Molecular phylogenetic analysis of the north-temperate Labrador Teas (Ericaceae: Rhododendron Subsect. Ledum) suggests a complex genetic history

  • Andrew Hart Department of Biolgoical Sciences, Marshall University
  • Kathleen Kron Department of Biology, Wake Forest University
  • Emily Gillespie Department of Biological Sciences, Marshall University
Keywords: Biogeography, Ericaceae, Hybridization, Labrador Tea, Ledum, Molecular phylogenetics, Rhododendron


The Labrador teas are a group of nearly circumboreal shrubs or sub-shrubs inhabiting damp habitats. The 4–7 currently recognized species are classified within Rhododendron subg. Rhododendron section Rhododendron subsect. Ledum. In floral characters, these species are extremely similar. In vegetative characters, species limits in the Labrador teas have been difficult to determine because many of the traditionally used morphological characters vary continually across the geographic range. This study investigated evolutionary history and preliminary consideration of some species boundaries in the Labrador teas using DNA sequence data from five molecular markers to generate a preliminary phylogeny of R. subsect. Ledum. Data were analyzed using Maximum Parsimony, Maximum Likelihood and Bayesian methods. The nuclear data indicate a monophyletic subsect. Ledum, but chloroplast data indicate that the North American taxa have an evolutionary history separate from the European and Asian taxa, suggesting that one or both lineages of subsect. Ledum may be of hybrid origin. Additionally, our analyses suggest that taxa combined in recent treatments (i.e. Rhododendron tomentosum) represent separate lineages and should be recognized as distinct instead of included within more broadly defined species, however our current level of sampling cannot completely resolve this issue. This study lays the groundwork for future phylogenetic studies within subsect. Ledum, illustrating the need to sample more intensively across taxa in order to capture what appears to be a complex genetic and biogeographic history.


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How to Cite
Hart, A., Kron, K., & Gillespie, E. (2017). Molecular phylogenetic analysis of the north-temperate Labrador Teas (Ericaceae: Rhododendron Subsect. Ledum) suggests a complex genetic history. Journal of the Botanical Research Institute of Texas, 11(1), 53-65.