Specialists studying the genus Viola have consistently allied the Hawaiian violets comprising section Nosphinium—most of which are subshrubs or treelets—with putatively primitive subshrubs in certain South American violet groups. Hawaiian violets also possess inflorescences, a floral disposition otherwise found only in other genera of the Violaceae, thus strengthening the hypothesis of a very ancient origin for the Hawaiian species. A survey of phylogenetic relationships among infrageneric groups of Viola worldwide using nuclear rDNA internal transcribed spacer (ITS) sequences revealed a dramatically different biogeographic origin for the Hawaiian violets: A monophyletic Hawaiian clade was placed in a close sister relationship with the amphi-Beringian tundra violet, V. langsdorffii s. l., in a highly derived position. This remarkable and unforeseen relationship received strong clade support values across analyses, and monophyly of the Hawaiian lineage was further indicated by a unique 26-base-pair deletion in section Nosphinium. The high polyploid base chromosome number (n ≃ 40) in the Hawaiian violets relates them to Alaskan and eastern Siberian populations in the polyploid V. langsdorffii complex. More than 50 species of the 260 allochthonous birds wintering in the Hawaiian Islands are found to breed in the Arctic, occupying habitats in which individual birds might have encountered ancestral V. langsdorffii populations and served as dispersers to the central Pacific region. Acquisition of derived morphological traits (e.g., arborescence and inflorescences), significance of a confirmed Arctic origin for a component of the Hawaiian flora, and the likelihood of other “cryptic” Arctic elements in the Hawaiian flora deserving independent molecular phylogenetic corroboration are discussed.
Corresponding Editor: J. Conner