Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Saxifragas of Madeira

White daughters of black lava

I obsessed walked looking for the ancestral fern Asplenium anceps by volcanic mountains of Madeira. I had traveled specifically to see it and to photograph it. I had left only two days to find it and I did not resign to return to Majorca with the empty hands, that is to say, without so longed for photos of this primitive plant, progenitor of a whole saga of hybrid ferns whose descendants populate rocks of the Serra de Tramuntana of Majorca. With my renting car circulating slowly around the zoomings and twisted highways of the center of Madeira I directed towards the locality of Curral das Freiras.

Flowers of the endemic Saxifraga pickeringii directed towards the light like small satellite dishes. I recommend to extend the photos with a double click to see better the details. 

Since we make all the fans to the botany when we circulated around ways and highways, I went with the right eye watching the rocky plants of the roadside ditch  and the rocky slopes and with the left eye pending of the circulation. In Madeira people circulate at a high speed and several conductors already had drawn me attention with the horn to go slowly. Not to obstruct the circulation as much I stopped the car each several kilometers and on foot crossed a good stretch of highway, a roadside ditch in the going and the other roadside ditch in the return.

In case you don´t know it, the roadside ditches of the highways have an impressive biodiversity, they are readily accessible and they contain an ample sample of plants of the forests and fields by which they pass. The slopes of Madeira mountains usually have a great slope and to accede to them is often impossible without a scaling equipment. For that reason the highways and the typical levadas that canalize the water of mountains towards the terraces of the cultures and the populations are so practical for the botanists.

In one of my shutdowns, already a little navigated as much scanning with the view the rocky slopes that bordered the highway, suddenly I saw a small plant two meters of height whose white flowers seemed luminous lanterns in the dark of the laurisilva forest by which the highway passed. It was a Saxifraga pickeringii, a rare Madeira endemism that seen close it moves us by the beauty of its flowers and their fleshy leaves. 

Saxifraga pickeringii on a rocky wall with the roots anchored in a crack stuffed of decomposed mosses and lichens. This endemism grows in the high fresh and humid mountain and supports temperatures that do not lower of 5ºC. Difference of the Saxifraga maderensis, also endemic, by its fleshy small leaves and the stems of the inflorescences that in conditions of much light or direct sun acquire an intense red color by their wealth in antocians. The old leaves also become red before curing. The petals of the flowers are short, wide and more rounded than in the Saxifraga maderensis.

Leafy Saxifraga pickeringii in the rocky slope of a volcanic mountain oriented towards the northwest. Its identification is easy by the rounded petals of the flowers and the fleshy leaves.

Habitat of the Saxifraga pickeringii. Extending the photo with a double click are better seen the details. 

Gorgeous and luminous flowers of Saxifraga pickeringii with its rounded petals of an immaculate target that shines with own light. The anthers of stamens have a beautiful red-orange color.

Fleshy leaves of Saxifraga pickeringii with the red stems of the inflorescences and the old leaves also red.

This day, the antepenultimate one of my trip to Madeira, I did not find my either longed for Asplenium anceps fern, but to find small saxifraga cheered me the morning and my happiness was still greater when in the return way I had to suddenly stop the car in the roadside ditch because I finished seeing another endemism, the hybrid small fern Ceterach lolegnamense, a botanical allohexaploid rarity with three complete genomes in the nucleus of its cells. Luckily on the following day finally I could see the botanical treasure that I had taken to Madeira. At the top of Monte Poiso, to 2,000 msnm, I found finally a numerous population of the macaronesian Asplenium anceps, grandfather of our Asplenium azomanes and great-grandfather of the Asplenium x tubalense that populate the walls of the terraces of  Soller Valley in Majorca. 

The other endemic saxifraga of Madeira, Saxifraga maderensis, I found the last day of my trip in the magnificent Botanical Garden of Funchal. The units that I saw don´t were cultivated. They grew of natural way between the beautiful exotic plants of the garden. They were tiny plants, but the luminous beauty of its white small flowers attracted the glance towards them as if small magnets it was. 

Tiny Saxifraga maderensis surrounded by other wild plants in a very shady zone of the Botanical Garden of Funchal. I had to make the photo with flash. 

Same previous Saxifraga maderensis seen more close. Its small flowers have the petals more narrow and extended than the Saxifraga pickeringii.

Young Saxifraga maderensis with its small leaves of an alive clear green color that they are different from the Saxifraga pickeringii by not being fleshy.

 Flowers of Saxifraga maderensis of narrow and extended petals. Like in the other saxifraga, the anthers of stamens have an alive red-orange color.

And finally, so that the two species can be distinguished easily, in this combined image the differences in the flowers can be seen.

In the small neighboring island of Porto Santo grows the endemic Saxifraga portosanctana, but I do not have its photographies. I will have to return a day to Madeira in the middle of May to visit the Island of Porto Santo in an escape with the ferry. I hope to have luck and to find this rare endemism to be able to share it with you. 

No comments:

Post a Comment