Within Primulaceae, the genera Primula (450 species) and its closest ally Dionysia (50 species) are exceptional in the production of quasi-crystalline flavonoids. These are produced in large quantities by glandular hairs, and with the help of biosynthetic enzymes present in their cells. The result is a conspicuous farinose exudate that is found on aerial surfaces of many species. We compare both genera with respect to their exudate composition in search for phytochemical diversifications that may be used as additional informative character. We also want to understand the background of flavonoid formation in these genera.

We study exudate composition by phytochemical profiling, applying standard chromatographic methods such as TLC and HPLC. Single compounds are identified by various spectroscopic methods, in cooperation with the Institute of Organic Chemistry, Univ. Vienna. By comparison of populations and species, we can define relevant accumulation tendencies against molecular phylogenies, and apply these as chemical characters. In Primula and Dionysia, specific flavonoids apparently not generated via the classical biosynthetic routes, are part of these exudates. Some species of Dionysia accumulate flavonoids from the classical biosynthetic pathway in addition. Similarly, corresponding patterns were recently observed in phylogenetically derived European alpine Primula spp., which might be significant in phylogenetic terms. We hypothesize that in the case of Primula and Dionysia, flavonoids from the classical biosynthetic pathway represent are a new feature of phylogenetic younger taxa. The ecological significance of this diversification is as yet unclear. Production and localization of farinose exudates is additionally in focus, as are functional aspects (biotic interactions), studied in bioassays for antifungal, insecticidal and anti-oxidative properties. Ongoing research involves Bachelor, Master and PhD theses. As for the biosynthesis of the specific Primula-type flavonoids: How to solve this riddle? And not enough: Do we have a case of silent metabolism in younger lineages that is re-activated? You are welcome to join us to solve these questions!


Primula veris subsp. columnae

Primula veris subsp. columnae

Dionysia archibaldii

Dionysia archibaldii

Dionysia bazoftica

Dionysia bazoftica

Primula minima

Primula minima


The Psychotria alliance (Rubiaceae)

The Psychotria alliance is a speciose and complex pantropical group of up to 3.000 species classified in the sister tribes Palicoureeae and Psychotrieae within the coffee family (Rubiaceae; Razafimandimbison et al., 2014). In the Neotropics, the group is particularly diverse and includes the genera Psychotria (Psychotrieae) as well as Carapichea, Geophila, Palicourea, Notopleura, Margaritopsis and Rudgea (Palicoureeae). Species of the Psychotria alliance, mostly shrubs and small trees, are of great ecological importance and contribute a significant part to rainforest understory diversity, abundance and biomass (Gentry, 1990), and provide an important food source for frugivorous birds (Snow, 1981). Moreover, several species are of ethnobotanical importance (e.g. Schultes & Raffauf, 1990) and many have proven to be a rich source of tryptamine-iridoid alkaloids that are derived from the strictosidine pathway (e.g. Berger et al., 2012; Berger et al., 2015).


Our research focusses on Costa Rica, where more than 170 species occur. For collecting plant material, we cooperate with the Field Station La Gamba (University of Vienna). In addition, we cooperate with the herbaria MO, W and WU, which provide further samples for analysis. Various chromatographic techniques are employed for isolation and analysis of secondary compounds. In addition, structure of isolated compounds is identified in cooperation with the Institute of Organic Chemistry, University of Vienna.


Many papers have addressed the phytochemistry of species of the Psychotria alliance. Still, to date, the vast majority remains unstudied. Hence, we aim to fill those gaps by studying a diverse array of species from different provenances and phylogenetic affinities. We are interested in the distribution of known and the discovery of new secondary metabolites from all compound classes including alkaloids, flavonoids, iridoids, quinones, tannins, etc.


Previously, chemosystematic studies within the Psychotria alliance were hindered by the complex taxonomy and unclear generic placement of many taxa. By integrating phytochemistry with latest data on taxonomy and DNA phylogeny, we aim to get novel insights into clade-specific intra- and intergeneric accumulation tendencies and their evolution.

Chemical Ecology

Plants employ phytochemicals to cope with a variety of abiotic and biotic stressors. Among the most important is herbivory, the consumption of plant tissue by animals. Applying feeding studies with the larvae of the generalist moth Spodoptera littoralis (Noctuidae), we study the ecological importance of secondary metabolites in protecting plants against herbivory. In the future, we plan to study natural herbivore populations in situ to assess the functional importance of widely varying defensive traits in shaping herbivore communities.


Berger, A., Fasshuber, H., Schinnerl, J., Brecker, L., Greger, H. 2012. Various types of tryptamine-iridoid alkaloids from Palicourea acuminata (= Psychotria acuminata, Rubiaceae). Phytochem. Lett. 5(3): 558–562.

Berger, A., Kostyan, M.K., Klose, S.I., Gastegger, M., Lorbeer, E., Brecker, L., Schinnerl, J. 2015. Loganin and secologanin derived tryptamine iridoid alkaloids from Palicourea crocea and Palicourea padifolia (Rubiaceae). Phytochemistry 116: 162–169.

Gentry, A.H. 1990. Floristic similarities and differences between southern Central America and central Amazonia. 141–157. In: Gentry, A.H. (ed.) Four Neotropical Rainforests. Yale University Press, CT.

Razafimandimbison, S.G., Taylor, C.M., Wikström, N., Pailler, T., Khodabandeh, A., Bremer, B. 2014. Phylogeny and generic limits in the sister tribes Psychotrieae and Palicoureeae (Rubiaceae): Evolution of schizocarps in Psychotria and origins of bacterial leaf nodules of the Malagasy species. Am. J. Bot. 101(7): 1102–1126.

Schultes, R.E. & Raffauf, R.F. 1990. The Healing Forest. Medicinal and Toxic Plants of the Northwest Amazonia. Dioscorides Press, Portland.

Snow, D.W. 1981. Tropical Frugivorous Birds and Their Food Plants: a World Survey. Biotropica 13: 1–14.

Taylor, C.M. 2015. Rubiacearum Americanarum Magna Hama XXXIII: The new group Palicourea sect. Didymocarpae with four new species and two new subspecies (Palicoureeae). Novon 23(4): 452–478.

Taylor, C.M., Hammel, B.E., Lorence, D.H. 2014. Rubiaceae. In: Manual de Plantas de Costa Rica. Vol. VII. Hammel, B. E.,

Grayum, M. H., Herrera, C., Zamora, N. (eds.). Monogr. Syst. Bot. Mo. Bot. Gard. 129: 464–779.

Palicourea padifolia

Psychotria cyanococca

Rudgea skutchii

Palicourea elata


This small monocot family comprises three genera (Croomia, Stemona and Stichoneuron) with 35 species occurring in South-East Asia. Ethnobotanical important species of the genus Stemona accumulate bioactive alkaloids with unique chemical structures, as well as stilbenoids and tocopherols. Within this genus, the accumulation pattern of specific alkaloids is species-dependent and thus may be used for chemosystematic purposes.The biosynthetic pathways leading to these alkaloids and the importance of these compounds for the plant species are still open questions. In cooperation with collaborators from various research groups, we focus on biogenetic relationships of these secondary metabolites, as well as on plant-insect interactions and on the phylogeny of this family.

Stichoneuron caudatum

Stemona kerrii

Stemona mairei

Stemona shandongensis