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Turbina / Rivea corymbosa

Ololiuhqui -- Rivea corymbosa (L.) Hall. fil.*

Note by R. E. Schultes:
Although the spelling ololiuqui has gained wide acceptance and is now the commonest orthography, linguistic evidence indicates that this Nahuatl word is correctly written ololiuhqui.

*There have recently been suggestions that the correct name of ololiuhqui is Turbina corymbosa (L.) Raf.

These suggestions arise from two articles which have appeared in the past several years: Roberty, G.-"Genera Convolvulacearum" in Candollea 14 (1952) 11-60; Wilson, K. A.-"The genera of Convolvulaceae in the southeastern United States" in Journ. Am. Arb. 41 (1960) 298-317.

Roberty separates Ipomoea, Rivea and Turbina, putting the three into different subfamilies. He keeps in Rivea only one species of India and Ceylon. In Turbina, he has three species: T. corymbosa (which he states occurs in tropical America, the Canary Islands and the Philippines) and two other species of Mexico.

Wilson, in a key to the genera of Convolvulaceae in the southeastern states, separates out Turbina as a genus distinct from Ipomoea. While Turbina is keyed out as a distinct genus, there is no technical consideration of it in the body of the paper which follows the key. One must assume, consequently, that Turbina (as conceived by Wilson) does not occur in southeastern United States. There is, furthermore, no reference to the binomial Turbina corymbosa as such. Wilson pointed out that: "Generic lines are difficult to draw in this family, and treatments vary with different authors depending upon the emphasis placed on the taxonomic characters used ..."

The question of whether to use the binomial Rivea corymbosa, or to assign the concept to Ipomoea on the one hand or Turbina on the other is, in effect, one of personal evaluation, by botanists, of the importance of characters.

When I first discussed ololiuhqui in 1941 (Schultes, R. E.: "A contribution to our knowledge of Rivea corymbosa, the narcotic ololiuqui of the Aztecs"), I looked into the problem of the generic position of the concept. I decided that, if indeed one were justified in separating this concept from Ipomoea, it must be accommodated in Rivea. The outstanding Argentine specialist on the Convolvulaceae, the late Dr. Carlos O'Donell, who was spending a year at Harvard University at that time, worked with me closely in this study and was in complete agreement. I have studied this problem again in connection with Wasson's recent work and see no reason to change my opinion. Furthermore, it is clear that such an authority as the late Professor E. D. Merrill referred this concept to Rivea, placing Turbina in synonymy under Rivea and T. corymbosa in synonymy under R. corymbosa.

In view of the fact that such authorities as O'Donell and Merrill elected to use Rivea corymbosa; that Wilson acknowledges that "the entire family is in need of intensive study and ...all characters must be thoroughly re-evaluated" that Roberty's article is hardly conservative and actually adds little to our basic knowledge of the family; and that the ethnobotanical and chemical literature has accepted Rivea corymbosa--in view of all these circumstances perhaps we might well continue to use the best known name until a really comprehensive study by a recognized specialist indicates that it is wrong.

Rivea corymbosa (L.) Hollier fil. in Engler Bet. Jahrb. 8 (1893) 157.
Convolvulus corymbosus(L.) Linnaeus Syst. Nat. Ed. 10, 2 (1759) 923.
Ipomoea corymbosa (L.) Roth Nov. 11. Sp. Ind. Orient. (1821) 109.
Turbina corymbosa (L.) Rafinesque Fl. Tellur. 4 (1838) 81.

The least known in the outside world of our quartet of major Mexican divinatory agents is ololiuhqui, yet it is perhaps the best known and most widely used among the Indians of that country. In the race for world attention ololiuhqui has been a slow starter. Beyond the confines of the Sierra Madre few except specialists have heard of it, and the bibliography on it is short. But its properties are as sensational as those of teonanacatl and peyotl. Its identity was settled in 1941. The enigma of its chemistry was resolved in 1960 when, on August 18 of that year, Dr. Albert Hofmann read his paper in Australia before an audience of scientists, many of whom were plainly incredulous, so astonishing were his findings.'(22)

Ololiuhqui in Nahuatl is the name of the seeds, not of the plant that yields the seeds. The word means 'round thing', and the seeds are small, brown, and oval. The plant itself is a climber, called appropriately coaxihuitl, 'snake-plant', in Nahuatl, and hiedra or bejicco by the Spanish writers. It is a morning glory, and it grows easily and abundantly in the mountains of southern Mexico. Unlike teonanacatl, it bears seed over months, and the seed can be kept indefinitely and carried far and wide to regions where the plant itself does not grow.

In Spanish it is commonly known as semilla de la Virgen, and in the various Indian languages there are names for it that should be carefully assembled by teams of linguists and then studied for their meanings and associations. In Oaxaca, only among the Trique of Copala have I found no familiarity with it.

Past experience has shown that for a divinatory plant to enlist the attention of the outside world two steps are usually necessary. First, it should be correctly and securely identified. Second, its chemistry should be convincingly worked out. Richard Evans Schultes settled the identity of ololiuhqui in the definitive paper published in 1941. (23) It is the seed of a species of Convolvulaccne: Rivea corymbosa (L.) Hall. hi.

Schultes was not the first to link ololiuhqui with this family, but for decades there had been disputes over its identity, and since chultes published his paper there has been none. The starting point or any student of the subject is Schultes's paper.

It is not my intention here to tell over again the story told by Schultes. I will only supplement what he had to say with this observation. In the writers of the colonial period ololiuhqui receives frequent mention, especially in the Tratado of Hernando Ruiz de Alarcon. Throughout these references there runs a note of sombre poignancy as we see two cultures in a duel to death--on the one hand, the fanaticism of sincere Churchmen, hotly pursuing with the support of the harsh secular arm what they considered a superstition and an idolatry; on the other, the tenacity and wiles of the Indians defending their cherished ololiuhqui The Indians appear to have won out.