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This species is accepted, and its native range is Ethiopia.


Ensermu & Darbyshire. 2018. Six new species of Barleria L. (Acanthaceae) from Northeast Tropical Africa. Kew Bulletin 73:1. DOI 10.1007/S12225-017-9725-2

This species is currently known from a very small range south of Harar and Jijiga in eastern Ethiopia, with three locations known and an EOO of 1348 km2, which falls within the Endangered range threshold for IUCN Criterion B1. It is clearly uncommon in view of the fact that it has not been collected for over half a century despite being a robust plant with showy flowers. Google Earth imagery shows that there is some fairly intensive agriculture in the region, particularly south of Midaga. It is considered likely that this has impacted on this species' habitat leading to some population decline. This species is therefore provisionally assessed as Endangered EN B1ab(iii). However, it should be noted that parts of its range have not been intensively botanised and so it may prove to be more frequent within its small range than is currently known. Dedicated field surveys to rediscover this species and review its current status and population size are highly desirable.
Barleria ferox is distributed in eastern Ethiopia in Harerge Floristic Region. Map 1, black stars.
There is only very limited information on the ecology of Barleria ferox; on the type specimen it was recorded from open limestone slopes with shrubs and no trees, whilst Amare Getahun recorded it from a “dry area”; it occurs at c. 1400 - 1600 m elevation.
Morphology General Habit
Harshly spiny shrub up to 0.3 - 1 m high; much- branched; stems at first 4-angular and -ridged, later becoming more convex between the ridges, mature stems stout, to 5 - 9 mm diam., internodes mostly short with crowded nodes, internodes of leafy stems up to 30 mm long; young stems puberulous in two opposite bands in shallow channels between the ridges, shortly strigulose around the nodes and along the nodal line
Morphology General Spines
Axillary spines white-grey, stout, stalk (4 -)8- 16 mm long; 4-rayed, longest rays typically 22-32 mm long, straight and widely divergent
Morphology Leaves
Leaves on petiole up to 5 mm long; blade somewhat coriaceous, oblong-elliptic or -obovate, 27 - 48 x 13 - 25 mm, conduplicate in dry state, base cuneate, margin entire, apex mucronate with 2 - 3 mm long spine, sparsely strigulose along main veins beneath, margin and midrib above, also with ± numerous broad sessile glands towards base beneath; lateral veins indistinct, 4-6 pairs
Morphology Reproductive morphology Flowers Androecium Stamens
Stamens inserted ± 5 - 6.5 mm above base of corolla tube; filaments ± 20 - 25 mm long, sparsely pubescent proximally; anthers 3 - 3.5 mm long; lateral staminodes with filaments ± 2 - 2.7 mm long, pubescent, antherodes well-developed, 2-thecous, to 1 mm long
Morphology Reproductive morphology Flowers Calyx
Calyx at first drying brown with thin margins, these thickening and becoming white at fruiting stage, anterior and poste­rior lobes broadly ovate 2.7 - 3x2- 3mminflower excluding linear apical seta 1.5 - 2.5 mm long, this rarely bifid on anterior lobe, somewhat larger in fruiting stage where outer lobes up to 4.3 x 4 mm excluding setae, external surface with scattered to numerous broad sessile glands, basal tubular portion often puberulent; lateral lobes lanceolate, more grad­ually narrowed into apical seta, 4 - 6x1- 2 mm
Morphology Reproductive morphology Flowers Corolla
Corolla 25 - 33 mm long, lilac- to blue-purple, glabrous externally; tube subcylindrical, 12 - 14 mm long, ± 2.5 - 3 mm diam at base, ± 3.5 - 4 mm at mouth; limb 5- lobed in a weak “4+1” configuration, abaxial lobe offset by ± 2.5 mm, all lobes obovate, 13 - 15 x 8 - 11 mm, rounded at apices, adaxial pair of lobes some­what narrower than lateral and abaxial lobes
Morphology Reproductive morphology Flowers Gynoecium Ovary
Ovary 4 - 4.5 mm long, glabrous; style 18 - 22 mm long, glabrous; stigma linear, 0.8 - 1 mm long
Morphology Reproductive morphology Fruits
Capsule only seen in immature state, 2-seeded, ± 10 mm long including prominent conical beak, glabrous
Morphology Reproductive morphology Inflorescences
Inflorescences terminal, spiciform or conical in outline, with a series of decussately arranged cymes, often 3-flowered but those towards apex of inflores­cence 1-flowered, cymes at base of inflorescence can have 7 or more flowers, dichasial, lateral branches partially fused to subtending bracteoles; bracts leafy but reducing in size and width up the axis, elliptic to obovate-elliptic or narrowly so, typically 18 - 30 x 3.5 - 13 mm, apex long-spinose, abaxial surface with numerous broad sessile glands towards base; bracte- oles linear-lanceolate, varying considerably in size, typically 10 - 17.5 x 1.5 - 3 mm, but with those subtending first flower of dichasial cymes up to 24 - 29 mm long, those of cymes towards apex of inflores­cence can be much-reduced, then 5 x 0.5 mm or less, well-developed bracteoles with apex long-spinose, midrib prominent, abaxial surface with numerous broad sessile glands towards base
The epithet “ferox”, meaning “fierce”, refers to the harshly spiny nature of this species. The combination of rayed axillary spines, an androecium comprising two perfected stamens and two lateral staminodes with well-developed antherodes, and a prominently beaked, 2-seeded capsule clearly place this species in Barleria sect. Prionitis (Oerst.) Nees (Balkwill & Balkwill1997; Darbyshire2009). Blue to purple flowers are unusual in sect. Prionitis, where the flowers are typically yellow, orange, ochre-coloured, red or white. However, B. quadrispina Lindau, a widespread species in the drylands of the Horn of Africa, also has blue or purple (or white) corollas and B. ferox is undoubtedly close to that species, also sharing a similar inflorescence form in which at least some of the partial inflorescences are dichasial cymes with the lateral branches partially fused to the subtending bracteoles. Whilst B. quadrispina is quite a variable species, B. ferox is always easily separated from it by the characters listed in the Recognition section. The two are compared in Table2, together with a third blue-flowered species, B. negeleensis which is described below. The general habit including the harsh spines and the short, broadly ovate calyces in Barleria ferox are somewhat reminiscent of B. trispinosa (Forssk.) Vahl which occurs in northern Ethiopia, but that species is easily separated by its large yellow, orange or white corollas 40 - 60 mm long with a marked “4+1”configuration, the abaxial lobe being offset from the remaining lobes by over 10 mm, and in the partial inflorescences being single-flowered. Barleria ferox is morphologically closest to B. quadrispina, sharing with that species the combina­tion of rayed axillary spines and blue or purple corollas arranged in decussate, dichasial cymes. It clearly differs in (1) having very stout axillary spines which are stalked for (4 -)8- 16 mm and have widely divergent rays (vs in B. quadrispina axillary spines slender and needle-like, often subsessile or stalked for less than 5 mm, or if rarely stalked up to 12 mm then the rays ascending, much less divergent); (2) in having numerous and conspicuous broad sessile glands to­wards the base of the bracts and bracteoles and on the outer calyx lobes (these absent or sparse and incon­spicuous in B. quadrispina) and (3) in the calyces being markedly shorter and broader, the lobes 4 - 6mm long, the anterior and posterior lobes being broadly ovate and abruptly narrowed into a short linear seta (vs at least the posterior lobes markedly longer, 6.5 - 17 mm long and usually over 10 mm long, basal portion not so broadly ovate and less abruptly narrowed into a long flexible apical seta). In addition, B. quadrispina is a less robust plant than B. ferox, and it usually has a conspicuously hairy inflorescence, with appressed to ascending, often bulbous-based bristly eglandular hairs and often also spreading slender glandular hairs which are absent in B. ferox. See Table2.

Native to:


Barleria ferox Ensermu & I.Darbysh. appears in other Kew resources:

First published in Kew Bull. 73(1)-1: 13 (2018 publ. 2017)

Accepted by

  • Govaerts, R., Nic Lughadha, E., Black, N., Turner, R. & Paton, A. (2021). The World Checklist of Vascular Plants, a continuously updated resource for exploring global plant diversity. Scientific Data 8: 215.


Kew Bulletin

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Kew Backbone Distributions
The International Plant Names Index and World Checklist of Selected Plant Families 2021. Published on the Internet at and
© Copyright 2017 World Checklist of Selected Plant Families.

Kew Bulletin
Kew Bulletin

Kew Names and Taxonomic Backbone
The International Plant Names Index and World Checklist of Selected Plant Families 2021. Published on the Internet at and
© Copyright 2017 International Plant Names Index and World Checklist of Selected Plant Families.