Arxiu de la categoria: PLANT DIVERSITY

Flowers wearing turban, the Tulip fever

The spring beginning has allowed some of you to enjoy the beautiful colours of those flowers that have already bloomed. This time I’m going to talk about one of the most colourful, simple, but wonderful flowers you probably already will have had the opportunity to observe in many gardens or in nature. It is the tulip. Besides introduce you this plant, in this article I will make a more detailed description of its morphological parts. I think it’s a good example to start learning vocabulary, because its structure is quite clear and simple. Therefore, if you are interested in learning some technical vocabulary, now it’s a perfect chance. But, do not think I’m just going to talk about the technical aspects, because reading this article you will also be able to learn the history behind the tulips. And as you will see, these flowers caused a good fever!

tulipes
Artistic image of several tulips (Photo taken by Adriel Acosta).

 INTRODUCTION

The tulips (Tulipa sp.) are flowers that when are closed seem a turban. This plants have been very popular and well-known for very long time, because of its high ornamental interest.

Its genus is distributed in the central and western Asia, in the Mediterranean and in Europe. It is known that its origin belongs to the centre of Asia and, from there, their distribution has been expanded naturally and by human actions. And, although about 150 species are known in the nature, human intervention has greatly increased the species list. Caused both by hybridization (forcing the offspring of two interesting species) and by selective breeding (choosing the offspring which has more value).

Tulipa_cultivars_Amsterdam
Tulip crop in Amsterdam (Photo taken by Rob Young). 

 THE TULIP FEVER

As already mentioned above, tulips are one of the most ornamental plants used, both in decoration as in landscaping. And while the tulip crop is rather old, the boom occurred in Europe during the seventeenth century. Giving rise to what is known as Tulip mania or the Tulip fever. In those moments, especially in Netherlands and France, a high interest in the cultivation of these plants awoke. The fever was so great that people were selling goods of all kinds to buy tulip bulbs, even reaching up to sell the most valued as the house or farm animals.

The cause of this was originated in the Netherlands, where the single-coloured tulip bulbs were being sold at that time. But afterwards, the Eastern bulbs that give rise to flowers with variegated colours appeared. And they were very attractive. Although the cause was uncertain in that moment, it was known that if a single-coloured bulb touched other marbled-coloured bulb, the first one would turned into a marbled-coloured bulb. This caused the tulip’s price began to increase and soon after occurred the first speculative bubble in history.

Nowadays, we know that the cause is due to a virus which is transmitted from some bulbs to others; this virus is known as Tulip breaking virus.

Semper Augustus Tulip 17th century
Anonymous gouache on paper drawing, 17th century, of the “Semper Augustus”. A representation of one of the most popular tulips which was sold at record price in Netherlands (Public Domain).

MORPHOLOGICAL CHARACTERS

 The plant

 Tulips are geophytes, that is, they have resistance bodies underground to survive during unfavourable seasons, the winter. These organs are bulbs, which have been used on crops to preserve these plants.

Its leaves are linear or linear-lanceolate, i.e., they are long, narrow and acute. Parallel venation can be observed on its leaves, so a nerve is by side other and with the same direction. Their arrangement is usually in rosette: this means that the leaves are born agglomerated in the bottom of the plant above the bulb, and at the same level. Even so, you can sometimes see some leaves along the stem, cauline ones. These are sessile, without petiole, and wrap a little the stem.

To cultivate tulips, we can use their bulbs or fruits. These seconds are capsules, a dried fruits, opened due the action of some valves. At first, the seeds are hooked inside these capsules and then are released and distributed on the environment.

20150329_165102[1]
Tulip (Photo taken by Adriel Acosta).

The flowers

Tulips appear in early spring, due they are plants adapted to very dry Mediterranean climate or cold areas.

As you have seen, the flowers are solitary or appear to 3 gathered in one stem. They are usually large and showy, hermaphrodite, therefore, they have both male and female reproductive organs, and are actinomorphous, that is, they can be divided symmetrically for more than two planes of symmetry.

These flowers have 3 inner tepals and 3 external that are free among them, without being bound or fused. We talk about tepals when the sepals (calyx pieces) and petals (corolla parts) are similar between them. In this case, the tepals are petaloid, because they adopt typical colours and shapes of the petals.

In the inner part of the flower, we can see 6 stamens divided equally into 2 whorls; being these two closely spaced between them, so they seem to arise from the same point. And right in the centre, surrounded by these stamens, there is the gynoecium, female part of the flower. This gynoecium consists of the ovary and 3 stigmas attached to this directly. The stigmas are this part of female reproductive organs where it should arrive pollen to fertilize the ovaries.

part tulipa
Parts of tulip flower: 1. Sepal, 2. Petal, 3. Stamen, 4. Female reproductive organ (ovary and 3 stigmas) (Photo taken by Adriel Acosta).

 As you have seen in this article, some flowers have caused curious stories and a great impact on our society. Also, you have had the opportunity to observe in detail the tulip’s structure. One more time, I wish you liked it.

Difusió-anglès

REFERENCES

  • A. Aguilella & F. Puche. 2004. Diccionari de botànica. Colleció Educació. Material. Universitat de València: pp. 500.
  • Bolòs, J. Vigo, R. M. Masalles & J. M. Ninot. 2005. Flora manual dels Països catalans. 3ed. Pòrtic Natura, Barcelona: pp. 1310.
  • Notes of Phanerogamae and Applied Plant Physiology, Degree of Environmental Biology, Ambiental, UAB
  • F. Schiappacasse. Cultivo del tulipan. http://www2.inia.cl/medios/biblioteca/seriesinia/NR21768.pdf
  • Fundación para la Innovación Agraria; Ministerio de Agricultura. 2008. Resultados y Lecciones en Tulipán. Proyecto de Innovación en XII Región de Magallanes. Flores y FOllajes/ Flores de corte (11).

Socratea exorrhiza: plants also learn to walk!

This time I am going to present the plant that is becoming famous worldwide, the walking palm (Socratea exorrhiza). It has always been said that plants do not move from their place, but the nature surprises us once again with an example like this. Then, you can view more of this extraordinary plant.

INTRODUCTION

The walking plant, Socratea exorrhiza, is a palm tree (Arecaceae) that lives in the rainforest of Centre and South America. It can reach to 25 meters of height and 16 centimetres of diameter, but it is usually around 15-20 meters of height.

Socratea exorrhiza, walking palm
The walking palm at los Puentes Colgantes near Arenal Volcano, Costa Rica (Photo taken by Hans Hillewaert).

Along with the orchids and other herbs, palm trees are the most abundant plants in tropical forests. But the palms are very curious as they have arboreal morphology: tree height and measures. But, no truly secondary growth is developed, i.e., they haven’t tissues for the increase in thickness of the roots, stems and branches. This means that, if the plant grows in height, it has to be a mechanism that can support its own weight. And we know that is not due to the thickness of the stem, which is pretty slim. So, what is the mechanism? And how does it work?

STILT ROOTS

Many arborescent palms, i.e., that are not trees but similar, develop a set of aerial roots. These are characterized by being located above ground level. This is the case of the Walking palm (Socratea exorrhiza) and other palms (such Iriartea deltoidea). Stilt roots are generally very numerous and high.

Socratea exorriza
Stilt roots (Photo taken by Ruestz).

STILT ROOTS’ FUNCTIONS

The functions performed by these roots have been and are still a debate. Still, it has been proposed that they can provide different benefits.

First, their presence allows greater stability and support of the stem, which can grow faster. This is very interesting, because in tropical forests light is a very powerful limiting factor. And the fact that the plant can reach higher heights, spending less energy in developing a thick trunk or underground roots that stabilize, makes this specie more competitive. But, while providing stability, it has not been shown to result in an advantage to grow in slope.

On the other hand, it is also thought that roots let colonize (expand to) new places that contain many large organic wastes, generally branches or dead trunks of other trees. This is because the roots can avoid them by moving over them.

In addition, it has been found that the stilt roots increase the plants’ survival when tropical storms are violent (as explained in the next section) and also facilitate their own aeration when floods occur. Still, it has not been confirmed that they allow the palm to grow in marshy places.

Although it has been begun to possess an extensive knowledge, all functions of these very singular roots of palm trees are still unknown. Even so, it should be mentioned another function discovered on the Walking palm, which is precisely what allows the plant to “walk”.

HOW DOES THE WALKING PALM WALK?

Socratea exorrhiza is known as the Walking palm and this is because it can change its position for two reasons. Although the second, presented below, is what gives rise to its common name.

The first, known since more time ago, it is quite common due to strong tropical storms. It’s caused when the palm is in normal position (phase 1 of the image) and then is knocked down by another tree or branch and it’s flattened (phase 2 of the image). Once above the soil, the palm has the ability to regrow and recover, thanks to the development of new stilt roots on the old stem; while the old stilt roots die (phase 3 of the image). Finally, the organism grows again, but having changed its place (phase 4 of the image). Therefore, the palm can survive even when it’s lying over the ground and still can recover itself.

Socratea exorrhiza  diagram
Smartse – Bodley, John; Foley C. Benson (March 1980). Stilt-Root Walking by an Iriateoid Palm in the Peruvian Amazon. Biotropica (jstor: The Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation) 12 (1): 67-71

The second case has been discovered more recently and it is the reason why this plant has become popular nowadays. It is believed that its roots grow towards areas where there is more light; while on the other side, the roots die. So, the stem changes its place very slowly, but each year the displacement can reach up to 1 meter.

Simon Hart’s explicative video (Youtube Channel: Harold Eduarte).

As you have seen, plants never cease to amaze. Reaching as curious cases like this. Remember, if you liked it, please don’t forget to share in different social networks. Thank you.

REFERENCES

  • Notes of Forest Ecology, Degree of Environmental Biology, UAB.
  • Avalos, Gerardo; Salazar, Diego; and Araya, Ana (2005). Stilt root structure in the neotropical palmsIrlartea deltoidea and Socratea exorrhiza. Biotropica 37 (1): 44–53.
  • Avalos, Gerardo and Fernández Otárola, Mauricio (2010). Allometry and stilt root structure of the neotropical palm Euterpe precatoria (Arecaceae) acroos sites and successional stages. Ametican Joranl of Botany 97 (3): 388-394.
  • Goldsmith, Gregory; and Zahawi, Rakan (September–December 2007).The function of stilt roots in the growth strategy of Socratea exorrhiza (Arecaceae) at two neotropical sites. Revista de Biologia Tropical 55 (3–4): 787–793.
  • Zotz, G.; Vollrath, B. (2003).The epiphyte vegetation of the palm Socratea exorrhiza – correlations with tree size, tree age and bryophyte cover. Journal of Tropical Ecology 19

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If the nymphs were plants, they would be water lilies

This week, I’m going to introduce water lilies, some flowers very nice and known for being important in the ornamentation.

INTRODUCTION

The Nymphaeaceae family has few species and most of them are freshwater aquatic plants in quiet places and commonly are known as water lilies. Because they are aquatic plants, the family’s name is derived from the Latin word nympha, as they have some similarity with nymphs, mythological beings with a predilection for the waters.

1024px-Rae_-_Water_Nymphs_(color)Water nymphs, water lilies can be seen around (Painting by Henrietta Rae, 1909).

The water lilies were originated in warm regions, but they are now subcosmopolitan and can be found in several parts of the world, living in ponds, lakes and freshwater streams.

MORPHOLOGICAL CHARACTERS

The water lilies are perennial aquatic plants, they live several years, and are rhizomatous, that is, they have a thickened stem below the soil at the bottom of the water. In some species, we see that some leaves are immersed and others are floating on the water surface, being sometimes even membranous (they have raised edges perpendicularly upward to avoid the ingress of too much water). When this morphological difference happens, we talk about heteromorphous leaves.

Flowering_victoriaWater lily's membranous leaves (Victoria amazonica) (Photo taken by Dirk van der Made).

Their flowers grown out of water and are constituted by a variable number of sepals, petals and stamens, which are helically born. Therefore, flowers are acyclic, that is, are asymmetrical or irregular because they have no symmetric plane. These flowers are solitary, not born grouped, and hermaphrodites, that is, both male (stamens) and female (ovary) sex organs occur in the same flower.

Nenufar-rosa Nymphaea tetragonaPygmy waterlily (Nymphaea tetragona)(Photo taken by Miguel303xm).

These perianth parts (petals and sepals) and stamens are free among them, therefore, they are not united or fused among them, and normally appear in large numbers. The stamens are different to several of other flowers, because they are laminar stamens, similar to the petals. Therefore, they are not filamentous, are thicker and wider.

DIVERSITY

Currently, the genera of water lilies which have more relevance are Nuphar, Nymphaea and Victoria, but there are also some others. Below I present some cases of very interesting species.

The tiger lotus or Egyptian white water-lily (Nymphaea lotus) is native of the Nile Valley and eastern Africa. It is prized as an ornamental and ancient Egyptians believed that the flower could give strength and power.

800px-Nymphaea_lotus4Egyptian white water-lily (Nymphaea lotus) (Photo taken by Meneerke bloem).

The yellow water-lily (Nuphar lutea) is typical of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East and, as the previous one, is also very ornamental. Furthermore, it has been long used in traditional medicine. Its roots were applied on the skin and seeds and roots were eaten to treat different diseases.

Nuphar_lutea_W160Yellow water-lily (Nuphar lutea) (Photo taken by Oksana Golovko).

Finally, I’d want to introduce the genus of Victoria, whose pollinitation is very curious. It has two American species: V. cruziana in Argentina and V. amazonica in the Amazon and Brazil. Plants of this genus are very big, with floating leaves reaching to 2 meters in diameter and with showy flowers which can reach up to 30 centimeters and are opened at evening.When these flowers are opened, strong scents and a little heat are released and with the whitish and beige colours of the petals, they result very attractive to the beetles (Coleoptera) that are feed of starch extensions on the flowers (starch bodies). The next morning, flowers are closed and the beetles are captured within, causing them to be permeated of pollen. At afternoon, flowers are reopened and allow beetles to escape. Then, as the flowers have been pollinated, their colour varies to pink and they also lose scent. Therefore, the beetles feel more attracted to white flowers that have not been pollinated yet. Finally, the pink flowers are dipped.

V. cruziana & V. amazonicaOn the left, V. cruziana (Photo taken by Greenlamplady); On the right, V. amazonica (Photo taken by frank wouters).

IMPORTANCE

Currently, several species are used as ornamentals, decorative. Furthermore, the water lilies can also be used to get food; the seeds and rhizomes of the genera Nymphaea and Victoria are edible. On the other hand, a very curious thing is that the nerves of the leaves of some species have been used to extract a liquid, which has been applied to treat snake bites.

I hope you liked the way the water lilies behave and all their tales and uses that are associated to them, although only for its beauty are charming. If you enjoyed, do not forget to share in different social networks. Thanks for your interest.

REFERENCES

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Orchids: different colours and shapes for everyone

The orchid family is composed of a big number of species, about 20.000. Even they are almost around all world, the most live in tropical places and they are epiphytes, that is, they live over other plants. Nowadays, the number of the species is boosted by the commercial interest. Trying to find new characters and colours, many gardeners and hobbyists have created new varieties from the breeding of two distinct species of orchids, that is, they have made artificial hybridization. Even so, it can also happen in nature as usual.

MORPHOLOGICAL CHARACTERISTICS

The orchid flower owns a single structure. The most representative part is the column or gynostemium, which is the result of masculine and feminine reproductive parts combined. The perianth, consisting of the calyx (the outermost whorl of parts that form a flower. Its pieces are the sepals) and the corolla (composed of all of the petals), has free pieces and is zygomorphic (single symmetry plane). A much differentiated petal can be seen, it’s the lip. It adopts a different attractive shape and it can own macules (attractive spots for the pollinators). The lip is also adapted to capture the pollinators’ attention and can possess a long prolongation called spur and it has nectar. The flowers may be accompanied by a bract, a modified or specialized leaf.

parts orchidStructure of orchid flowers (Photo taken by Gisela Acosta).

The flower development is very singular in some orchids. Some flowers are born backwards and when they are maturing the ovary twist 180º to help flower stay in proper position, being the own ovary who acts as a peduncle, linking flower and stem. This kind of flower development is called resupinate. The flowers can be solitary or grouped in inflorescences.

orchis masculaResupinate development of flowers (Orchis mascula) (Photo taken by Jonathan Billinger).

The orchids are entomophilous, that is, are pollinated by insects. Depending of the specie, the orchid will be pollinated by a type of insect or other. Even so, this relation or form of pollination (the position in which bees, bumblebees and other hymenoptera get to copulate) cannot be used to describe how evolution happened in orchids; this pollination mechanism was used in the past to classify species, but molecular analyses have denied its worth.

One singular characteristic of tropical species is the velamen radicum: a multi-layered coating on the roots that acts as a sponge. In drought periods this coating protects from the drying and doesn’t allow the losing of water. And in rainy periods, this coating is swollen of water, which will be available to roots. Also, as these orchids are epiphytes, are adapted to drought places.

Pleione_limprichtii_Epiphytic orchid on a tree (Pleione limprichtii) (Photo taken by Adarsh Thakuri)

Orchids live in mutualism with fungus, that is, they establish a relationship in which both organisms are benefited when live together. The orchid seeds need the fungus’ aid to germinate. Many several fungus can stimulate their germination, but  Rhizoctonia (Basidiomycota) is predominant. The fungus degrades the seed coat and releases of dormancy period. Then, the seed begins to germinate and emits filaments, underground organs, and establishes an orchid mycorrhizae. The seed dormancy can last 20-30 years without germinating, but it will not be possible without the fungus action.

DIVERSITY

Within the great diversity of orchids, some flowers of diferent species create such original shapes that they seem animals, such as monkey orchid (Orchis simia), or insects, such as genus Phalaenopsis; their flowers supposedly resemble moths in flight, and that’s why they are known as the moth orchids.

Orchis simia & Phalaenopsis schillerianaOn the left, monkey orchid (Orchis simia) (Photo taken by Ian Capper); On the right, orchids that resemble moths in flight (Phalaenopsis schilleriana) (Photo taken by Amos Oliver Doyle).

The bee orchids (Ophrys), for example, have a specialized lip that can really attract the hymenopterans. It’s because it reminds female shape and colours and it also emits smells which are similar to female pheromones, doing the pollination more effective.

Ophrys apiferaBee orchid (Ophrys apifera) (Photo taken by Hans Hillewaert).

On the other hand, there are also many curious cases like the Darwin’s orchid (Anagraecum sesquipedale). It’s characterized by its long spur between 25 and 35 cm in length. Darwin guessed it should exist a butterfly that could take the nectar located in the spur and pollinates the flower at the same time. Xanthopan morgani is able and it’s the only one, so it’s one coevolution case.

Angraecum_sesquipedale & XanthopaOn the left, Darwin's orchid (Anagraecum sesquipedale)(Photo taken by Michael Wolf); On the right, Xanthopan morgani (Photo taken by Esculapio).

We can also see species with a high ornamental value, being the most of them from Asia and America. For example, the Cattleya genus has one of the highest floral value and it was used extensively for create new varieties. So, Cattleya has become very popular until today.  A good example is the easter orchid (Cattleya mossiae), which is also the national flower of Venezuela.

Cattleya mossiaeEaster orchid (Cattleya mossiae) (Photo taken by KENPEI).

When we speak of floral value, we can’t forget Rothschild’s slipper orchid (Paphiopedilum rothschildianum). It’s the most expensive orchid in world and it’s considered one of the most expensive flowers, too. Rothschild’s slipper orchid only lives in Mt. Kinabalu, on the island of Borneo, and it’s also one of the rarest orchids in nature of all of the species of Asian Slipper orchids.

Paphiopedilum_rothschildianum_Orchi_108Rothschild's Slipper Orchid (Paphiopedilum rothschildianum) (Photo taken by Orchi).

Furthermore, orchids are important in alimentation, being surely Vanilla planifolia the most relevant. It’s native to Mexico and vanilla is obtained of its fruits.

Vanilla planifoliaVanilla (Vanilla planifolia) (Photo taken by Michael Doss).

REFERENCES

The following sources have been consulted in the elaboration of this entry:

In conclusion, orchids are important in different aspects and that’s why a biggest knowledge of their diversity and biology is necessary. If you liked this article, wouldn’t forget to share it. Thanks for your interest.

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