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Although psychotria viridis and psychotria alba do look very much alike at first glance, when you consider some key features, it should be very easy for you to distinguish the two species so that you never get caught buying the wrong one. There was a time when I too was confused because of the prevalence of so many psychotria alba plants posing as psychotria viridis. Many times, the seller is not even aware because he or she trusted their source greatly. Like with many misidentification cases, mistakenly identified plants become references that fuel the confusion. So it becomes hard to even research the right answer. Well, this guide is intended as a resource for all those who are still in confusion about psychotria identification.
Psychotria Viridis from seed (above)
The first thing you want to consider is the leaf margins. The plant in this photo is young, but you can see one of the key ID features of alba vs. viridis showing even at this early age. The leaf margins extend all the way down on both sides of the petiole to meet the stem. In simpler terms, the stem or central leaf vein that connects the leaf to the main plant stem has little pieces of leaf (leaf margins) on both sides that follow all the way down on both sides. Sometimes alba leaf margins will come down close. But you want to make sure they come down all the way on both sides. This seems very simple, but it is actually a very consistent feature of psychotria viridis.
Psychotria Alba (above)
With psychotria alba, the leaf margin ends up further on the petiole (leaf stem). Normally, you might not think to pay attention to this type of detail. But if you do, it will almost certainly allow you to tell the difference between the two species. Variance can occur even among leaves on the same plant. So it is important to stick to these features and not be misled by paying attention to other types of similarities or differences. If you are shopping for a plant, this is most likely the feature you will have to base your ID on because it is the feature that reveals itself in all stages of growth without having the plant growing in front of you. If you understand the concept, it should eventually become quite obvious. Don’t let your imagination stretch. Most “viridis” plants are really alba.
A second difference that will help you ID whether your psychtoria is alba or viridis is growth speed. Unfortunately, you will not be able to use this feature to ID a plant until you already have the plant growing in front of you. Growth speed is also a more subjective feature than the leaf margin. But it can be used in conjunction with the other features to create a well-rounded identification of your psychotria plant. So getting to the point, psychotria alba is known to grow at a faster rate than psychotria viridis. If your plant is putting on growth fairly quickly, it might be a sign that you have an alba growing. But you also have to consider the role that conditions play in growth speed. Many times, even alba will grow rather slowly, especially in cooler temperatures. But you can consider growth speed a good way to back up what you’ve found out about the leaf margins on your plant.
A third feature to consider in your psychotira ID is flower color. While flower color is perhaps the most easily distinguishable feature, it requires that your plant be in bloom. It is rare that you’ll find a plant for sale that is in bloom. But like growth speed, it can often provide more insight about a plant you’ve been growing. When it comes to flower color, alba, as the name suggests, has white flowers. On the other hand, viridis will most often have greenish flowers with white stamens. So if you see green flowers, it’s a pretty good affirmation that you’re growing psychotria viridis.
A fourth feature to consider in your psychotria ID is leaf waviness. It is important to use this as a secondary feature in your identification because it is less consistent. It is more of a way to rule out viridis than to confirm alba. Psychotria alba leaves tend to have wavy or rippled edges whereas those of psychotria viridis will not. You can see from the psychotria alba picture above that waviness is not always a feature of alba. Some clones of the same plant did show wavy leaves though. What is important to remember is that wavy edges arefrequently associated with alba, but not always. So if you do see them, it is a good piece of information to use in conjunction with your other findings to suggest that you are dealing with alba. You might see certain curling of viridis leaves due to humidity or health conditions. So it is important to note that we are specifically referring to rippling on theedges of the leaves. This feature usually does not appear as some type of deformity, but rather as a natural feature of the leaf itself. But to reiterate, leaf waviness is a variable feature of psychotria alba. So do not let the lack of waviness on its own trick you into thinking you are dealing with psychotria viridis. It seems that this is one area where many people are steered wrong.
One last feature to consider in your psychotria ID is the undersides of the leaf. It has been noted that the undersides of psychotria viridis leaves tend to have what look like little “spines” coming off the central leaf vein. The following link shows an example of these types of so-called spines http://entheopedia.org/pics/Entheopedia.Org/pvirisid.jpg This feature is not normally associated with psychotria alba, and it can be another part of a well-rounded psychotria identification.
Aside from these five features, there are certain other tendencies of viridis compared to psychotria alba. However, to avoid the risk of causing confusion we will keep our ID guide to these more reliable characteristics. Using the information described above, there should be quite enough information for you to make an informed identification. Although at first glance, the two species are seemingly undistinguishable, we now see that there are actually a number of obvious differences that surface when you focus on the details. It is important to value the more consistent features, such as the leaf margins extending down to the stem, over the variable features, such as the wavy leaf edges. But you also want to take into account as many features as you can. And when all is considered it should be quite clear what you are dealing with.
Also, be sure to check out our guide, “Growing Psychotria Viridis from Seed and Cuttings”