Zamia is a genus within the lineage of the Cycads, a group of tropical Gimnosperms. The species of Zamia belong to the botanical Family Zamiaceae, that with Cycadaceae conform the Order Cycadales, commonly known as “Cycads”. Cycads are Gymnosperms (Gimnospermae), which produce pollen and seeds in cones. Current Cycads are distributed in tropical and subtropical regions of the world, while another Gymnosperms are mostly in temperate zones.
The species in the Neotropics are the most diverse and the most endangered group of all Cycads. Almost half of the Cycad species of the world are distributed in the Neotropics (~150 species). In this region occur 4 of the 10 genus of the Cycadales Order. Cycads are present in tropical ecosystems from southeastern North America to the Amazon in South America, including the Caribbean islands. The Neotropical species are among the most threatened Cycads of the world. South America has 27 Zamia species, of which 21 are founded in Colombia. Unfortunately, 60% of the Colombian Zamias are in some risk of extinction, according to the national Red list.
Zamia is typical of the Neotropical region. The Zamia genus has 76 accepted species, distributed in southeastern North America, the Caribbean, Central America and South America. A first major clade of Zamia is present in USA, the Caribbean and Mexico, another clade is distributed in Central America and another clade is present in South America, from Colombia to another Amazonian countries. In the Caribbean region there are 8 species, 6 of them in Cuba and other Antillean islands. In Central America, Mexico has 16 species, Panama has 17 species and another 11 species occur in other countries. In South America there are 27 species of Zamia, 21 species reported to Colombia (some of them shared with Panama, Ecuador and Venezuela) and the other 6 species distributed in other countries (Brasil, Peru, Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia).
Zamias are the most diverse group of Cycads, both in morphology and ecology. Among the Cycads genera, Zamia has the greatest diversity in growht habits and habitats. Some species have solitary arborescent trunks, reaching 10 meters of height and 20 cm of diameter; others growth habits of Zamias include subterranean rhizomes, epiphytic stems (one species) and cliff-dewlers. Zamia species have smooth stems, without any evident leaf scars, rarely branched. The leaves in Cycads are compound, arranged on an apical crown of the stem. In Zamia, leaves can be from less a meter to 5 meters of lenght, with numerous tiny leaflets (>100) or a few large leaflets. Morphological variation of the reproductive structures (pollen and seed cones) is low, but there is a variety of sizes and colours in this structures. Finally, Zamia species grow in a wide variety of habitats, such as beach dunes, xerophytic formations, cliffs, tropical savannas, dry forest, humid and montane forests, and even mangroves.
Colombia has the greatest species richness of Zamia in the world. Colombia has 21 described species of Zamia, however there are at least 4 potential new species and probably an unknown number of new species to be discovered. In the Colombian Andes there are 11 species, in an altitudinal range from 0 to 2000 masl. Wet lowland forests in the Chocó biogeographcial region (from Panama to Ecuador) host 15 species, 6 of which are in Colombia. In the wet lowland forests in the Amazon region 8 species occur, 4 of which are found in Colombia.
Colombia has 21 species of Zamia with representatives in all its biogeographical regions. The Caribbean region of Colombia has the species Z. muricata in the province of La Guajira. The biogeographical region of the Andes has 10 endemic species growing across the three mountain ranges. The Andes include 2 species growing in the transition from the Andes to the Caribe and in the interandean valley of Bajo Cauca, Z. restrepoi and Z. melanorrhachis. There is one species in the Abibe Serrania in the northern Andes, Z. disodon. Zamia incognita grows in the interandean valley of Magdalena Medio; while Z. encephalartoides grows in dry ecosystems of the Chicamocha Canyon of the Western cordillera. In the southern Andes, Z. huilensis grows in the Western cordillera; and Z. tolimensis grows in the Central cordillera. The species Z. wallisii, Z. montana and Z. oligodonta grow in premontane humid forests of the Eastern cordillera. The Chocó biogeographical region or Pacific region has 6 species. Z. manicata is present in the lowland forests in the Darien. The widely distributed species Z. chigua and Z. obliqua occur from the north in the province of Chocó to the south in the province of Valle del Cauca. Zamia pyrophylla is endemic and occurs in the center of the Pacific region, also in the province of Chocó. In the southern part of the Pacific region occur Z. roezlii and the endemic Z. amplifolia. In the Colombian Amazonia the species Z. amazonum, Z hymenophyllidia, Z lecointei and Z. ulei are widely distributed. Finally, there are reports of some Zamia populations in the Orinoco region of Colombia, but the identity of this species remains enigmatic.
62% of the Colombian Zamias are endemic species. In Colombia there are 13 species of Zamia which do not occur in any other part of the world. Ten endemic species are found in the Andes and Caribbean regions, and the other three endemics are present in the Pacific (or Chocó) region. The species Z. manicata and Z. obliqua are shared with Panamá, Z. roezlii with Ecuador, and Z. muricata with Venezuela. The four Zamia species from the Colombian Amazon are also present in some or all countries of the Amazon basin, so none of them are exclusive to Colombia.
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