Monday, April 25, 2011

Orchis robusta, Queen S´Albufera of Mallorca

Awesome, magnificent, splendid, beautiful in its purest form. Thus define the Orchis robusta, because that is the strong impression he made me see for the first time in their natural environment, standing water and mud of the Albufera of Mallorca. In a vast green carpet of sedges, reeds and buttercups, here and raise their heads above the long inflorescences proud pink orchid meadow. Oscillate in unison with lakeside vegetation swaying in the wind from the northeast like flowers floating on the waves of a green sea. His vivid shines and attracts like a magnet to lovers of nature from around the world only to see her and give her queenly feet.

Orchis robusta with its beautiful pink flowers and long leaves growing on the mud with reeds. Double clicking on the picture is better appreciated its beauty.

Two orchid meadow about 60 cms in height growing along a channel of the Albufera.

Her large flowers and her great size differentiate it from the Orchis palustris. Both species bear a strong resemblance, so until recently orchidologist botanists saw it as a subspecies and gave the name of Orchis palustris subsp. robust. Worthwhile to expand the photo with a double click.

Orchis robusta long inflorescence whose exemplary exceeded 60 cm. high.

The Orchis robusta is a botanical rarity in Europe, as only live in the Albufera of Mallorca. The total number of copies is around 1200 feet. In the rest of the world can be found only in two localities in North Africa, Algeria and Morocco.

Impressive, right?. It is very difficult to understand the blindness and the absolute lack of sensitivity of some politicians, hoteliers and urban developers in Mallorca, unable to appreciate the treasure of this and other unique plants in the world. Its botanical and scientific importance is enormous, certified by top internationally renowned orchidologist, however, that should protect the contempt for them is nothing but a weed, a nuisance, vermin plant, an impediment to their business. If they were advised by professional real tourist would take into account the thousands of visitors who come to Mallorca just to see this orchid. Unfortunately his aides are not professionals and do not earn their pay and advise them bulldoze the habitat of the Orchis robusta, uprooting the few examples that barely survive surrounded by housing developments and hotels. Ecotourism is increasing in a world where nature in its purest state is increasingly scarce. Is a rising star. Be positive and trust that they open their eyes and be able to have vision. I would recommend dismissing his advisers.

While I made this picture to this pretty, two German couples lined up next to me to kneel before the queen of the Albufera and to pay homage. The photos that made him fly to his cold Germanic country jealously guarded as his best memory of Mallorca.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Canarian banana: a tasty narcissistic triploid

Although the title may seem odd to you, in fact perfectly defines this giant grass. Its scientific name is Musa acuminata var. Dwarf Cavendish and is the result of a curious process of reproduction of a plant with itself followed by a dwarfing mutation. The delicious Canarian banana is thus a dwarf auto-hybrid.. 

Banana plantation in Los realejos of Tenerife. The bananas are braced to prevent the weight of the cluster lie. (Double click on the photo to enlarge)

Its original ancestor was an Asian wild banana, probably in the Indomalayan region, Musa acuminata, with a normal AA diploid chromosome and a fruit-filled chewy and inedible black seeds. A mutation in the germ cell of a flower disrupted the process of meiosis (which is usually divided by half the chromosome of the germ cells giving rise to haploid gametes A) and instead meiosis there was a mitosis. Plant genetic disorder is called Apomeiosis, ie absence of meiosis. As a result of this change a bunch of flowers of Musa acuminata mutant produced diploid ovules and pollen. Chance led to self-pollinate the flower with its own pollen and plantain seeds grew full of autotetraploid AAAA with two identical complete genomes, that is, the sum of AA genome diploid pollen and diploid AA genome of the ovule. 

Plant breeding this chromosomal aberration is perfectly viable, but often produce sterile plants. Many cultivated plants are polyploid (triploid, tetraploid, hexaploid, etc. ..), since its polyploidy them very effective and produce much larger fruits and tasty. An example is the bread wheat, Triticum aestivum, a hexaploid product of a spontaneous hybridization took place some 2,000 years ago, the grains are much larger than those of wild wheat. The giant strawberries and tomatoes are also polyploid. 

In animal and human genetics are also produced chromosomal aberrations polyploidy complete, but the embryos are not viable and die producing a spontaneous abortion. Sometimes the only surviving trisomies (Down syndrome, Edwards, Patau, Klinefelter, etc ...) and haploidy (Turner syndrome) in a single chromosome, but never complete polyploid.

Inside a banana plantation in Los Realejos. The Canary banana is characterized by its small size, a very thick stem at the base and high productivity.

Inside another banana plantation in Tazacorte on the Canary island of La Palma.

After making a random wild banana seeds full of autotetraploid, one of the seeds germinated and gave rise to an embryo with four banana AAAA identical genomes. Again the chance was a native discovered the banana autotetraploid, whose bananas were bigger, with more pulp and seeds were not, being sterile. Not being able to reproduce by seed, turned to the division of its rhizome and thus was born the first planting Asian banana.

Musa acuminata autotetraploid, genetic grandmother Canary banana, grown in the Botanical Garden of Funchal in the Madeira Island. It is a giant grass about 4 feet high, very strong as most hybrids with small bananas not seeded.

Same banana previous autotetraploid. The clusters are less bananas Canary Dwarf Cavendish variety. 

The new banana AAAA did not produce seeds, but their pollen is viable and fertilized a diploid flower of a wild Musa acuminata nearby forest. The result of this retro-hybridization was a banana with AAA triploid seeds. (Diploid pollen AA x Haploid ovule A = Triploid seeds AAA). 

Again fate played into the man and a hybrid seed germinated and gave rise to a triploid banana  with large, flavorful and seedless fruits, that they matured pathenocarpically without being fertilized. Had been born the Cavendish variety, the progenitor of the Canary banana. 

Beautiful image of a large banana plantation along the Atlantic Ocean at the foot volcanic Barlovento town on the island of La Palma. 

In the Canary Islands were built huge rafts over the banana plantations so they could be watered by gravity without any pumping machinery. The banana trees are planted in terraced, following the topography of the volcanic slopes. Each farmer has owned a few hours per week of irrigation water with his own pipe connected to the community pond and a stopcock padlocked to prevent theft of water. The tangle of intersecting tubes is spectacular. "Acequiero" only able to know who owns each pipe and each lock. 

A spontaneous mutation in germinal meristem of a rhizome of the new Musa acuminata var. Cavendish banana resulted in a smaller, thicker stems, very productive, resistant to sub-cool winters, with high quality fruits, the dwarf banana Musa acuminata var. Dwarf Cavendish. Its hardiness and excellent qualities of his favored bananas growing and expanding all subtropical areas, including the Canary Islands, where he found an ideal climate for cultivation. 

The rhizome will produce shoots that grow to flowering and fruiting. Once the bananas have ripened, the stalk dies and is replaced by one or more new shoots. In the photo of a banana Tazacorte can see a cut stem which has already borne fruit, a stem that is bearing fruit and a small tiller that will replace it. 

The cluster of Canarian banana flowers of three types. The first 5 to 15 rows of female flowers are open and barren, very rich in nectar and ripe fruit by parthenocarpy without being fertilized. After opening several rows of hermaphrodite flowers and finally near the top of the bunch is fertile male flowers open. Banana farmers to avoid unnecessarily weaken the banana and at the same time reducing the enormous weight of cluster apical cut the hermaphrodite and male flowers and leave only the parthenocarpic female flowers. 

Parthenocarpic female flowers of the Canary banana her long, thick pistil surrounded by two white tepals: the upper is longer than the pistil and the shorter lower. These pistils are cut with a special knife with the intention of facilitating the fattening of the fruit and give a better look at the bananas at the time to market.

Large cluster of bananas from the Canary Islands with the apex and floral styles cut, ready to be collected for shipment to markets in the rest of Spain where they are greatly appreciated. They are usually harvested when they have not yet reached their peak of ripeness. This will facilitate transportation. Once they arrive at the markets and the homes of consumers end maturation in a few days.

Currently in the Canary Islands are grown other varieties adapted to subtropical climate, such as the Great Dwarf, and in recent years are experiencing the growing of two local teams called Brier and Gruesa.
In tropical countries, cultivated the call male plantain, Musa x paradisiaca, which produces large banana takes seedless pulp, unfit to be eaten fresh, but of excellent flavor when fried or baked. The plantain is a natural hybrid between Musa acuminata and Musa balbisiana.
In frost-free Mediterranean climates is grown the called garden banana, Musa x Orinoco, a hybrid able to withstand the cold winters of the coastal areas of the Mediterranean basin, where it rarely reaches freezing. 

  Ideally, the Musa x Orinoco is 4 meters high. To withstand the long, dry and hot summers of the Mediterranean requires abundant irrigation weekly. In winter, cold and wind burn their leaves, but when temperatures rise again in April re-sprout new leaves and blooms in midsummer with a small cluster of red flowers. 

  Parthenocarpic female flowers of banana garden with its pistil surrounded by red tepals. They have no stamina. (Photograph taken in a garden in the Valley of Soller on Mallorca) 

Hermaphrodite flowers of banana garden with five stamens and a pistil. (Photograph taken in a garden of Sa Pobla on Mallorca) 

Hermaphrodite flower of Musa x Orinoco with two reddish tepals around the 5 stamens and pistil. 
Small, thick and tasty bananas of Musa x Orinoco, with a sweet juicy pulp.

And to finish with good taste, here I put the recipe for a delicious dessert easy to prepare: 

Canary bananas fried with honey, sesame and pine nuts: 

A little butter or vegetal oil is put in a frying pan and the pine nuts are toasted. When they have taken a toasted color, the sesame is added and next a pair of spoonfuls of honey, lowering the fire to the minimum. Two or three bananas by person are peeled and add to the frying pan upon the other ingredients, to the three minutes return them and they are left other three minutes, always to sweet fire. They are delicious.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Adiantum hispidulum, the maidenhair fern of southern hemisphere

In Australia they call it rough maidenhair fern and five-fingered jack, by the scraping touch of its rachis and  the pendant hand-shaped of its fronds. It is one of the most widely distributed ferns in the southern hemisphere and living in East Africa (Malawi, Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique, South Africa, Madagascar, Comoros and Mauritius), Asia (Malaysia) and Oceania (Australia, New Zealand and some Pacific islands.) Although it prefers constant moisture and filtered light understory of tropical and subtropical forests, supports rather long periods of drought due to water accumulating in the rhizome and can live in full sun if moisture is sufficient. 

Its beauty and ease of reproduction by rhizome division have led him to be cultivated as a garden plant in every country in the world with tropical and subtropical climates. In the Macaronesian Islands has been naturalized and in a few years it has become an invasive pest ineradicable, putting endangered endemic ferns such as Asplenium azoricum, that competes for the same habitat. 

Adiantum hispidulum in a clearing in a forest of Cryptomeria japonica in the slope of the volcano Caldeira do Faial in the Azores Archipelago. Appreciate the new fronds are a beautiful pink color. Below left are some leaves of Hedychium gardnerianum feral alien.

 These specimens of Adiantum hispidulum growing between the stones of a wall that runs along the road up to the crater of the volcano Caldeira do Faial. They are surrounded by the branches of another feral alien, American Tradescantia fluminensis. 

Vigorous new Adiantum hispidulum fronds grow in a bed formed by the fronds of the fern-moss Selaginella kraussiana, too alien, on the island of Madeira. Bottom left we see several young fronds of Blechnum spicant.

Typical hand-shaped frond pendant Adiantum hispidulum. The pinnules are inserted obliquely to the rachis of the pinnae.

Underside of a frond with immature sori in early May. 

Like all ferns of the family of Adiantaceae sori are on the edge of the pinnules.

Detail of immature sori. Be seen the typical black glossy rachis all the family Adiantaceae ferns, the little stalk of each pinnules also black and the curious detail of the hairy covering of the rachis and pseudoindusium of sori. On the surface of pinnules hair is also a lesser number. These trichomes or hairs are what give the name "hispidulum" which means covered with thick hair.

Close look at the previous frond detailing rachis hairs of pseudoindusium of sori and pinnules. It is understood the reason for the name "hispidulum" that gave the botanist who described it.

Sporangium of Adiantum hispidulum with the torn and empty bag after the dispersal of spores. 

Adiantum hispidulum spores often are trilete as those in the photo, but can also be tetralete, ie a tetrahedral shape.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Daldinia concentrica, the tinder of Cheddar´s man

Daldinia concentrica is a fungus with a fruiting bodies or sporocarps in a ball that grows as a saprophyte on dead trunks and branches of different trees such as oaks, eucalyptus, citrus, ash, pine, chestnut, etc ... Belongs to the family of Xylariaceae. When young has a reddish brown color that darkens as they mature to acquire a jet black color. It don't have a foot. It is set directly on the decaying wood. It is distributed throughout Europe and North America.

Several copies of Daldinia concentrica on a lemon tree trunk at different stages of growth, down very young and fully mature up, photographed in the Valley of Soller on the island of Mallorca.

Close look at the Daldinia concentrica mushrooms in the previous photo. The fruiting bodies or sporocarps usually measure between 2 and 7 centimeters in diameter, but can sometimes reach 12 centimeters.

The sporocarps of Daldinia concentrica have been used as tinder for lighting fires since prehistoric times.

Cheddar Man, an English human fossil dating back over 9,000 years, found in 1998 in Gough's Cave in Cheddar Gorge, carried a pair of Daldinia concentrica fruiting bodies very dry  that served to make fire easily with a simple spark from a flint stone (Silex).

The famous ice man, Ötzi, found frozen in 1991 in the Italian Alps and to which the scientists estimate an antiquity of 5,300 years, also carried a fruiting body of Daldinia concentrica and several flint stones to make fire.

The same fruit body of Daldinia can be used to light a fire many times. It pulls up a spark by rubbing two stones flint or chert. The very dry spongeous structure of the Daldinia  burns with ease without flame and it is very difficult to extinguish. The burned piece is cast on very dry grass, natural cotton like the Clematis, coconut fibers, leaves, pine needles, bark very dry or any other dried plant material easy to ignite, it blows up for a flame and get a fire in just a couple of minutes.

If we cut in half a fruiting body will see the characteristic structure black and white concentric layers, each of which holds a breeding season. Counting the number of layers can know the age of each sporophore.

Details of previous cut with concentric layers, the latter of which is filled with black spores that are dispersed by the wind.

Microphotograph at 400 magnification of elongated spores of Daldinia concentrica measured in microns.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

They were born free

On the north coast of the island of Mallorca is preserved a small haven of unspoiled nature surrounded by destruction: the Albufera de Mallorca and adjacent dunes and pine forests. Spring walk in these pines is an orgy of light and color. It breathes life into the aroma of good soil, in the birdsong, in the frantic fluttering of bees and bumble bees going from flower to flower in search of the precious nectar.

Orchis italica

Ornithogalum divergens

Serapias lingua

The plants in full bloom resemble a huge Persian carpet: orchids, thickets, reed, buttercups, daisies, mallow, Plantago, rosemary, Globularia, euphorbias, thyme, Asphodelus, bindweed, reeds, pine, olive, tamarisk, mastic, juniper, etc ... and some tiny ferns almost invisible: Ophioglossum lusitanicum and Selaginella denticulata and in the canals of the lagoon a small population of the scarce Phyllitis sagittata. 

 Ophrys lutea

 Orchis coriophora

Ophrys sphegodes

One can imagine how it would be Mallorca a thousand years ago and the sadness by so much loss hurts in the soul. Terranal Paradise is lost forever and never return. The hen that lays golden eggs was exploited to exhaustion and stopped to lay eggs, is very sick, but human greed is blind and can not see the sorry state of hen and they are squeezing it to put more eggs even if it is golf balls.

This little haven of hope, miraculously saved from the greed, is the home to two tiny Mediterranean turtles of the species Testudo hermanni. They have 10 months and born last year in late spring. Before starting his morning walks in search of tender shoots and flowers which are their breakfast, they lie on a squishy soft bed of moss in the sun that warms their reptilian blood and fills of energy their small body. A male blackbird inflamed by spring hormones sings a beautiful lullaby to sleep peacefully while they were charging the batteries. They were born free under the white sand of a dune in the shadow of a Cistus but their parents were imprisoned without having committed any crime. Someone with a clean soul released them and this small turtles are the first fruit of their liberty.

Their camouflage is perfect. When the sensory nerve endings in the bottom of his shell detect vibration of my footsteps hide his head and his legs and remain completely immobile. Like two stones on the moss.

The two small turtles are females, their little tail used to know their sex. Males have much longer tail and thick. To get an idea of ​​just small compared with the nail of my thumb. Her belly is bulging, which means they are well hydrated and that store a lot of fat reserves, thanks to the lush vegetation that is your pantry. The striations seen in its shell are two new plates that are growing between the third and fourth pair of plates.

The other turtle is also female with her small tail and the two new plates in growth in its shell. This is much more plump than the other. Its "belly" bulges much more, a sign of the large reserves of fat that accumulates. Not suffer you, I have put back exactly in the same bed of moss where they were. Hopefully they arrive to adult and they fill with small sons this little paradise.

Juniperus oxycedrus subsp. macrocarpa