Where When How May/June 2017 : Page 148
The Botanical Calendar ABOVE: This blue-green moss, yet unidenti-ﬁed, grows on the trunks of cacti and other trees; this one was found growing on a big-top palm trunk in central North Caicos. ABOVE: These miniature thallose liverworts, found on exposed packed earth on Garden Pond Field-road in Middle Caicos, are easy to see through the summer months after heavy rain. < < < < < Miniature thallose liverworts, shown with the scale of an adult ﬁnger, encrust the compacted open soil of the trail to Haulover Plantation in Middle Caicos and are easily viewed after heavy rains. EVEry PrOFESSION HAS INSIDE jOkES, and not being an oﬃce-oriented person, I’m quite sure I wouldn’t get the bulk of them. In botany, the inside jokes can be as every bit as strange as botanists themselves often are – and I like to think the stranger the plants that are involved, the stranger the humour. A colleague of mine worked on a remote island in the South Paciﬁc where it was diﬃ-cult to measure the passing of days. She marked her days by focusing on diﬀerent plant groups on diﬀerent days of the week, saving her favourites for Fridays – favourites which happened to be the lowliest of the higher plants, mosses (which most people recognise) and liverworts (slightly more obscure). Together, these plants make up a section of botanical life collectively called the non-vascular plants, because they lack vascular tissue. I know, this is getting far too botanical, but stay with me. Vascular tissue is the tubes in plants that carry sap and water around the plant – the veins, if you will. It is what allows trees to be able to pump hundreds of gallons of water up sometimes several hundred feet in the air, in complete silence. It is what drips the love-ly juices that give us such products as latex, maple syrup, and quinine. But not all plants have vascular tissue. The ﬁrst terrestrial plants in history had-n’t yet evolved veins – their inner cores were ﬁlled with spongy material that allowed liq-uids to move about freely. They lost a lot of water to evaporation without being able to protect it inside sealed tunnels, and so they were often restricted in size and environ-ment. Though in past eras, the atmosphere allowed some to get quite large, today’s worldwide climate keeps mosses and liver-worts small and usually restricts them to damp, humid places. While tropical rainforests, cloud forests, and temperate forests are often dripping in non-vascular plants, they’re decidedly uncommon in the dry tropics. Still, a few call the Turks & Caicos Islands home. They adapt to our harsh environment by being even smaller than their relatives. While most liver-worts grow to about a centimetre wide, ours are less than 1/10 that size, growing on packed soil in open areas where they can unfurl and photosynthesize following rain showers. Afterward, they dry up and remain in a suspended animation until the next rain. Liverworts are so named because the shape of thallose liverworts resembles the outline of the human liver, and in Medieval times was thought to be a cure for liver diseases. Mosses also grow in these dry places, encrusting not just tree bark but often the trunks of cacti. Instead of being soft cush-ions, our mosses are spikey crusts. Unfortunately, the identity of most of these species has never been conﬁrmed in the Turks & Caicos Islands. Non-vascular plant identiﬁcation is a challenge to botanists, who like to use ﬂowers and fruit to identify species. Mosses and liverworts don’t have those reproductive structures, as they repro-duce with spores, not seeds. Despite the dif-ﬁculty in identifying these plants, we keep trying. We don’t yet have enough to dedicate a day of the week to them, but because the outdoor work environment of botanists demands dressing down every day, we don’t have a need for casual Fridays. I’ll happily keep working on these unusual plants on our non-vascular Fridays. I Native Flora and Fauna Species of the TCI ~ by B Naqqi Manco, TCI Naturalist 148 • • • • • MAY/JUNE 2017 “Where When How -Turks & Caicos Islands”
Native Flora A Botanical Calendar
B Naqqi Manco
EVEry PrOFESSION HAS INSIDE jOkES, and not being an office-oriented person, I’m quite sure I wouldn’t get the bulk of them. In botany, the inside jokes can be as every bit as strange as botanists themselves often are – and I like to think the stranger the plants that are involved, the stranger the humour.