What is a plant endemism?

In the Sierra de Tramuntana de Mallorca there are several endemic species

In the Sierra de Tramuntana of Mallorca there are several endemisms

Plants, like other living beings, have a very strong survival instinct that leads them to adapt, as far as possible, to the changes that arise over hundreds and thousands of years. Humans, for our part, also have the need to label things, as this helps us understand them better. This is why in botany there are certain words that refer to very specific plant species, some that have been living in the same place for a long time.

One of the most important is that of endemism, or to be more specific, plant endemism. That term speaks of trees, shrubs, … in short, of plants that have managed to adapt so well to a specific area that they continue in it. But today they are also the most vulnerable to extinction.

What is the definition of endemism?

In the forest there are many endemic plants

In the forest there are many endemic plants

An endemism it is an animal or plant that lives exclusively in a very specific area of ​​the world: for example the dracaena draco is an endemism of Macaronesia, the phoenix canariensis it is a palm tree typical of the Canary Islands, and so on.

In general, the concept of endemism applies to species, although it can also be used for subspecies, genera and even families as a whole. This will depend on the origin of each animal or plant that is being studied, as well as if it is found in other nearby areas, something that could lead to it undergoing certain changes to achieve a better adaptation.

Why are there endemisms? What is the origin of these?

To answer that question we have to go to the world of geology. Planet Earth is a living planet, constantly changing. What’s more, We could say that it is a huge puzzle, with pieces that collide with each other forming mountains, or getting under others expanding the seas.. These pieces are known by the name of tectonic plates.

These movements, as I say, occur very slowly over time. It is so slow that living beings often have thousands of years to adapt to different areas, unless it is clear that some catastrophic natural phenomenon occurs that forces life to start from scratch, as happened after the meteorite that led to the extinction to 75% of plant and animal species, among which were the largest reptiles that the Earth has known: dinosaurs.

After such an event, the Earth’s climate changes drastically. It can get warmer or colder, it can even make it wetter or drier at some points. AND every corner, every landscape, every mountain or lake, etc., creates its own biome or bioclimatic landscapein which certain plants and animals inhabit that have adapted to these conditions, but to no more, hence they have a greater risk of becoming extinct.

It is difficult to know, therefore, the origin of endemisms. But if we wanted to find it, we would have to analyze the DNA of plants and study their ancestors. It would also help to find fossilized remains, since from them you can learn a lot about the climate that existed on Earth at that time. This is a job for botanists and paleobotanists.

We, as fans of plants and gardening, we are going to keep that an endemism is a species that has been in the same place for a long timeand that it is not found anywhere else on the planet.

What types of endemisms exist?

Endemic plants live in a specific area

Endemic plants live in a specific area

There are several types:

  • Apoendemic: are taxa (that is, species, subspecies, or genera) that are derived from others.
  • Cryptoendemisms: they are taxa that do not yet have a name, but that can be good candidates to be described as endemic.
  • Schizoendemisms: are those species that have been appearing as the area has been isolated, getting to reproduce and thus creating new species, with very similar genetics.
  • Paleoendemisms: it is a species that has genetic and morphological characteristics that forms isolated and independent groups.
  • Sponsorships: they are species with a genetics somewhat different from that of their parents, and with a better adaptation to the environment to such an extent that they manage to colonize large areas.

Examples of plant endemisms in Spain

We can find endemic plants in all parts of the world, although the islands, due to their isolation, are where the highest percentages are concentrated. For example, Australia is estimated to be home to some 34 thousand species of plants (twenty thousand vascular and fourteen thousand non-vascular), among which are the Acanthocarpus, the Archontophoenix, and the vast majority of species of brachychiton (only one is from New Guinea, out of 31 there are).

Although knowing the endemisms of the world is interesting, it is important to know what we have “at home.” So that Let’s see what are some of the Spanish endemisms that we have:

Snowy sandstones

The Arenaria nevadensis is an endemic herb of SpainArenaria nevadensis is an endemic herb of Spain

Image – Junta de Andalucía

The Snowy sandstones is an annual cycle herb that reaches 9 centimeters in height. Its stems grow more or less straight, and it has small leaves up to 9 x 4 millimeters. Its flowers appear grouped in corymbs and are white.

It grows in the Iberian Peninsula, specifically in the bushes where the climate is Mediterranean. It is in danger of extinction due to loss of habitat.

Pioneer budori

The Paeonia broteri is a plant with pink flowersLa Paeonia broteri is one plant with pink flowers

Image – Wikimedia Commons / A. Bar

The Pioneer budori it’s a plant grows to 70 centimeters talldeveloping glabrous stems from which bright green leaves emerge. Its flowers are large and solitary, reddish in color.

It is endemic to the Iberian Peninsula, specifically to forests, undergrowths and mountainous thickets.

phoenix canariensis

The Canary Island palm has only one trunk

The Canary Islands palm has a single trunk.

The phoenix canariensisor Canary Island palm, is an endemic species of the Canary Islands. It forms a single thick trunk with pinnate leaves 5 to 7 meters long. It can reach a total height of 13 meters.

It is a species widely cultivated in gardens, due to its beauty and rusticity, as it resists frosts down to -7ºC.

Do you know other vegetable endemisms in Spain?

What is a plant endemism?

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