Monday, September 19, 2011

Nun bearings: a pleasure for faquires

Bearing of nun, seat of nun, seat of mother-in-law, seat of shepherd, very startling names for a plant, truth?. Then thus we call to a set of shrubs, generally of high mountain and coastal zones, that in spite of belonging to different botanical families have evolved of a convergent way and all of them display a cleared and flattened form with small overlapped branches and frightful thorns that protect them of snout of the herbivores: goats, ewes, rabbits, etc. Similar plants are in many places of the world, but in the Balearic Islands they are especially abundant perhaps by the extreme dryness of the Mediterranean climate, the constant wind whip strong and the existence during million years of a unique herbivore, Myotragus balearicus, that with its browse gave form to these peculiar plants that adapted to the aggression to be able to survive. In Balearic islands we called "Coixinets de monja".

Gorgeous image of high Majorcan mountain to about 1,100 msnm. The nun bearings dominate the set out open spaces more to the solar radiations. They take advantage of the poorest and stony grounds. In the image they are numerous Astragalus balearicus with some unit of Teucrium balearicum of more grayish color. Sometimes they grow so together that they are superposed. I recommend to you to extend this one and the following photographies to appreciate better its strange beauty. 

Another image of the same zone of the Serra de Tramuntana of Majorca. Some Asphodelus aestivus are seen growing between the bearings. To the bottom it dominates to a forest of high Mediterranean mountain with Pinus halepensis, Pistacia lentiscus, Juniperus oxycedrus ssp. oxycedrus, Olea europaea var. sylvestris, Quercus ilex ssp. ilex, Ephedra fragilis, Ampelodesmos mauritanica, Asparagus albus, etc...

 Complete skeleton of Myotragus balearicus in excellent state of conservation. It is possible to be seen in the Balearic Museum of Natural Sciences.

Same skeleton seen on the other side.

Impressive skull that seems to watch to us accusingly from the past remembering to us that we were who we ended its species. Incisive inferiors of rat draw attention both that grew continuously as they were spent with the browse. The jaw inferior is very robust resemblance to the one of the rabbits to be able to crush the coriáceas Mediterranean plants. Their great eyes had a frontal position what makes suppose that they had an excellent stereoscopic vision. Their two horns grew backwards like those of the present antelopes.

You will ask yourselves: what is coixinet?. In Majorca we called coixinet to the small cushion of the basket of the seamstresses used to nail the needles to sew and to embroider. For that reason we give this name to these gorgeous plants because its thorny surface remembers these bearings of seamstress. 

In this image we see several Astragalus balearicus of different sizes. The ground is very poor with few centimeters of thickness and is based on a calcareous rocky base.

Thorny surface of a Astragalus balearicus with the typical leaves of a legume. 

 Detail of the frightful thorns that they protect to this endemismo of Majorca, Menorca and Cabrera.

The flowers are white with a slight pink dye. The thorns are not any obstacle for the polinizadoras bees that go golosas to libar the tiny drop of nectar of the bottom of each flower. 

Another abundant bearing of nun is the Teucrium balearicum, a tirrénico endemismo that lives in Majorca, Menorca, Cabrera and Sardinia. Its scientific name has undergone several changes in the last decades because the botanists did not manage to put themselves in agreement. At first it was called Teucrium marum ssp. occidentale and also Teucrium subspinosum bar. balearium. It belongs to the family of the Labiatae.

 Teucrium balearicum with its typical grayish color in the high Majorcan mountain. In its right side balearicus is a small Astragalus that has been integrated perfectly in the cleared structure of the Teucrium, as if a symbiosis it was. Both endemismos share the same habitat. 

Graft thorns of Teucrium balearicum that excel over the small leaves to which they protect.

Teucrium balearicum is frequent victim of a parasitic plant, Cuscuta epihymum, that does not have own roots and lives directly absorbing the water and the nutrients on the roots of the Teucrium. 

Smallest pink flowers of the Teucrium balearicum with the typical form of the Labiatae.

Another bearing of nun of the family of the labiadas ones is the Teucrium subspinosum, a tyrrhenian endemism that lives in Menorca, Cabrera and Sardinia. Like the Teucrium balearicum, its scientific name also has been reason for discord between the botanists. During years it has been called Teucrium marum ssp. subspinosum, Teucrium marum ssp. spinescens, Teucrium subspinosum ssp. spinescens, etc… At the moment finally they have been agreed and they consider a separate species with own name. 

Teucrium subspinosum cultivated in the Soller Botanical Garden to preserve it of the extinction. Its number in wild state is very little and its habitat continuously is threatened by the human greed. 

The Teucrium subspinosum well-known defers from the Teucrium balearicum by its small, fine and much more little sharp thorns, of there its name of subspinosum. The leaves and flowers of both endemismos are identical. Their small branches are less overlapping and has a less compact aspect. In the photo the mature fruits are seen after the dispersion of the seeds at the beginning of September.

A spectacular bearing of nun who in the heat of flowering seems a gold ball is the Anthyllis hystrix, endemic of Menorca, the family of the Leguminosae. Unlike the previous bearings that have preference by mountains this one lives in the coastal zones of Menorca, whipped permanently by winds of the north.

Anthyllis histrix in the middle of September in the heat of estivación, cultivated successfully in the Soller Botanical Garden to preserve it of the extinction. In spring its aspect is completely different, a beautiful combination of the intense yellow of the flowers and the green brilliant of the leaves. 

Leaves and thorns of the previous Anthyllis histrix. As it happens in the majority of bearings, the thorns excel over the leaves. 

In this image we see the frightful graft thorns in the form of red deer horn excelling over the leaves that are perfectly prote'ge'es of the depredation of the goats and ewes. 

The change in spring is spectacular. Numerous small yellow flowers confers to Anthyllis histrix a beautiful aspect of gold ball. 

Considering that all the bearings of the Balearic Islands have evolved throughout million years to protect themselves of their two main enemies: the wind and the depredation of the herbivores, all make suppose that they were fauces of the mythical already extinct antelope dwarfed, the Myotragus balearicus, endemic of Majorca, Menorca, Cabrera and Dragonera, those that modeled their cleared form, eating all the leaves and buds that excelled over the thorns. This tiny antelope of not more than 50 centimeters of height in the cross, very short legs and to ramble slow was extinguished about 4,000 years ago, agreeing with the arrival of the first humans who ended all the Myotragus in a few decades. Its ecological niche was empty by few years, because the goats concerned by the first settlers from the distant Eastern Mediterranean replaced to it in the depredation of the bearings. Centuries later arrived the ewes that especially in the Serra de Tramuntana of Majorca are operated in conditional release regime and must look for the sustenance by their account.

Another spectacular bearing of nun is Femeniasia balearica, an endemism that like the Anthyllis histrix also is exclusive of the Island of Menorca. It belongs to the great family of the Compositae. Their favorite habitat a little moved away the sea are the coastal zones where the splashes do not arrive from the waves. This one is perhaps the one of the most important endemisms of Menorca, since as much Femeniasia sort as the balearic species is exclusive of this beautiful Mediterranean island that makes 6 million years, during Miocene, was the top of a mountain surrounded by dry valleys and very salty lakes.

Old Femeniasia balearica of about 25 years of age cultivated with great success in the Soller Botanical Garden to preserve it and to maintain a viable population outside its natural habitat. As all the bearings are protected by the catalogued law and in serious danger of extinction. The photo was taken at the beginning of September with the plant in the heat of estivation. Its parched aspect is deceptive, because she is full of life. With the first rains of the autumn it will turn green again spectacularly.

Lateral vision of previous Femeniasia balearica with its stems finished in frightful thorns. 

Near vision of the previous stems with a deceptive parched aspect, since in the end of some of them green thorns in growth are seen. 

Tender stem of  Femeniasia balearica at the beginning of June. Each one of the small buds finish in three divergent thorns.

It is very peculiar that in Ibiza and Formentera, where the Myotragus balearicus did not live, does not exist any plant with aspect of nun bearing, with the exception of endemic sarsaparilla that grows in all the archipelago and could have arrived at the Pitiusas Islands after the extinction of the Myotragus through seeds transported by the birds.

Femeniasia balearica blooms in May and June. Their flowers open in the end of the stems and have a beautiful yellow-lemon color. 

Detail of a flower of Femeniasia balearica seen of side. On the contrary that the leaves, the flowers excel over the thorns to facilitate the pollination by the bees and bumblebees. 

Melífera bee sucking the nectar of a flower of  Femeniasia balearica at the beginning of June.

After the fertilization the seeds mature and at the beginning of the autumn they are dispersed by the wind. 

Leaves and seeds of Femeniasia balearica. The leaves are linear-lanceoladas and have a white line in their face superior. The seeds are equipped with radial hairs in the form of helicopter vanes that facilitate the flight and its dispersion to them by the wind to the conquest of new territories.

Another bearing of nun of the family of the composed ones is the Launaea cervicornis, endemic of Majorca, Menorca and Dragonera. Its specific name makes reference to its frightful thorns in the form of horn of red deer (cervicornis). Their favourite habitat is the cliffs and coastal rocks.

Gorgeous Launaea cervicornis covered with yellow flowers as a full star firmament in the middle of June. This unit belongs to the collection of endemic bearings of nun of the Balearic Islands cultivated in the terraces of the Soller Botanical Garden to preserve them of the extinction.

Flower and thorns in the form of red deer horn. As it happens with the Femeniasia, this bearing also has the flowers over the thorns.

Flowers of Launaea cervicornis in the heat of month of June. 

Leaves and thorns of Launaea cervicornis. 

Sometimes the distinction between leaves and thorns is not far from easy, since frequently there are many intermediate forms. In the image enough leaves with thorns are seen. It is possible that this phenomenon is an adaptive mechanism to avoid the depredation of their succulent leaves by the herbivores.

On protected coastal rocks of the splashes of the waves another bearing lives on nun, the Dorycnium fulgurans, endemic of Majorca, Menorca and Cabrera. It belongs to the family of the Leguminosae. 

Dorycnium fulgurans cultivated in the Soller Botanical Garden. Their thorns are the ends of the very graft and overlapped stems that they finish in end. Their small and little leaves are similar to those of the Dorycnium pentaphyllum. 

Thorny ends of the stems of Dorycnium fulgurans. 

Lateral vision of the thorny surface of this coastal bearing.

Tiny target-pink flowers of Dorycnium fulgurans. This endemismo usually blooms from May to August. The flowers appear directly of the stem, unlike the Dorycnium pentaphyllum whose flowers are abren in the end of pedúnculo.

 Detalle de las diminutas flores del Dorycnium fulgurans. Se ven varias hojas ligeramente carnosDetail of the tiny flowers of the Dorycnium fulgurans. Several leaves slightly fleshy are seen.

 Mature fruits of Dorycnium fulgurans at the end of the summer.

In all the Balearic Islands sarsaparilla lives one endemic very thorny that when it grows in the ground takes the form of a nun bearing, Smilax aspera ssp. balearica. Usually it has few leaves or to even lack completely them, realising the photosynthesis directly in the greenish stems. It can live from the level of the sea to the top of mountains.

Smilax aspera ssp. balearica in the form of nun bearings growing in the high mountain closely together of a dam.

Endemic other sarsaparilla of the Balearic Islands with its typical aspect of thorny bearing growing between rocks of a cliff. This plant is a clear example of convergent evolution: a same strategy of survival shared by different species.

Very small and narrow leaves of Smilax aspera ssp. balearica.

And to finish another plant that has adapted to the depredation of the herbivores, the endrino or arañón, Prunus spinosa, that when it lives in the high mountain and it undergoes the constant ramoneo of the goats and ewes, grows like a nun bearing. It belongs to the family of the Rosaceae.

Prunus spinosa in the form of nun bearing growing in the high Majorcan mountain to 1,000 msnm. Their small branches thousand times grazed by the goats and ewes are very graft and overlapping. 

Detail of the surface of the previous bearing. Peculiarly one is not an endemic subspecies different from the normal endrino, since if is seeded their seeds are born endrinos with the own aspect of the species and if one of these bearings is taken and it migrates to a place without herbivores grows like a normal with the long and abiertas branches and barely thorny endrino.

 I want to finish this long article with these beautiful small flowers of Prunus spinosa.

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