Tasselled Blackmouth. Macrocentrum cristatum, Itoupou, Hortus Botanicus, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
The great Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle in Paris has survived revolutions and wars. Founded as a royal garden in the early seventeenth century, the Revolutionaries of 1793 decided to nationalise it. Down through the centuries French and other naturalists enriched the Museum with their finds. This morning my fingers wandered through the virtual herbarium, especially the Herbarium Guyanensi-Antillianum.
To my delight I found the very plant you see in the photo. Of course, the photo is brighter; the herbarium specimen is brownish and dried, but it does date from the 1780s! And you can see it for yourself on-line.
Just imagine: Louis-Claude Marie Richard (1754-1821), one of those adventurous servants of the French crown, was sent to French Guiana, in 1781 to set up a botanical garden for the eco-agricultural study of plants that might be useful for export to Europe. Once there though his plans were at first thwarted because the governor used the garden to grow vegetables for his dining table. Undaunted Richard began to collect natural specimens, one of which this member of the Melastomataceae family. He called it Aulacidium; later it went by Salpinga, and today it's Macrocentrum. The 'cristatum' is for the small tassels at the ends of the petals.
If you look at the herbarium specimen - which arrived in Paris in 1789 -, you will see that Richard notes that he collected it in the Kourou commune, today the home of ESA (the European Space Agency), and that in the Galibi, Kalina, Carib or Kari'nja language it's called 'Itoupou'. What it's called in a European language I don't know.