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Photos & texts by Sabina Burrascano is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 Italy License.
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All flowers are not in one garden

All flowers are not in one garden. This is one of the good reasons for travelling: see many different flowers and plants in amazingly diverse gardens accross the world.

Only a small percentage of plants can be found all over the world, and even in that case they are limited to one or few environments, according to their characteristics and requirements. Many others belong to specific continents, regions, islands or provinces.

When a plant is exclusively native to a place it is called an endemic. These plants are extremely significant for whom is interested in understanding how plants evolved and spread, at the same time these species are fascinating as they allow for a glimpse in the complexity of the interactions existing between organisms, and between these and the environment.

The more an environment is peculiar and unique, the more it is likely to host endemic plants.Mogote & poultry

I want to share some pictures and information I took in the National Park Valle de Viñales, in western Cuba.

The landscape of this area is is characterized by geomorphologic structures called mogotes, which are calcareous hills characterized by a rounded, tower-like structure 100 m or more tall, with extremely steep to overhanging lower slopes that sit in broad plains.

Tobacco plantation and MogotesSuch plains are covered by fertile red earth on which the best tobacco in the world is grown; Indeed this is the Cuban province from which most of the tobacco used for the Cuban cigars comes.

These structures are classified as tower karst. They were believed to be tropical landforms, but studies from Canada, have shattered this notion.

Karst evolution that leads to them appears to have begun with the opening of deep dolines at weak points along joints. Later, long and narrow gorges called karst streets formed, to be followed by a rectilinear network of deep gorges with other cross-cutting lines of erosion. In the final stage, the rock wall of the gorges suffered lateral planation (Huggett 2007 – Fundamentals of Geomorphology).

Gaussia princeps individuals on a mogote slopeThe Mogotes, despite their steep slopes, are covered by vegetation. Indeed they are the only place on earth where one species of palm with a funny-shaped trunk grows. This species is called Gaussia princeps. Its common name in Spanish is palma de sierra. It can grow until 10-15 meters in height and it is characterized by a whitish stem which is swollen at the base and tapering above. Its maximum diameter is in the lower part (about 30 cm). It has three to six pinnately compound leaves. Fruit are orange-red, 1 cm long and 7 millimetres in diameter, with one to three seeds.Gaussia princeps against the wind

The stems of this species growing tall on the steep mogotes are apparently fragile due to their thin tops and absolutely fascinating.

Nevertheless through a closer look they appear as shaped by the wind, in fact their reduced tops are likely to be less strongly hit by it; while their base is strongly rooted on the mogotes, insomuchas the latter are the only substratum this palm grows on.

Until a few years ago this was the only known species of the genus Gaussia, but recently another species of this genus, growing in a similar biotope (Sierra de Jatibonico – central Cuba) was described: Gassia spirituana, from the name of the province Sancti spíritus where it was found.

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