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 and the following are property of the Mallorcan professional photographer Pedro Lorenzo Palou.

Another Ferreret with its tadpoles, photographed in June in Serra 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.

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