Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Diploschistes diacapsis likes that they trample it

The lichen Diploschistes diacapsis was everything a discovery for me. That one behind schedule of autumn walked behind the prestigious botanist and excellent friend Juan Rita Larrucea, between rockroses, mastics and rosemaries. We went towards a temporary raft located in a coastal Garriga of the southwest of Majorca to see the small population of the aquatic fern Marsilea strigosa that was for me a pending subject. Juan had amiably offered itself to teach it to me.  

I recommend to extend the photos with a double click.

While we crossed clear of Garriga with little vegetation and calcareous rocks showing itself over the thin argillaceous earth layer, suddenly I noticed that Juan lessen his step and watched my feet after the tip of the eye. Account had occurred that I avoided to step on the lichens and he was leaving behind to me. Smiling it said to me: " Nonsubjects, not them beams no damage if you trample. These lichens specifically grow in the sites of passage of people and animal, because when stepping on they are divided them and each piece is a new lichen that continues growing. It is its form to reproduce vegetative by fragmentation". 

The illusion to see the Marsilea strigosa for the first time in my life did not prevent me to waste a little time in contemplating that one wonder of the nature that had adapted intelligently to the trampling of the cattle. I crouched and I took several photos with my old digital camera to take them to me like memory of that one full day of surprises that Juan had given me, because one hour before in another Garriga had taught another tiny fern to me that was also a pending subject for me, the Ophioglossum lusitanicum.

Already without fear of trample those white lichens that I had not seen before in my life, I felt as they creaked and they fragmented under my shoes. I removed the ball-point pen that ground to always take in the pocket of the shirt and I wrote in the palm of my hand the complicated name of the lichen that Juan had spelled to me, Diploschistes diacapsis. As soon as it arrives at house, I thought, I will look for information in google and an excellent Guide of Lichens, Mosses and Hepatics that I bought in Jerez de la Frontera several years ago. 

Diploschistes diacapsis very fragmented after the passage of a flock of ewes. 

The Diploschistes diacapsis, also call Diploschistes steppicus, usually grows to total sun applied on carbonated or chalky substrates. In Majorca it lives on very poor argillaceous grounds with little rains and a strong insolation. Sights by far these lichens seem outcrops of calcareous rocks excelling millimeters over the earth layer.

The body of the lichen, that is to say, the white plate receives the thallus name. Usually it has a thickness of about 2 millimeters and gets to measure up to 20 centimeters of diameter. Its surface is irregular, warty of white color with tonalities beig or clear gray and sprinkled of black or grayish small points in the form of tiny discs very sunk in the thallus called apotheciums. Sometimes parts of the thallus are separated of the ground leaving hollow.

A lichen is the symbiotic association between a fungus and an alga. The apotheciums are the reproductive organs of the symbiont fungus called micobiont. In each apothecium are small bags called asci, where the greenish or brownish ascospores in number of 8 by each ascus. After an abundant rain the asci reach the maturity quickly, become very turgescent and explode, releasing the ascospores explosively to the air so that they arrive more far possible.

Detail of the apotheciums in different stages from maturation. They begin punctiform and little by little they are been high and mighty and sinking in the thallus, forming small craters.

The other component of the lichen receives the name of ficobiont and is formed by unicellular algae that lives in very little number in the ground. In conditions of extreme aridity the algae only can survive associate a fungus forming a lichen. After an abundant rain some cells algals are freed of the fungus and fall in the small pools where they reproduce like any alga. Its aquatic life is very brief. If the pool is dried, the alga dies. Not to be extinguished they resort to the intelligent strategy to be associated to a fungus.

When an ascospore is dispersed by the outbreak of a ascus flies more far possible helped by the wind and if it falls on a suitable humid substrate it germinates and it begins to produce a filament maze or hyphae. Nevertheless, if it soon does not find an unicellular alga with which to be associated, the fungus literally dies of starvation when needing it the carbohydrate contribution synthesized by the chlorophyll of the alga. 

When there is luck and the chance causes that both simbionts are in the same point where fell the ascospore, generally a small accumulation of rainwater in the ground, as hyphae of the fungus is forming a filament maze, that is to say, the structure of the lichen, the unicellular algae are reproduced by simple cellular division and the new cells algals are placed between hyphae in intimate contact with them, as if renters of a building it was. The true symbiosis begins then. Fungal hyphae absorbs water and minerals of the ground and transfer them to the algae. These in return provide to hyphae of the fungus the carbohydrates that have elaborated from the solar light. They form because a reconciled marriage of good convenience in which both spouses remove a benefit. Really, they represent an intelligent strategy of survival of two beings who separately could not survive.

It is therefore understood the need for this lichen to be trampled, as vegetative reproduction by fragmentation of the thallus is much easier and safer than random reproduction by spores in a habitat where rains are very rare and extreme dryness prevails over most of the year.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Acrocarpus fraxinifolius, a tree for the future

- It turns the Armillaria mellea fungus into mycorrhiza and lives with it in symbiosis.

- Active ancestral genes in its genome and become resistant to the cold.

I want to tell you the history of an extraordinary tree that, being tropical strict and evergreen, activated several ancestral genes that it had blocked in its genome perhaps million years ago and it transformed itself into a non-evergreen tree, entering hibernation in the coldest months of the winter of Majorca to be able to arrive until the spring without undergoing the freezing of its branches. At some time of its evolution on the Earth it was able to surpass a time of intense cold with adaptive mutations, that recorded an indelible memory in their genome in the form of several genes of resistance to the low temperatures, which later stopped being useful to it when changing the climate and to be made warmer again. 

 Mundani tree, Acrocarpus fraxinifolius, born in the spring of 1987. In the photograph was 16 years and was about 14 meters. Today is 24 years old and about 20 meters high.

The genes that made to it resistant to the cold did not disappear but they remained blocked, slept, inactivated in its genome until forced by the low temperatures of the winter of Majorca unblocked them to survive.

In Christmas of 1986 a pair of friendly just married, Toni and Avelina, traveled to honeymoon Kenya. Before starting off they asked me if I wanted something of Africa and I said to them: "seeds of trees". They brought me a pile of Kenyan fruits: cases of the chorale tree of South Africa, Erythrina caffra, a great fruit of baobab full of seeds, Adansonia digitata, a heavy one and extended fruit of the tree of sausages, Kigelia aethiopica, several capsules of the euphorbiaceae of savannah Croton dichogamus, a pair of fruits of the passion, Passiflora edulis and the cases of a legume not known whose seeds I seeded immediately thinking that one was an acacia.

 Seeds of Acrocarpus fraxinifolius.

A single seed germinated and from it a little tree of great pennate leaves was born that remained almost without growing during four years. Something prevented its growth and I managed to activate it neither with installments nor with compost. In the spring of year 1991 in my garden a lime tree died, Citrus aurantifolia, in the same place where before already several trees had died, because the earth was invaded by the mycelium of the Armillaria mellea fungus that attacked the roots of any tree I finished as soon as it seeding and in few months it died thundered against. No longer I dared to seed nothing in that one infected place.

Small mundani tree of two months of age. 

A day watching the tropical small tree that did not grow happened the idea to me to seed it in the contaminated area by the fungus, because I thought that in any case it would end up dying in the flowerpot. It was the best thing than I could do by it. To the few days it underwent a spectacular change, its apical yolk began to grow at an incredible speed and at the beginning of the autumn of that one same year it measured more than three meters. It could not believe to me. I seeded when it did not surpass the 15 centimeters, it had the yellowish and withered leaves and gave the impression that one was dying. What had happened? , What thing had built the miracle?

Now after more than 20 years I think to already have the answer to these questions. As many forest arboriculturists know the Armillaria mellea fungus, although generally it behaves like a assassin when invading and to rot the roots of the sensible trees, with some forest species also is possible to be tolerated like a fungal symbiont with the mycorrhiza functions, so that instead of to kill a very beneficial association for both, that is to say, a symbiosis forms them among them. And this was indeed what it happened to it to the small dying little tree. In the hole that I dug to seed there were it still pieces by roots of the trees that had died there. They were in favor white of the mycelium of the fungus and the earth smelled of rotting, the typical pungent scent of the Armillaria mellea. Knowledgeable of the uselessness of any measurement to eradicate this plague, I did not bother myself nor I would follow in clearing the pieces by rotten roots. 

 Mushrooms of Armillaria mellea.

For some reason that I do not know to the mycelium of the fungus fell likeable the Kenyan small tree, it surrounded its weak roots in a white hug of life and began to provide it water and minerals. When the apical yolk initiated the growth and the first leaves were open, the small tree gave back the favor to the fungus and it provided it in return carbohydrates synthesized by the leaves through the photosynthesis. One had begun a marriage of convenience that allowed the small tree to become two decades in an imposing tree with a thickness of the trunk of more than 30 centimeters and one height superior to the 19 meters. 

After 10 years still I did not know the identity of the Kenyan tree, thought that one was an African acacia and it did not manage to give with its name. A day I entered the forum of plants of Infojardin, put several photos of my supposed acacia and the prestigious specialistic botanist in tropical trees D. José Manuel Sánchez de Lorenzo-Cáceres in few minutes it gave me the answer: Acrocarpus fraxinifolius, a leguminous arboreal one original of India, Burma, Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia, that in their original habitat form leaves from the ebullient tropical forests of these countries and reaches the 50 meters of height. Finally already I could give a name to the highest, exotic and spectacular tree of my garden.

 Photography of the terraces of my garden in the spring of the year 2006 in which we can see the mundani tree in center of the image with its showy red sprouting after the hibernation. (I recommend to extend the photo with a double click to see better the details)

This leguminous forest one receives different names according to the country where it grows or it is cultivated. In India they call MUNDANI, in Australia and in tropical Africa where they are had made great plantations they call PINK CEDAR and in Latin America where also it has been introduced with great success as forest species calls CEDRO ROSADO, MUNDANI or LAZCAR. This last name the Mexicans put it in honor to president Lazaro Cardenas, great impeller of the culture of this Asian tree. Locally it receives other many names, but the most known they are those than I have mentioned.

It does about ten years it occurred a great snowfall in November, the snow was accumulated on the crown of the mundani tree that still conserved the leaves and the weight tore a branch of about 4 centimeters in thickness. Instead of to throw it to the pile of firewood to burn, I trimmed it the most tender end, I left it without leaves and I deeply nailed it in the ground next to a plot wall that watches the south where I finished talking an Eucalyptus gunnii dead fulminant by the attack of the Armillaria mellea fungus. Previously a Mediterranean savin, Juniperus phoenicea subsp. turbinata, was there same dead. They spent the months, the branch finished hidden between the grass and I forgot her.

A day of spring, much later, I happened near the wall where the branch of mundani tree was nailed and red leaves that excelled over the grass drew attention to me. I approached and my surprise was capital. It was the branch that had appeared after 22 months. I believe I could not. It was like a miracle, because the leguminous stakes of the arboreal ones usually are very obstinate to take root and this one not only had taken roots and had appeared, had done but also that it in a ground infested by the mycelium of the killer fungus. Again it was demonstrated to the symbiosis between the roots of mundani tree and the mycelium of the Armillaria mellea. At the moment the taken root branch has become a beautiful tree of about 7 meters, healthy and vigorous. The fungus already has everything what needs to live and since then has respected to all the trees and shrubs that there are next to mundani tree: a Tilia cordata, a Feijoa sellowiana, a Brachichiton populneum, two Livistona chinensis, several Citrus sinensis, an Anagyris foetida, an Agave attenuata, a Buxus balearica and a Buxus sempervirens.

Taken root stake of Acrocarpus fraxinifolius.

Years later I tried to make an aerial layer to a branch of mundani tree but after 12 months it followed without taking roots. Tired I cut to hope it, I smeared the base to it with rooting hormones and I seeded it in a flowerpot. About six months later it brought forth a yolk in the low part of the stake. Although at the outset it seemed to grow well, soon was suspended. It was several months without growing, like paralyzed. I did not understand which was the reason.

It agreed then that the Armillaria mellea fungus killed of sudden form my unique masculine unit of plum tree of South Africa, Harpephyllum caffrum. After taking it by root and burning it, it happened oneself to me to seed in its place the stake of mundani tree that did not grow. By third time the miracle took place and the second clonic son of the Acrocarpus fraxinifolius been born from a Kenyan seed began to vigorously bring forth and in few months transformed in a beautiful small tree. Again it was demonstrated the symbiosis by the roots of mundani tree with the mycelium of the fungus that so many trees, shrubs and lianas has killed to me in the 22 years that I have the garden.

Bud of the stake taken root after three months of seedtime.

Same clonic mundani tree one year later at the height of summer.

 Clonic father of the previous tree appearing vigorously at the end of March after successful surpassing the long months of the Majorcan winter with several frosts of until -2ºC. 

Inflorescences in swab of the previous Acrocarpus fraxinifolius with the buds of new leaves of an intense red color blood by its wealth in anthocyanin.

Photography of the previous inflorescences done with zoom lens by high altitude of the branches of mundani tree.

First fraxinifolius Acrocarpus mature pods at 25 years of age. (This photo and the next three, along with the accompanying text, I've added 10 months after publishing this article).

For over 10 years my tree Mundani flowers every spring, but never any fruit curd. I thought the cause was the absence of natural pollinators. The month of April 2012 my Mundani had a spectacular bloom, was completely covered with flowers. It was gorgeous, which was not lost on a tiny little birds that came every evening to sip greedy the abundant nectar from flowers. Finally I knew Acrocarpus fraxinifolius flowers in tropical forests of their home countries are pollinated by birds. In Mallorca live of course not the same Asian tropical birds, but two Mediterranean species discovered nectar from my tree Mundani and have become their surrogate pollinators: Sylvia atricapilla and Parus major. Not rule out that other species of birds have visited the flowers. Over the years I will discover, with the help of my ornithologists friends I go identifying.

This bird, Sylvia atricapilla, came every evening to sip the flowers just opening.

Fraxinifolius Acrocarpus mature pod collection in September 2012.

Anterior sheath open showing seeds inside.

Detail of the first ripe seeds of my Mundani tree.

The seeds of the Acrocarpus fraxinifolius have a thickness impermeable cutícle that makes difficult much to its germination when preventing the hydration of the embryo, taking up sometimes to 4 years in germinating. In order to accelerate the process in the great Australian, African and American loggings they put under the seeds a sulfuric acid bath that scarified chemically cutícle and makes permeable to the entrance of the water so that the embryo hydrates itself.

Another effective and cheap, although still more laborious method, consists of making a small notch in the cleared part of each seed with nail clippers or a small knife. 

Seeds of mundani tree with a small notch in the cleared part done with nail clippers.

Soon the seeds submerge in temperate water during 24 hours. Cotyledons and the embryo are hydrated quickly and tripled their size.

Submerged seeds in water of the previous photography. 

Seeds already hydrated after 24 hours in soaking. 

This way one even uses excessive respect much to its germination, happening of several months or several years to only one week. Soon they are seeded in shaded flowerpots to a constant temperature of about 20 - 25ºC.

Seed of Acrocarpus fraxinifolius being born to the 4 days of seedtime. 

 Small mundani tree just been born. In cotyledons is appraised  the scar of the notch done with nail clippers.

Like the mango and the cashew, the Acrocarpus fraxinifolius better propear in tropical and subtropical climates with a dry station and a humid station. Their pivoting roots penetrate deeply in the ground where they find the humidity necessary to support without problems the months of drought. In very favorable conditions its growth is spectacular getting to grow up to 8 meters in a single year. In the plantations of the tropical countries it is possible to be cut to the 10 years of seedtime, since to this age its trunk reaches a considerable thickness and a height. Once cut one second wood harvest sprouts again thus with facility from the base, obtaining itself to the 10 years. Their roots fix nitrogen atmospheric, so that its culture enriches the earth and favors the good development of the surrounding trees. The trunk is straight and without ribbings. It does not need to be pruned, since self pruning of natural way, falling by themselves the inferior branches. It is resistant to the majority of plagues. By own experience I have observed that the phytophagouss insects do not attack it. 

Base of the trunk of mundani tree to the 24 years of age. See as the main roots excel outside the Earth and gives the aspect him of a heron leg. 

The Acrocarpus fraxinifolius is because a tree for the future. In the next decades the plantations of this leguminous arboreal one will cover great extensions in all the countries with favorable climates, will contribute the wood necessary to cover great part with the demand of the lumber markets and will allow to preserve the forests of the indiscriminate cutting, saving of the extinction to thousands of animal and vegetal species.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Cheilanthes pulchella emigrated to the Macaronesia to survive

Its genes remained in Europe and Africa in its daughter hybrid

The Cheilanthes pulchella genes were not prepared to withstand the cold and drought of Late Miocene. Before starting the last million years of this geologic time is living happily in Western Europe and North Africa with a warm and humid subtropical climate. There was hybridized with the Cheilanthes maderensis and its union had emerged a stronger and allotetraploid hybrid better adapted to changing climate, the Cheilanthes guanchica.

Cheilanthes pulchella photographed in full sun on the volcanic rocks of Santiago del Teide in Tenerife in early May. With it sharing the same habitat were numerous Cosentinia vellea and Notholaena marantae, two ferns also love heat and sun.

The Cheilanthes pulchella is one of the better adapted Sinopteridaceae to heat (thermophilia) and direct sunlight (heliophilia). Its roots are deeply embedded in the volcanic gravel with its porous structure absorbs and retains moisture from the sea breeze and provides the Cheilanthes pulchella all the water it needs.

Cheilanthes pulchella group in the Puerto de Izaña in Tenerife of about 2000 meters. along the road from the Pico del Teide to the town of Arafo. The sun's rays affect the fronds that extend into the light without fear of being burnt, protected as they are known for their excellent hydration provided by the roots.

At the onset of the Messinian salinity crisis in Late Miocene, the climate changed dramatically becoming more arid and cold and the Mediterranean Sea almost completely dried up becoming a desert with some very salty lakes. During that such adverse million years the Cheilantes pulchella died away from north to south and from east to west unable to withstand the cold steppe and the lack of rain. The seabed had emerged out of the water to lower the level of seas and oceans in about 100 meters and had become Western Europe, North Africa and the islands of Macaronesia in a continuum that facilitated the exchange of plant and animal species .

The Cheilanthes pulchella take this opportunity to spread its spores to the Macaronesian region where its descendants found a warm and humid climate more suitable for their survival. In the western Mediterranean and especially in the south of the Iberian Peninsula were its daughter genes in hybrid, the Cheilanthes guanchica, while its mother fled to the subtropical paradise of Madeira and the Canary Islands. The adaptability, hardiness and hybrid vigor of Cheilanthes guanchica allowed to colonize not only the western Mediterranean but also the Macaronesia, accompanying its mother on its flight to the southwest.

Frond closely ovate-oblong and tripinnatisect with its striking red rachis. The petiole, also red, is slightly longer than the blade.

Apex of a frond with typical linear-lanceolate and integerrimous pinnae, ie, whole or undivided with smooth edge without teeth or lobulations. These are followed by other apical pinnae somewhat lobed at its base.

Underside of a frond with sori protected by a continuous and comprehensive pseudoindusium striking that almost completely covers the underside of the pinnules. The rachis of the lamina, the pinnae and pinnules have a nice blood red.

Details of Cheilanthes pulchella pseudoindusium formed by a sheet of transparent cells born in the edge of each pinnules that it is folded inward and covers the sporangia that are located on either side of the rachis of the pinnules. When the spores are ripe, the pseudoindusium rises to allow the sporangia that are deployed as small catapults and disperse the spores as far as possible from their mother.

In this picture the pseudoindusium already fully raised, showing mature sporangia appear black balls. Each sporangium like a womb around a group of spores.

The ferns genus Cheilanthes contain various toxic substances, especially ptaquiloside and thiaminase, which cause in livestock that consume serious illnesses ranging from incoordination and somnolence to enzootic hematuria and polioencephalomalacia that they usually end up killing the animal. Its toxicity is a defense mechanism to protect themselves from predation by herbivores.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Serra de Tramuntana of Mallorca, World Heritage Site

What Unesco does not know

The Island of Majorca, six million years ago, was the top of a mountain surrounded by a desert without life whipped by frightful storms of sand loaded of salt. In Messinian period at the end of Miocene the Mediterranean Sea had been dried completely as a result of a climatic change with a cooling of the global climate that had brought about a severe reduction of rains in the Mediterranean basin and the accumulation of the fresh water in the form of ice on the Antarctic, with the lowered consequence of the water level of seas and oceans. At the same time the European and African tectonic plates had collided violently and the Betic-Rif Massif had formed, closing the passage of the water of the Atlantic Ocean towards the Mediterranean Sea. The diminution of rains and the cease of the oceanic water contribution had dried almost completely the Mediterranean basin, being only some lakes very salty in the lowest parts. The mountains and the lakes were surrounded by a wide layer of dead earth formed by the salt and the sediments of the marine animal and the seaweed that a day populated waters.

Fantastic view of S´Illeta, a small barren island that stays virgin located to few meters of the coast the northwest of Majorca. To the right steep cliffs are raised that cross the Serra de Tramuntana in all their length. They have preserved of the human greed by its inaccessibility. They are the prettiest part and better conserved of the island.

Cliff in Sa Calobra, located in the central part of the Serra de Tramuntana, with an extraordinarily clean water. The last seal monk of the Balearic Islands, Monachus monachus, lowered to shots by a Guardia civil in April of 1958 in waters of Escorca, closely together of the cliff of the image, surely rested and took the sun sometimes on the rocks that are seen in the low part of the photo. 

Image of the top of a Serra de Tramuntana mountain in which emphasize the extraordinary plants called bearings of nun with their typical form cleared and flattened covers of frightful thorns. (I recommend to extend the photos with a double click) 

The Mediterranean had become an immense saline and from Africa and Asia they came flying great pink flamingo flocks for feeding on the small seaweeds, red prawns, Ephydra flies and tiny snails that proliferated in Mediterranean brackish waters of the lakes.  Flamingo dance

Some halophile plants like salicornias, salsolas and sarcocornias survived with their adapted roots in the caustic mud of the margins of the lakes. Rains were very little and irregular, something more generous in the tops of mountains, where the dwarfed antelope Myotragus balearicus reigned to its wide without the pressure of no terrestrial predators. Their unique natural enemies were the great predatory birds with sufficient force to pursue to some young, hurt or ill unit. 

Skull of Myotragus balearicus with its robust jaw adapted to the browse of coriaceous Mediterranean plants and its two incisors of rat in the inferior part that gave form to the nun bearings, as if a sculptor one was. The incessant depredation of this antelope during million years forced its preferred plants to adapt to survive by means of successive mutations took that them to cover with thorns and to hide their more tender and nutritious buds within the dough of thorny small branches. The Myotragus balearicus was extinguished about 4000 years ago by the ruthless depredation of the first inhabitants of Majorca and Menorca, that hunted it very easily then its very short legs and the peculiar bony structure of its joints prevented it to jump and to turn. It only could advance in line straight and at little speed. It had lived placidly almost without predators during million years and in several decades it was erased of the Earth face.

During the million years that lasted the Messinian period numerous animals and plants arose by successive adaptive mutations, many of which survive at present like true treasures. It is the case of the tiny Ferreret, Alytes muletensis, a small toad endemic to Serra de Tramuntana of Majorca in critical danger of extinction that in the last years it has had to confront another serious problem that still threatens plus its survival, a disease called quitridiomicosis caused by a fungus. Luckily it is overcoming successfully this disease and everything seems to indicate that it is going to survive.

Image of a Ferreret. (This photography is property of the magnificent website Racons de Tramuntana )

Between the plants that arose during the Messinian period of Late Miocene it honors a fern whose present distribution speaks to us clearly of the moment in that it appeared on the Earth after successive hybridisations and adaptive mutations. It is the Asplenium azomanes, a alotetraploide hybrid with two complete genomes in the nucleus of its cells. One of the genomes comes it from its Macaronesian ancestor, the Asplenium azoricum, a fern at the moment endemic to the Azores Islands and the other genome of a unit of the trichomanes complex, perhaps the Asplenium trichomanes subsp. hastatum. 

 Asplenium azomanes in the crack of a calcareous rock oriented towards the northwest. The photo was taken in the mountains that surround the Soller Valley, located in the middle of Serra de Tramuntana.

In Soller Valley Asplenium azomanes has been hybridized with Asplenium trichomanes ssp. quadrivalens and has given rise to Asplenium x tubalense, a vigorous allotetraploid hybrid that, even being practically sterile, is able to generate some fertile diplospore, the sufficient ones to be perpetuated. On the contrary that its father who flees from the direct light and applies its fronds against stones to avoid solar rays, its hybrid son adores the sun and extends its long fronds towards the light. Its heliophilia is an inheritance of its other ancestor, Asplenium trichomanes subsp. quadrivalens.

The old walls of the terraces of Soller full of mosses and lichens oriented towards the northwest are the habitat of Asplenium azomanes and its son Asplenium x tubalense. All the small ferns of the Aspleniaceae family that grow in Soller live on a substrate on mosses and lichens. It is a species of symbiosis. 

 Soller valley surrounded by mountains that protect it of winds of the north, they condense in its slopes in the form of dew the loaded marine humidity breeze and create a warm and humid microclimate ideal for the small hybrid ferns that are one of the botanical treasures more not knowing of the Balearic flora. Some winter the summits of mountains are covered with snow that melts quickly and nourishes of the freshest water the sources that 8 centuries ago the Mallorcan Arabs so wisely knew to find and to canalize, who were undressed of their loved island and turned into slaves in their own earth. It is of justice to recognize their inestimable contribution to the architecture of the sources, the irrigation channels and the terraces of the Serra de Tramuntana.

During the Messinian period of Late Miocene the marine bottoms of the coastal zones of the Macaronesian islands, Europe and Africa had emerged outside the water by the decline in about 100 meters of the level of sea and, next to just formed Betic-Rif Massif, they had transformed that one vast region into an all continuous one with little water separated that them, which allowed the interchange of species between the different archipelagoes from the Macaronesia and, as well, with the Iberian Peninsula and North Africa.

 Approximated map of the western Mediterranean during the Late Miocene. The Serra de Tramuntana was part of Betic-Rif Massif. The level of the water of the brackish lakes increased or decreased depending on the rains, so that for several centuries or even millennia remained practically dry.

As the climate was become more and more dry and cold some subtropical plants like the Asplenium anceps and its allotetraploid hybrid son, the Asplenium azoricum, that had arisen through mutations and hybridisations during the first million years of Miocene and were adapted to a warmer and humid climate, could not support the drought and cold of last million years of Late Miocene and the population went extinguishing from the north towards the south and the east towards the west, to being shut in the Macaronesian islands. At present the Asplenium anceps survives in mountains of the most humid Canary Islands, in the Island of Madeira and in the Azores Islands, whereas its son the Asplenium azoricum has been shut in the Azores Islands, most humid of the Macaronesia.

At some time during its retirement towards the west the Asplenium azoricum hybridized with the Asplenium trichomanes and gave rise to a vigorous allotetraploid hybrid much more adapted to the drought and cold, the Asplenium azomanes, which quickly surpassed the own sterility of all the allotetraploid hybrids and with several mutations success was able to reproduce by far, as much that got to populate the calcareous rocks oriented towards the northwest with all that one vast southern region with emerged earth.

 Present distribution of  Asplenium azomanes. 

When finalizing the million years of the Messinian period climate underwent a global heating that made increase rains and fused great part of the Antarctic ice, so that the oceanic waters rose in about 60 meters. At the same time the tectonic plates African and European separated starting off in two the Betic-Rif Massif and a great furrow formed among them, the Straits of Gibraltar, that again allowed the water entrance of the Atlantic Ocean towards the Mediterranean Sea. This oceanic water contribution along with the increase of rains again filled very quickly the Mediterranean basin that stopped being a brackish desert in only about 1000 years. When rising the level of the sea the mountains were transformed into islands, being emerged the tops and the skirts of the same and the population of the Asplenium azomanes was fragmented in three separated regions by the sea: the south of the Iberian Peninsula, the most western Balearic Islands and the Moroccan Rif.

Immense oak practically virgin in the skirt of a mountain of Serra de Tramuntana. This one was the paradisiac habitat of the Myotragus balearicus.

For more than 1500 years the man takes advantage of smooth slopes mountains of the Serra de Tramuntana to work olive trees, retaining the calcareous earth with dry stone walls in the form of terraces.

The Island of Majorca, like the rest of Mediterranean islands, is because a great mountain that at the end of the Messinian period was surrounded by the water and was transformed into an island. The top of this great mountain called Majorca is the present Serra de Tramuntana that makes million years ago comprised of the great mountain range of the Betic-Rif Massif.

Arum pictum inflorescences with its black spadix that emits a disagreeable scent to rotten meat to attract the scavenger flies that are their pollinators.

Another very abundant Balearic plant in the Serra de Tramuntana also speaks us of the Messinian period, the Arum Pictum, a Tyrrhenian endemism that formed during this convulsive million years of delayed Miocene. When the Mediterranean Sea was a parched desert the islands of Majorca and Menorca were practically united with a deep valley among them and the Eastern end of Menorca was united as well with the island of Sardinia with very little water that separated them, forming along with the neighboring island of Corsica and the south of France the called Tyrrhenian Region, which allowed to the interchange of plants and animals between the then mountains of the Eastern Balearics, Corsica, Sardinia and the French coast. The Arum pictum lives then at present in the islands that conformed the mountains of the Tyrrhenian region.

 Flowers of Paeonia cambessedesii in March. The color of the petals can vary between a very pale pink almost white and intense garnet. I recommend to extend the photo with a double click to appreciate better its exquisite beauty. 

One of the prettiest plants of the Serra de Tramuntana is the endemic Paeonia cambessedesii with spectacular flowers. Its arrival to the Balearic Islands also has one close relation with the Messinian period. Years ago prestigious botanists realised a genetic study of all European and Asian paeonias. After analyzing the results and of comparing the variations in the different genetic markers they concluded that all the paeonias of the Mediterranean come from an Asian ancestral hybrid that formed several million years ago by the hibridization between two paeonias of the plateaus of central Asia. Thence this antediluvian hybrid was colonizing territories of all Asia and Japan, arriving until Near East. Soon it continued its expansion by all the coastal countries of the Mediterranean and all Europe. In each new conquered territory it was been differentiate in different species by successive adaptive mutations.

 Another flower of Paeonia cambessedesii with the detail of numerous yellow estamens loaded of pollen and the graft red pistil in center.

When one of its descendants arrived at the Tyrrhenian region in the heat of Messinian period colonized one after another one the then mountains of Corsica and Sardinia and thence jumped to Menorca and Majorca. After the later ascent of the level of the sea, the Balearics mountains became islands and tyrrhenian paeonia was isolated and underwent diverse adaptive mutations until transforming into our gorgeous Paeonia cambessedesii that at present only lives in Majorca, Menorca and Cabrera. In spite of having hundreds of species of paeonia in Europe and Asia, all of them have same both Asian ancestors.

 Dryopteris pallida subsp. balearica in the crack of a rock of Cap de Formentor located in the North end of Serra de Tramuntana.

In mountains of Serra de Tramuntana a fern lives whose history also has one close relation with Late Miocene. It is the Dryopteris pallida subsp. balearica. Like the Arum pictum and the Paeonia cambessedesii this dwarfed fern of the Aspleniaceae family also comes from the European continent. Before colonizing the Balearic mountains in Europe lived the Dryopteris pallida subsp. pallida, a robust fern of great fronds that had been hybridized with the Dryopteris oreades and had given rise to a allotetraploid hybrid, the Dryopteris tyrrhena.

When the Mediterranean was dried during the Messinian, spores of Dryopteris pallida subsp. pallida and its hybrid daughter Dryopteris tyrrhena they managed to later colonize then mountains of Corsica and Sardinia and the fresh and humid top of the mountain of Majorca, that is to say, the present Serra de Tramuntana. Dryopteris pallida subsp. pallida underwent a dwarfing mutation to adapt better to the dry and warm climate of Majorca and gave rise to the Majorcan Dryopteris pallida subsp. balearica, whereas Dryopteris tyrrhena continued in its expansion towards the Betic-Rif Massif and arrived until the present Sierra Nevada of Granada, unique locality of this fern in the Iberian Peninsula. 

Vigorous unit of Dryopteris tyrrhena coming from the top of the Puig Major, the highest mountain of Serra de Tramuntana, cultivated in the Soller Botanical Garden to avoid its extinction. The successful culture of its spores has produced numerous daughters who will allow the repopulation in their natural habitat.

The peculiar present distribution of Dryopteris tyrrhena in Spanish territory demonstrates its clear Messinian origin. As in the case of Asplenium azomanes, the later ascent of sea level isolated the populations of Majorca and Granada. In both localities it is held in the fresh permanently humid tops of the highest mountains. In Majorca it is in critical danger of extinction by the incessant destruction of its habitat and the ruthless browse of the feral goats. The number of unit in wild state does not surpass the two dozens.


I do not want to finish this article without mentioning other endemic plants that live in the Serra de Tramuntana. Unlike the before mentioned plants they don´t have a clearly Messinian origin, but their beauty or peculiarity makes them deserving of a special mention. Some of them live on coastal rocks, others in the highest tops and the others in the skirts of mountains, especially oriented towards the north and the northwest.

Tiny Naufraga balearica, another botanical treasure of the Serra de Tramuntana. It is the unique species of Naufraga  genus. It belongs to the family of the Umbelliferae.

In the last 30 years Naufraga balearica has been reason for an intense controversy between botanists, since at first a endemism strict of Majorca was considered, but in 1981 a small population of an apparently identical plant in the west of the Island of Corsica between Cargèse and Piana was found. Nevertheless two years later in 1983 a group of botanists returned to the same place and in spite of looking for intensively they did not manage it to find it. Since then it is considered extinct officially in Corsica.

Near vision of Naufraga balearica tiny leaves.

The unique well-known population of Naufraga balearica grows in one reduced area of the Cap de Formentor in the North end of Serra de Tramuntana. One does not discard that other populations in the same zone of Majorca can exist by the difficult access to the rocky landings of cliffs where lives. In 2006 it was catalogued in critical danger of extinction, since the number of known adult plants had been reduced drastically without an apparent reason, perhaps by the climatic change or the increase of the contamination. The units of the images are cultivated and were photographed in the Soller Botanical Garden where they seems to prosper without problems. We hope that this botanical treasure that it takes between us many million years manages to survive the brutal climatic change brought about by the human greed and folly.

Senecio rodriguezii is one of the endemisms more beautiful of coastal rocks of Majorca and Menorca. The plant is tiny, their leaves are fleshy with the rough surface and belongs to the Compositae family. Usually it grows closely together of the sea on rocks sprinkled by the waves. The photography was taken in the opening of a torrent that lowers closely together of mountains of S´Illeta in Soller.

Carex rorulenta, a tiny endemism of Balearic Islands of Cyperaceae family, especially abundant in Serra de Tramuntana. The photography was taken in the public property of Planicia in the municipality of Banyalbufar.

The intense and luminous golden color of Brassica balearica small flowers, the endemic cabbage to Majorca, cheers the tops of mountains. Its favourite habitat is the inaccessible fresh and shady vertical cracks rocky where it is safe from the goats.

Ophrys balearica is the unique endemic orchid to Balearic Islands. It belongs to the group of Ophrys bertolonii. Its labellum is velvety of an intense almost black dark garnet color. The central spot in form of shield also is garnet with a showy metalised brightness. The gynostemium seems the small head of a bird with its small tip and its orange eyes. Seen of fence is a flower of a exquisite beauty. The photography was taken in the skirt of a Soller mountain in the central part of Serra de Tramuntana. I recommend to extend the photo with a double click.

Erodium reichardii is a tiny plant of Geraniaceae family. It is endemic to Majorca and Menorca. Usually it grows on fresh and shady rocks near the sea. The photography was taken at the beginning of March in the Cap deFormentor located in the North end of Serra de Tramuntana.

Asplenium majoricum is a champion of the survival. This tiny fern with fronds that usually do not surpass the 5 centimeters in length is one of the more representative botanical treasures of Serra de Tramuntana. It was originated by the hibridization between Asplenium Fontanum and Asplenium petrarchae subsp. bivalens, both extraordinarily little, whose genes, before the imminent danger of extinction, have been able to survive in their hybrid son, much more resistant to the climate of Majorca. It is able to support up to 6 months without a drop of rain with the intelligent strategy of the aestivation, in which one dehydrates completely until seeming dead and thus it remains until finally in autumn falls the first rain. In less than 24 hours the miracle is built. The fronds are rehydrated, turned green again, expanded and on the following day Asplenium majoricum shines so fresh and lush as in the spring, as if nothing had happened. The miracle is so spectacular that, in spite of already taking to many years seeing it every autumn, my heart is high and mighty and I am touched like a boy before the explosion of life of these small ferns that every year die and revive.

Asplenium trichomanes subsp. inexpectans is another botanical peculiarity of the Serra de Tramuntana. This small fern has very fragile fronds with the lamina like shrunken  and finished in a great apical pinna. It detests the direct sun and its heliophobia takes to apply its fronds against stones in a desperate attempt to avoid solar rays.

The Barranc de Biniaraix located in the middle of Serra de Tramuntana is in itself a spectacle of an impressive and unforgettable beauty. It is crossed by a torrent of the same name and is the ideal habitat of numerous ferns, especially the Asplenium majoricum and its hybrids: Asplenium x orellii, Asplenium x sollerense, Asplenium x reichsteinii and Asplenoceterach barrancense. Also is some unit of Dryopteris pallida subsp. balearica. 

 Asplenoceterach barrancense is an extraordinarily little hybrid fern, as much that in my manifolds crossed by mountains of the Soller Valley I have only managed to find a unit. It is product of the incredible hibridization between Asplenium majoricum and Ceterach officinarum subsp. officinarum. Unfortunately this unit undergoes the ruthless depredation of the feral goats that eat their fronds several times to the year and every time is more debilitated. The organisms that would have to protect it ignore it.

 The two progenitors of Asplenoceterach barrancense and their hybrid son growing in the holes filled of mosses of the same calcareous stone.

Another extraordinary botanical treasure is Crocus cambessedesii. Its beauty and its ephemeral flowering attract numerous European botanists, who travel until Majorca with the unique intention to contemplate it and to photograph it. The image was taken in the coastal way that takes until the Torrent de Pareis. 

The Torrent de Pareis, located in Sa Calobra, during million years has been excavating a deep precipice whose lifted walls they finish abruptly in the sea. 

Years ago I had a so fantastic experience, so espritual and magical that one is never going away to forget to me. A morning of autumn I very early rose with the idea to look for ferns on rocks of this torrent. I arrived when it finished leaving the sun, the rays of the dawn illuminated little waters of the torrent, there was nobody and I was walking torrent above on the heavy gravel with the high rocky walls to each side. Suddenly I noted that the unique noise was the one of my own steps on the gravel. I paused and I listened overwhelmed the impressive silence of that one magical place. It was a wonderful spectacle of pure, virgin, intact nature, most similar to the Earthly Paradise. The heart was accelerated and barked with force in my chest and my eyes became damp by the emotion. I am never going it to forget.

Old Phyllitis sagittata with its beautiful sori that are transparent to backlighting. This little fern of an antediluvian beauty lives happy on fresh rocks of the birth of the Torrent de Pareis. Their peninsular populations are in frank regression, coverall in Andalusia. 

The small Crepis triasii is a rupicolous endemism of Majorca, Menorca and Cabrera. It belongs of the Compositae family. Their habitat is the cracks of calcareous rocks of the high mountain oriented towards the north and the northwest. 

Phlomis italica is another endemism of Majorca and Menorca very frequent in the openings of old oak of Serra de Tramuntana. Their showy pink and velvety flowers appear in May. 

The endemism Rhamnus ludovici-salvatoris, dedicated to Archduke Luis Salvador of Austria, loves the direct sun of the high mountain of Majorca, Menorca and Cabrera. The photography of its gorgeous red fruits was taken in an old olive grove of Caimari village.

And finally I want show you this shining flower of Ranunculus weyleri, tiny endemic ranunculus to Majorca that lives in the cracks of rocks oriented towards the north in the top of the Puig Major and in mountains of Arta.

Now UNESCO, with all this information that surely was not facilitated to it, has more reasons to appreciate the natural values of this Mediterranean jewel that so rightly declared World Heritage Site.