Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Cyclamen balearicum, relic of Miocene

Cyclamen balearicum fills of white flowers shady forests and rocky areas of the Balearic Islands, the province of Gerona and southern France. It is especially abundant in the Serra de Tramuntana in Mallorca where it grows on a limestone substrate. It belongs to the Primulaceae family and is the only representative of the Cyclamen genus in Spanish territory.

Its current distribution speaks clearly of Miocene origin. Like many of the most beautiful plants of the Balearic Islands, this small cyclamen came from southern Europe 6 million years ago during the Great Messinian salinity crisis. The desiccation of the Mediterranean Sea did emerge land separating the Mediterranean islands of the Iberian Peninsula, southern France, the Italian Peninsula and North Africa, transforming them into great mountains surrounded by dry valleys.

During this last million years of desiccation, many plant species in Europe and Africa took the opportunity to expand their populations in all that vast region, leaping from mountain to mountain transported by birds, mammals, seasonal streams that formed after some heavy occasional storm and hurricane force winds that caused terrible sandstorms too salty to raise the bulk sediment of ancient Tethys Sea. Using either of these means, a seed of European Cyclamen balearicum then managed to reach the Balearic mountains, finding in its fresh tops the ideal climate for colonization.

At the end of the previous million years of Messinian the Mediterranean again filled with water and Cyclamen balearicum population was fragmented into two regions separated by the sea: a mainland population in southern France and the Spanish province of Gerona and island population in the Balearic Islands.

 Typical Cyclamen balearicum flower with its position slightly inclined like a lamppost. It is striking deep purple pedicel holding the flower.

The flower is very fragrant and has five petals of intense pure white, but sometimes may have a slight tinge of pink and even purple stretch marks be tours. Unlike other primulaceae, the petals of all cyclamen species are directed back into the shape of a chef hat.

The reproductive organs of the flower, ie, the five stamens and pistil, are hidden inside the tube formed by the 5 petals joined at the base. Pollination is myrmecophytic interaction, ie, carried out by the ants, which also are responsible for the dispersal of seeds by myrmecocoria. Thus there is a close symbiosis between the small Cyclamen balearicum and ants. The flower attracts them with its fragrance and gives them a drop of nectar in exchange for pollen grains stuck to its body from another flower. Once the seeds have matured the ants collect food, but it happens that any way the nest is lost (eg if the ant is hunted by an insect, spider or lizard) and able to germinate away from its mother. It may also be collected as many seeds that do not become consumed all germinate and some succeed. Another possible form of dispersion would be the pouring rain that after releasing the seeds of the ripe fruit would take them downstream, being retained in the crevices of limestone rock, as discussed below.

 The leaves of Cyclamen balearicum usually have white spots on its upper surface but not difficult to find a plant with green leaves completely.

Details of the earlier pages.

On the underside of the leaves have a striking purple. This color is an adaptation of Cyclamen balearicum to low light reaching the understory and the dark rock crevices where it grows. When solar rays fall on the leaves, penetrate their green tissues where the organelles called chloroplasts capture the light energy and conduct the photosynthesis of the nutrients that plant needs. In normal leaves the solar rays, that are not captured by chloroplasts, cross the leaves and they are lost. However, in the leaves of Cyclamen balearicum these rays that are going to lose found the layer of cells rich in purple anthocyanins on the underside and are reflected as if it were a mirror, so go back to the green tissues of the leaf and chloroplasts the advantage to perform a second photosynthesis. It is an intelligent process of optimization.

Curious image with a mature leaf on the left with numerous leaves much smaller, each of which corresponds to a small Cyclamen balearicum newborn. The seeds have been retained in the crack after being washed away by rain.

Leaves them earlier with a more rounded adults. These small specimens develop an underground tuber accumulates water and nutrients for several years. In late spring the leaves are dried and Cyclamen balearicum enters aestivation, waiting patiently in the form of tuber to reach the first rains of autumn. Then awake from their slumber and sprouts new leaves and in late winter or early spring gives a long pedicel up to 20 inches with a single flower at the end.

Undersides of the leaves above its typical purple. If we look at the index finger we can picture its diminutive size. Although one might think that this is a different dwarf species, the truth is that they are simply juveniles in their first year of life from newly germinated seed.

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