jeudi 21 janvier 2010

A tiny oasis between the sea and the desert

Amelie took us to a wonderful beach an hour's drive north of Copiapo. Hidden away, accessible only by foot, following a rocky path along the cliffside. The most interesting thing about this beach from a botanical point of view was the fact that underground springs surfaced and came down through the eroded rocks as small streams, allowing a variety of different plants to prosper and create a wonderful contrast with the desert above and the beach below.

We are presently in La Paz, the capital of Bolivia and I am making the most of being in a big city to update my blog as when we leave here, who knows when we will have an internet connection that is powerful enough to download photos etc. As usual I don't have enough time to research the plants above and find their names, this I will do on my return, I will however try and give a brief description and if anyone recognises any of these plants please let me know.

The first photo is a plant that has certain crassulacaea aspects but could well be of another family, it grows close to the ground, the stalk is about 5 to 6 cms long and the plant non-woody. The leaves are simple, rounded and look like cotyledons, they are light green with a reddish line along their margin. The flowers are solitary with a long stalk. The calyx has three large, flat, trianguler sepales flattened against the flower's tube with two small sepales situated in the interior. There are two mini leaflets (bractees in French) on the outside. The flower is very white with 5 fused petals, which are are slightly indented in the middle, the inside of the corrolla's tube is washed with red.
The second plant was growing in a mini cave in the rocks, where the spring water was running through continually, through my magnifying glass it looks very like a saxifragacaea but on looking in my books I now think it is probably a Samolus valerandi from the primulacaea family, I am rather pleased if it is as its quite rare and so protected.
The third photo is of a plant that was in abundance, growing in a huge carpet-like configuration. It's succelent leaves were coated with a thin white duvet, and were the colour of white grapes. The fived sepaled, fused calyx was the same aspect as the leaves and had a small petiole. The ovary was epigynous, the white corolla had a long tube that then opened up into fused petals with 5 stamens......anyone know it????
Fourth photo is a plant that I have never seen before, although a botanist friend in La Paz assures me grows in Europe. It was growing expansively on the rocks near the sea and looked like a crassulacaea in aspect although the stalk was woody at its base and covered with a paper-like layer of salt. It is in fcat a chenopodacaea, a salicornia known as glasswort, pickleweed or marsh samphire. A halophile plant, which means it is salt resistant. It creates a large carpet on salt marshes, beaches and in mangroves. the young tender shoots can be prepared and eaten in the same way as green beans. There are about 30 species of salicornia and they are difficult to determine, I have looked on the internet but there seem to be no leads to chilean salicones.
The stalk was succelent, green and in segments measuring 2 ot 3 cm's. the leaves were like smaller versions of the stalk but reddish at the top. Along these "leaves" were tiny flowers, "apetal", without petals, I wasn't sure if the sexual organs consisted of 2 anthers, which opened to liberate the pollen or 2 stigmas without styles.
The last plant was growing on the dry, sandy "plateau" before the actual beach. A small plant, growing very close to the ground with a layer of salt covering it. A thin, reddish, woody stalk with swollen nodes. Tiny, simple leaves with a short petiole and a well defined midrib, they had a slightly succelent aspect and were inserted around the stalk. The flowers inserted et the top of the stalks with a long, fused calyx of 5 sepals covered with short, white hairs. The calyx also had greenish/red lines along it, small "bractees" like leaves were inserted at the base of the calyx. The flowers were white with a mauvish tint, 5 fused petals with long "onglets", one long style and5 stamens with black anthers and a epigynous ovary.

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