App:

  • Google Map: Click on a leaf icon to view detailed information and a link to the species home page.
  • Timeline: the axes are equivalent to the latitude and longitude of the map. Click on individual names to see its date of publication or select as many as you wish and press the play arrow on the timeline bar below the chart to observe the order in which the species were collected.