Malesherbia (Malesherbiaceae) is a small, xerophytic group endemic to the Peruvian and Chilean deserts and adjacent Argentina. Malesherbia humilis var. humilis, M. humilis var. propinqua, M. humilis var. parviflora, M. gabrielae, M. taltalina, and M. multiflora form a morphologically cohesive group native to Chile and Argentina characterized by a profusion of small flowers and a short, bushy habit. The difficulty in distinguishing among these taxa suggests that the taxonomic delimitations may not be meaningful. A phenetic study was conducted to determine if this complex is best treated as a large, polymorphic species or as a series of very similar yet distinguishable taxa. Sixteen morphological characters were examined on 113 operational taxonomic units (OTUs); the data were analyzed using UPGMA, PCA, and discriminant analyses. Five clusters were identified by the analyses. These clusters are distinguishable by minor characters and are geographically cohesive. Because of the minor nature of the differences found and the unreliability of most differences noted in the descriptions of the taxa, these five clusters are recognized as varieties of M. humilis. A key to the varieties and short descriptions of each are presented.
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