Abronia and Tripterocalyx are sister genera of ~20 species in the family Nyctaginaceae. They are mostly confined to coastal beaches and dunes, desert sands, or weird high mountain areas. The majority are sticky and entrap sand, which defends them against most herbivores. An alarmingly high proportion of the ~27 species are rare, Ruth Wilson, an early Abronia-phile in 1972 presciently noted in a section called "disappearing species" that "Perhaps [Abronia species] will vanish completely from the major portions of their ranges because of housing and industrial projects, recreation facilities, agriculture, or grazing". Three decades later, one species is on the endangered species list, two are confined to one or few scattered populations along single water bodies, and at least six species are state-listed in one or more states.
The labs of Karen Samis (PEI) and Chris Eckert (Queen's) have done a lot of really cool work with the coastal species; Thomas Kaye's lab and the Applied Ecology Institute have done a very successful sustained restoration effort of a rare coastal taxa. Yet, there is much interesting going on between the plains and the coast!
With a talented group of collaborators, I working to extend our understanding of this fascinating group, especially in the, plains, deserts and intermontane areas of the Western United States, where we have found a lot interesting ecology going on Using the common Abronia-feeding caterpillar Hyles lineata (Sphingidae) and a leaf miner Lithariapteryx abroniaeella (Heliodinidae), Patrick Grof-Tisza, Rick Karban, Marj Weber, and I are examining evolution of defensive traits in this clade, and the trade-offs that may underly them. Micah Freedman, Dena Grossenbacher, Marj Weber, Norm Douglas, and I are also looking at the evolution of selfing, pollination, and floral traits in the clade. I am also interested in the evolution of limited dispersal, hybridization, and production of parthenocarpic (seedless) fruit in the genus. Caroline Edwards (Michigan State U.) and Michael Moore (Oberlin College) assembled phylogeny of the genus, which is allowing us to ask & hopefully answer interesting evolutionary questions.
If any other labs are interested in growing these plants, I am (very!) happy to provide seeds and cuttings.
Sand verbenas are somewhat tricky to germinate, but not usually that hard to grow. HERE is my protocol, but I'd love any feedback from folks who grow them.
A DRAFT FIELD KEY TO THIS GROUP. PLEASE TRY IT AND SEND ME COMMENTS!
LoPresti, EF and R. Karban. (2016) Chewing sandpaper: grit, plant apparency and plant defense in sand-entrapping plants. Ecology. 97: 826-833
LoPresti, EF; Grof-Tisza, P.; Robinson, M.; Godfrey, J. & R. Karban. (2018). Entrapped sand as a plant defence: effects on herbivore performance and preference. Ecological Entomology 43: 154-161
LoPresti, EF; K Toll & MG Weber. Inflorescence architecture constrains production of diaspore morphs with different dispersal potentials; a field study in Abronia pogonantha (submitted)