The subtle differences between bristleworts (Centrolepis) & pincushions (Gaimardia)

Ask anyone about grass, sedges or rushes and they’ll probably nod in acknowledgment but mention bristleworts and you would most probably get a blank look.

Yet bristleworts and their relatives are a conspicuous component of the Tasmanian vegetation. Anyone who has visited Tasmanian’s wonderful alpine environment has likely seen one, even if they didn’t recognize it as a bristlewort or relative.

Bristleworts are from the Centrolepidaceae (Bristlewort family) and in Tasmania consist of only 3 genera including: Aphelia (Fanworts) – 2 species; Centrolepis (Bristleworts) – 8 species &; Gaimardia (Pincushions) – 3 species.

A fair number of species of Centrolepis and Gaimardia are endemic to Tasmania. I have not had the pleasure of seeing Aphelia but Aphelia is probably the easiest to tell apart from the other two genera because the inflorescence is a spike with numerous bracts.

Centrolepis monogyna (Cushion-bristlewort)

Many species of Centrolepis and Gaimardia on the other hand, look very alike. Both genera have members that occur in alpine/subalpine environments and exhibit a densely turfed lifeform (like above).

The Student’s Flora of Tasmania gives a very straightforward way of telling this two genera apart, if we are just willing to take a close look.

Centrolepis monogyna (Cushion-bristlewort)

Apparently, the bracts of Centrolepis are opposte or near opposite whereas those of Gaimardia are clearly alternate (i.e one is above the other).

Gaimardia fitzgeraldii (Wooly Pincushion)

I imagine it might be quite difficult tell these two genera apart when they are not flowering. Maybe the late Dennis Morris would be able to. He co-wrote the flora after all.

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About David Tng

I am David Tng, a hedonistic botanizer who pursues plants with a fervour. I chase the opportunity to delve into various aspects of the study of plants. I have spent untold hours staring at mosses and allied plants, taking picture of pollen, culturing orchids in clean cabinets, counting tree rings, monitoring plant flowering times, etc. I am currently engrossed in the study of plant ecology (a grand excuse to see 'anything I can). Sometimes I think of myself as a shadow taxonomist, a sentimental ecologist, and a spiritual environmentalist - but at the very root of it all, a "plant whisperer"!
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