Validity of the taxa currently recognized in the genus Vasconcellea was analyzed by investigating morphological and molecular data from 105 specimens of this genus and six specimens of the related genus Carica. Taxon identification of these specimens was compared with clustering in two phenetic dendrograms generated with 36 morphological characters and 254 amplified fragment length polymorphic (AFLP) markers. Moreover, cytoplasmic haplotypes were assessed using polymerase chain reaction restriction fragment length polymorphism (PCR-RFLP) of one mitochondrial and two chloroplast DNA regions. Results show that the morphological data set, containing mainly vegetative characteristics, merely reveals external resemblance between specimens, which is not directly associated with genetic relationships and taxon validity. Phenotypic plasticity and intercompatibility between several species are likely to confuse morphological delimitation of the taxa. Based on the results of our study, several specimens that could not be identified with the currently used identification key (1) could be attributed to a known taxon, which should be extended to include a higher range of morphological variability or (2) could be hypothesized to be of hybrid origin. Because of the high intraspecific variation within V. microcarpa and V. × heilbornii, revision of these taxa is recommended.
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