Journal of Undergraduate Research


genus Gilia, Utah, polyphyletic group


Life Sciences




The genus Gilia has historically been difficult to work with because identification of the genus via a dichotomous key relies heavily on the absence of characteristics instead of the presence of unique characteristics (Johnson et al., 2004). This has caused Gilia to become a polyphyletic group that serves as a “dumping ground” for odd species that do not easily fit in any other genus within the family. Studies using morphological and molecular data have identified species traditionally placed in Gilia that are really more closely related to other genera. For example, Gilia gilioides belongs in Allophyllum, Gilia capillaris belongs in Navarretia, and Gilia caespitosa belongs in Aliciella (Johnson et al., 2008). The Jepsen Manual – Vascular Plants of California has incorporated these changes while A Utah Flora continues to hold on to tradition. Also, after collecting Gilias and studying herbarium sheets, I have come to realize that A Utah Flora recognizes only two Gilia species with cob webby hairs on their leaves. One has only been found in the state once, but the other is represented by over 300 herbarium sheets in BYU’s herbarium. This latter “species”, Gilia inconspicua, can be divided into multiple species that are morphologically different and recognized as different species in the literature. Consequently, the biodiversity of species in Utah is misrepresented. Unfortunately, due to the large number of Gilias that are unique to California, and species such as Gilia tweedyi that have been documented in Utah but do not occur in California, The Jepsen Manual cannot be just substituted for identifying Utah’s Gilias. Most taxonomic work on Gilia has taken place in California where the genus (and family) is especially diverse, with little work being done on species that occur outside of California. I intend to provide the first focused study of the genus in Utah. The focus of my project was to create a dichotomous key to identify the species that are present in Utah according to Herbarium specimens, and then select individual specimens that represent the different Gilia groups found in Utah to compare specific genetic marks that have been historically used to classify species in this genus in order to gain more understanding about our classifications.

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