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Photos & text

Creative Commons License
Photos & texts by Sabina Burrascano is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 Italy License.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at: info@plantsdontlie.com.

Dynamic is the world!

Whoever had the chance to study some ecology, or to catch a glimpse of how natural systems work knows as a commonplace that everything natural is constantly changing, every single cell as well as the most complex ecosystems is dynamic.

Despite this is undoubtfully a commonplace it is not always easy to keep this concept in mind since our perspective often tends to be static in time.

However in some cases a single snapshot of life disperses every possibility for a static view. I had this impression recently when I had the chance to visit a small open patch within a beech forest in the Gran Sasso and Monti della Laga National Park.

The ground was moist and crunchy under my boots. A closer look revealed that I was walking on petrified grasses and mosses, that were building a travertine rock.

Travertine

Travertine is a type of limestone that is formed by a process of rapid precipitation of calcium carbonate, often at the mouth of springs. Bryophytes, algae and other organisms colonise the surface of travertine and are slowly included into it while it forms, giving travertine its distinctive porosity. This process was just taking place under my feet in that small patch and was strikingly evident.

Pinguicula bud and rosette

 

I was just wondering at what was under my feet when other things caught my attention. On the travertine, plants other than bryophytes developed, these were vascular plants, or as someone calls them higher plants. In particular I saw small, light green plants, with shy buds still hidden in their rosettes, leaves and peduncles densely covered by glandular hairs. How unique, how rare these plants looked, even to unexpert eyes solely for their ability to grow where no other plants can make it.

 The glandular hairs of Pinguicula

Again I had to wonder that something hidden and silent was happening: hunting was going on with no sound or clear movement that could be perceived. The glandular hairs that my macro lens just managed to capture displayed some irregularly shaped black spots. These spots answered my questions about how can this plant make it where no others can, as soon as I realised that they were what was left of insects that tried to land on these small plants.

What is left of the unlucky protein supplier

I was looking at tiny, wonderful ‘carnivourous plants’, catchers of insects, that they need to integrate their strict diet on nutrient poor soils. In particular I was looking at a representative of the Lentibulariaceae family. The members of this family (like other plants of the order Lamiales) were originally able to secrete a proteinase mucilage through leaf surfaces, that prevents insect predation by trapping and degrading potentially harmful insects. Several studies suggest that these glands can shift their function from secretion to absorption giving plants the ability to absorb the proteins deriving from the unlucky insects.

The second most diverse genus of this family is the genus Pinguicula, within which more than 80 species were described, mostly from Southern and Central America. ‘Flora Europaea’ reports 12 species for Europe, of which five occur in Italy. However the taxonomy of this genus grew much more complicated since the publication of the ‘Flora Europaea’, with distinctive characters found for several isolated populations and new species and subspecies recently described (see Conti & Peruzzi 2006 for detailed information). According to this recent publication the plants I had the chance to see belong to the species Pinguicula vulgaris and to the subspecies vestina.

Pinguicula in bloom

Later on in the same site I had the chance to see two plants of Pinguicula in bloom, in a delicate and almost romantic pose that helped me to focus on the beuty of their flowers and to give a sense to the fate of the unlucky insects stamped on their leaves.

In the patch I just described everything was evidently in transormation: from water to rocky and nutrient-poor habitats where only plants that are able to prey insects are able to survive, and to use their extra-income of nutrients to produce wonderful flowers. Even if no movement could be perceived, nothing was static in the pictures I took, but everything was silently astonishing.

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