Arxiu d'etiquetes: fruit

Plants and animals can also live in marriage

When we think about the life of plants it is difficult to imagine without interaction with the animals, as they establish different symbiotic relationships day after day. These symbiotic relationships include all the herbivores, or in the contradictory way, all the carnivorous plants. But there are many other super important interactions between plants and animals, such as the relationships that allow them to help each other and to live together. So, this time I want to present mutualism between plants and animals.

And, what is mutualism? it is the relationship established between two organisms in which both benefit from living together, i.e., the two get a reward when they live with the other. This relationship increase their biological effectiveness (fitness), so there is a tendency to live always together.

According to this definition, both pollination and seed dispersal by animals are cases of mutualism. Let’s see.


Many plants are visited by animals seeking to feed on nectar, pollen or other sugars they produce in their flowers and, during this process, the animals carry pollen from one flower to others, allowing it reaches the stigma in a very effective way. Thus, the plant gets the benefit of fertilization with a lower cost of pollen production, which would be higher if it was dispersed through the air. And the animals, in exchange, obtain food. Therefore, a true relationship of mutualism is stablished between the two organisms.

 “Video:The Beauty of Pollination” – Super Soul Sunday – Oprah Winfrey Network (

The extreme mutualism occurs when the species evolve depending on the other organism, i.e., when there is coevolution. We define the coevolution such as these evolutionary adaptations that allow two or more organisms to establish a deep relationship of symbiosis, due that the evolutionary adaptations of one specie influence the evolutionary adaptations of another organism. For example, this occurs between various orchids and their pollinators, as is the well- known case of Darwin’s orchid. But there are many other plants that also have co-evolved with their pollinators, as a fig tree or cassava.

In no way, this should be confused with the trickery produced by some plants to their pollinators, that is, when they do not obtain any direct benefit. For example, some orchids can attract their pollinators through odours (pheromones) and their curious forms that resemble female pollinator, stimulating them to visit their flowers. The pollinators will be impregnated with pollen, which will be transported to other flowers due to the same trickery.

Bee orchid (Ophrys apifera) (Autnor: Bernard DUPONT, flickr).


The origin of seed dispersal by animals probably had occurred thanks to a co-evolutionary process between animals and mechanisms of seed dispersal in which both plants and animals obtain a profit. The most probably is that this process began in the Carboniferous (~ 300MA), as it is believed that some plants like cycads developed a false fleshy fruits that could be consumed by primitive reptiles that would act as seed dispersers. This process could have intensified the diversification of flowering plants (angiosperms), small mammals and birds during the Cretaceous (65-12MA).

The mutualism can occur in two ways within the seed dispersal by animals.

The first case is carried out by animals that eat seeds or fruits. These seeds or some parts of the fruits (diaspores) are expelled without being damaged, by defecation or regurgitation, allowing the seed germination. In this case, diaspores are carriers of rewards or lures that result very attractive to animals. That is the reason why fruits are usually fleshy, sweet and often have bright colours or emit scents to attract them.

For example, the red-eyed wattle (Acacia cyclops) produces seeds with elaiosomes (a very nutritive substance usually made of lipids) that are bigger than the own seed. This suppose an elevated energy cost to the plant, because it doesn’t only have to produce seeds, as it has to generate the award too. But in return, the rose-breasted or galah cockatoo (Eolophus roseicapillus) transports their seeds in long distances. Because when the galah cockatoo eats elaiosomes, it also ingest seeds which will be transported by its flight until they are expelled elsewhere.

On the left,  Galah  cockatoo (Eolophus roseicapillus) (Autnor: Richard Fisher, flickr) ; On the right, red-eyed wattle’s seeds (black) with the elaiosome (pink) ( Acacia cyclops) (Autnor: Sydney Oats, flickr).

And the other type of seed dispersal by animals that establishes a mutualistic relationship occurs when the seeds or fruits are collected by the animal in times of abundance and then are buried as a food storage to be used when needed. As long as not all seed will be eaten, some will be able to germinate.

A squirrel that is recollecting som nuts (Author: William Murphy, flickr)

But this has not finished yet, since there are other curious and less well-known examples that have somehow made that both animals and plants can live together in a perfect “marriage.” Let’s see examples:

Azteca and Cecropia

Plants of the genus Cecropia live in tropical rain forests of Central and South America and they are very big fighters. The strategy that allow them to grow quickly and capture sunlight, avoiding competition with other plants, resides in the strong relationship they have with Azteca ants. Plants provide nests to the ants, since their stems are normally hollow and with separations, allowing ants to inhabit inside. Furthermore, these plants also produce Müllerian bodies, which are small but very nutritive substances rich in glycogen that ants can eat. In return, the ants protect Cecropia from vines and lianas, allowing them to success as a pioneer plants.

Ant Plants: CecropiaAzteca Symbiosis (

Marcgravia and Bats

Few years ago, an interesting plant has been discovered in Cuba. This plant is pollinated by bats, and it has evolved giving rise to modified leaves that act as satellite dish for echolocation performed by these animals. That is, their shape allow bats to locate them quickly, so they can collect nectar more efficiently. And at the same time, bats also pollinate plants more efficiently, as these animals move very quickly each night to visit hundreds of flowers to feed.

Marcgravia (Author: Alex Popovkin, Bahia, Brazil, Flickr)

In general, we see that the life of plants depends largely on the life of animals, since they are connected in one way or another. All the interactions we have presented are part of an even larger set that make life a more complex and peculiar one, in which one’s life cannot be explained without the other’s life. For this reason, we can say that life of some animals and some plants resembles a marriage.



  • Notes from the Environmental Biology degree (Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona) and the Master’s degree in Biodiversity (Universitat de Barcelona).
  • Bascompte, J. & Jordano, P. (2013) Mutualistic Networks (Chapter 1. Biodiversity and Plant-Animal Coevolution). Princeton University Press, pp 224.
  • Dansereau, P. (1957): Biogeography: an Ecological Perspective. The Ronald Press, New York., pp. 394.
  • Fenner M. & Thompson K. (2005). The Ecology of seeds. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005. pp. 250.
  • Font Quer, P. (1953): Diccionario de Botánica. Editorial Labor, Barcelona.
  • Izco, J., Barreno, E., Brugués, M., Costa, M., Devesa, J. A., Fernández, F., Gallardo, T., Llimona, X., Parada, C., Talavera, S. & Valdés, B. (2004) Botánica ªEdición. McGraw-Hill, pp. 906.
  • Murray D. R. (2012). Seed dispersal. Academy Press. 322 pp.
  • Tiffney B. (2004). Vertebrate dispersal of seed plants through time. Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution and Systematics. 35:1-29.
  • Willis, K.J. & McElwain, J.C. (2014) The Evolution of Plants (second edition). Oxford University Press, pp. 424.
  • National Geographic (2011). Bats Drawn to Plant via “Echo Beacon”.

Plantes i animals també poden viure en matrimoni

Quan pensem en la vida de les plantes es fa difícil imaginar-la sense la interacció amb els animals, ja que aquests dia rere dia estableixen diferents relacions simbiòtiques amb elles. Entre aquestes relacions simbiòtiques trobem la herbívora, o el cas contrari, el de les plantes carnívores. Però, hi ha moltes altres interaccions súper importants entre plantes i animals, com la que porta a aquests organismes a ajudar-se els uns als altres i a conviure junts. Per això, aquesta vegada us vull presentar el mutualisme entre plantes i animals. 

I, què és el mutualisme? Doncs és la relació que s’estableix entre dos organismes en la qual ambdós obtenen un benefici de la convivència en conjunt, és a dir, els dos aconsegueixen una recompensa quan viuen en companyia. Aquesta relació aconsegueix augmentar la seva eficàcia biològica (fitness) i per tant existeix una tendència dels dos organismes a conviure sempre junts.

Segons aquesta definició tant la pol·linització com la dispersió de llavors a través d’animals són casos de mutualisme.


Moltes plantes reben visites a les seves flores per part d’animals que pretenen alimentar-se del nèctar, del pol·len o d’altres sucres que aquestes produeixen  i a canvi transporten pol·len cap a altres flors, permeten que aquest arribi al estigma d’una manera molt eficaç. Així la planta obté el benefici de la fecundació amb un cost de producció menor de pol·len que el que suposaria dispersar-lo per l’aire (el qual arribaria amb menor probabilitat al estigma d’altres flors). I els animals a canvi obtenen com a recompensa l’aliment. S’estableix així una veritable relació de mutualisme entre els dos organismes.

 “Video:The Beauty of Pollination” – Super Soul Sunday – Oprah Winfrey Network (

El cas més extrem de mutualisme es dona quan aquestes especies evolucionen unes depenent de les altres, és a dir, quan es dona coevolució. Entenem per coevolució aquelles adaptacions evolutives que permeten als dos o més organismes establir una relació de simbiosis estreta, ja que les adaptacions evolutives d’un influeixen en les adaptacions evolutives de l’altre organisme. Per exemple, això es dona entre varies orquídies i els seus pol·linitzadors, com és el conegut cas de l’Orquídea de Darwin. Però, hi ha moltes altres plantes que també han coevolucionat amb els seus polinitzadors, com la figuera o la mandioca o iuca.

De cap manera això s’ha de confondre amb l’engany que algunes plantes preparen per al seus pol·linitzadors, els quals no obtenen cap benefici directe. Per exemple, algunes orquídies també atrauen als seus pol·linitzadors amb olors (feromones) i les seves formes curioses que s’assemblen a les femelles dels pol·linitzadors, fent que aquests s’acostin a elles per copular-les i quedin impregnats de pol·len que serà transportant a altres flors gracies al mateix parany.

Orquidea abellera (Ophrys apifera) (Autor: Bernard DUPONT, flickr).


La dispersió de llavors per animals es considera que ha tingut lloc gracies a un procés coevolutiu entre animals i els mecanismes de dispersió de les llavors en el qual tant plantes com animals obtenen un benefici. El més probable és que aquest procés s’iniciés en el Carbonífer (~300 Ma), on ja es creu que algunes plantes com les cícades desenvolupaven uns falsos fruits carnosos que podrien ser consumits per rèptils primitius que actuarien d’agents dispersadors de llavors. Aquest procés s’hauria intensificat amb la diversificació de plantes amb flors (Angiospermes) i de petits mamífers i aus durant el Cretaci (65-12 Ma), fet que va permetre la diversificació dels mecanismes de dispersió i de les estructures del fruit.

El mutualisme es pot donar de dues maneres dins de la dispersió de llavors per animals.

El primer cas el duen a terme els dispersadors que ingereixen llavors o fruits que expulsaran posteriorment, sense ser digerits, per defecacions o regurgitats. Els fruits i llavors preparats per aquest cas són portadors de recompenses o reclams, amb els quals atrauen als seus agents dispersadors, ja que els fruits acostumen a ser carnosos, dolços i normalment tenen colors vistosos o emeten olors per atraure als animals.

Per exemple, Acacia cyclops forma unes beines que contenen llavors rodejades per un eleosoma (substancia molt nutritiva formada normalment per lípids) que són molt més grans que la pròpia llavor. Això suposa un cost elevat d’energia per part de la planta, ja que no tan sols ha de produir la llavor sinó que també té que formar aquesta recompensa. Però a canvi, la cacatua Galah o de cap rosat (Eolophus roseicapillus) transporta a llarga distancia les seves llavors, ja que al alimentar-se d’aquest eleosoma ingereix les llavors que seran transportades pel seu vol a llarga distancia fins que siguin expulsades per defecació en altres llocs.

Esquerra, Cacatua Galah (Eolophus roseicapillus) (Autor: Richard Fisher, flickr) ; Dreta, beines d’Acacia cyclops (llavors negres, eleosoma rosa) (Autor: Sydney Oats, flickr).

I l’altre tipus de dispersió de llavors per animals que estableix una relació de mutualisme és aquella on les diàspores són recollides per animals en èpoques d’abundància i les enterren per a disposar d’elles com aliment quan tinguin necessitat. Però no totes són menjades i algunes germinen.

Esquirol recollint fruits (Autor: William Murphy, flickr)

Però no tot acaba aquí, ja que hi ha altres exemples ben curiosos i menys coneguts que d’alguna manera han fet que tant animals com plantes visquin junts en un perfecte “matrimoni”. Mirem ara un parell d’exemples:

Azteca i Cecropia

Les plantes del gènere Cecropia viuen en els boscos tropicals humits de Centre-Amèrica i Sud-Amèrica essent unes grans lluitadores. La seva estratègia per aconseguir alçar-se i captar llum evitant la competència amb d’altres plantes ha sigut la estreta relació que mantenen amb les formigues del gènere Azteca. Les plantes proporcionen a les formigues refugi, ja que les seves tiges terminals són normalment foradades i septades (amb separacions), el que permet a les formigues habitar-les per dins, i a més les plantes també produeixen cossos de Müller, que són petits cossos nutritius rics en glicogen dels quals les formigues s’alimenten. A canvi, les formigues protegeixen a Cecropia de lianes o plantes trepadores, permetent-li un gran èxit com a planta  pionera.

Ant Plants: CecropiaAzteca Symbiosis (

Marcgravia i Ratpenats

Fa pocs anys s’ha descobert que una planta de Cuba que és pol·linitzada per ratpenats ha evolucionat donant peu a fulles modificades que actuen com antenes parabòliques per a l’ecolocalització (radar) dels ratpenats. És a dir, la seva forma facilita que els ratpenats la localitzin ràpidament el que els permet recol·lectar nèctar de manera més eficient i a les plantes ser pol·linitzades amb major èxit, ja que els ratpenats es desplacen ràpidament visitant centenars de flors cada nit per alimentar-se.

Marcgravia (Autor: Alex Popovkin, Bahia, Brazil, Flickr)

En general, veiem que la vida de les plantes depèn molt de la vida dels animals, ja que aquests estan connectats d’una manera o altre. Totes aquestes interaccions que hem presentat formem part d’un conjunt encara més gran que fa de la vida una més complexa i singular, en la que la vida d’uns no s’explica sense la vida dels altres. Per aquest motiu podem dir que la vida d’alguns animals i algunes plantes s’assembla a un matrimoni.



  • Apunts obtinguts en diferents assignatures durant la realització del Grau de Biologia Ambiental (Universitat autònoma de Barcelona) i el Màster de Biodiversitat (Universitat de Barcelona).
  • Bascompte, J. & Jordano, P. (2013) Mutualistic Networks (Chapter 1. Biodiversity and Plant-Animal Coevolution). Princeton University Press, pp 224.
  • Dansereau, P. (1957): Biogeography: an Ecological Perspective. The Ronald Press, New York., pp. 394.
  • Fenner M. & Thompson K. (2005). The Ecology of seeds. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005. pp. 250.
  • Font Quer, P. (1953): Diccionario de Botánica. Editorial Labor, Barcelona.
  • Izco, J., Barreno, E., Brugués, M., Costa, M., Devesa, J. A., Fernández, F., Gallardo, T., Llimona, X., Parada, C., Talavera, S. & Valdés, B. (2004) Botánica ªEdición. McGraw-Hill, pp. 906.
  • Murray D. R. (2012). Seed dispersal. Academy Press. 322 pp.
  • Tiffney B. (2004). Vertebrate dispersal of seed plants through time. Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution and Systematics. 35:1-29.
  • Willis, K.J. & McElwain, J.C. (2014) The Evolution of Plants (second edition). Oxford University Press, pp. 424.
  • National Geographic (2011). Bats Drawn to Plant via “Echo Beacon”.

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!

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


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).

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


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).


 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.

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.



  • 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.
  • 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).