Three-leafed chaff flower (Alternanthera filifolia)

Alternanthera filifolia
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Three-leafed chaff flower fact file

Three-leafed chaff flower description

GenusAlternanthera (1)

In common with many other Galapagos endemics, Alternanthera filifolia is a highly variable species, with up to seven recognised subspecies, most of which are unique to one island. It is a small shrub with slender stems, linear to oblong-shaped leaves, and white to greenish-white flowers borne in spikes (2) (3). The subspecies differ mainly in the shape of the flowers, the shape and fleshiness of the leaves, and extent to which the stems and leaves are glaucous (3) (4).

Height: 0.5 - 1.5 m (2)

Three-leafed chaff flower biology

There is very little information on the biology of Alternanthera filifolia, but some hybridisation is likely to take place between subspecies, while birds probably play an important role in seed dispersal, and perhaps even in pollination (4).


Three-leafed chaff flower range

Although Alternanthera filifolia occurs over a large part of the Galapagos archipelago, with the exception of A. f. filifolia, which occurs on at least nine separate islands, most of the subspecies are restricted to one or two islands (2) (3).


Three-leafed chaff flower habitat

Found in the arid lowlands, a dry zone not far from the coast, mainly occupied by cacti and a variable mix of low trees and shrubs (3).


Three-leafed chaff flower status

Classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1). Subspecies: Alternanthera filifolia filifolia is listed as Least Concern (LC) and A. f. glauca, A. f. glaucescens, A. f. microcephala, A. f. nudicaulis A. f. pintensis and A. f. rabidensis are all listed as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Least Concern


Three-leafed chaff flower threats

Owing to their highly restricted range, it is no surprise that all the subspecies of Alternanthera filifolia, with the exception of the uniquely widespread subspecies A. f. filifolia, are classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List (1). Like much of the Galapagos flora, these plants are threatened by a combination of habitat loss, competition with invasive alien plants, and over-browsing by introduced herbivores such as feral goats and donkeys (5).


Three-leafed chaff flower conservation

There are no known conservation measures in place for Alternanthera filifolia, but botanical research carried out by the Charles Darwin Research Station is focused on the conservation of the Galapagos’ native and endemic flora (5). As introduced species probably pose the greatest risk to the archipelago’s terrestrial biodiversity, actions are already being taken to eradicate the most invasive and destructive animals and plants (5) (6).


Find out more

For further information on the conservation of the endemic flora of the Galapagos see:



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Species or taxonomic groups that are only found in one particular country or geographic area.
The bluish-grey colour of the surface of some plants, especially when covered in a powdery or waxy film.
Cross-breeding between two different species or subspecies.
The transfer of pollen grains from the stamen (male part of a flower) to the stigma (female part of a flower) of a flowering plant. This usually leads to fertilisation, the development of seeds and, eventually, a new plant.
A population usually restricted to a geographical area that differs from other populations of the same species, but not to the extent of being classified as a separate species.


  1. IUCN Red List (June, 2009)
  2. Wiggins, I.L. and Porter, D.M. (1971) Flora of the Galapagos Islands. Stanford University Press, Stanford.
  3. McMullen, C.K. (1999) Flowering Plants of the Galapagos. Cornell University Press, New York.
  4. Eliasson, U.H. (2004) The evolutionary patterns of the plant family Amaranthaceae on the Galpagos and Hawaiian Islands. Journal of the Torrey Botanical Society, 131(2): 105 - 109.
  5. Charles Darwin Foundation (June, 2009)
  6. Guo, J. (2006) The Galapagos islands kiss their goat problem goodbye. Science, 313: 1567 - .

Image credit

Alternanthera filifolia  
Alternanthera filifolia

© Dr Alan Tye

Alan Tye


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