A molecular phylogenetic study based on chloroplast DNA restriction site and ITS sequence data shows that the two Macaronesian endemics, Lavatera phoenicea and Lavatera acerifolia, represent two independent introductions into the Canary Islands. The molecular phylogenies, combined with morphological, ecological, and biogeographical data, indicate that Lavatera phoenicea may be a bird-pollinated relict of an ancient laurel forest. Lavatera acerifolia, however, is nested in a derived clade of the Lavatera-Malva taxa from the Mediterranean region, suggesting a more recent introduction into the Canary Islands. Incongruence between chloroplast and nuclear phylogenies suggests that hybridization may have played a role in the evolution of L. acerifolia. Several features of L. phoenicea, such as corolla color and high nectar production, appear to be plesiomorphic and are still present because of historical constraints. In contrast, woodiness is a derived feature that originated as an adaptation to insular conditions.
Communicating Editor: James R. Manhart