Now the low winter temperatures have disappeared and the start of this new season means longer days with milder weather. The metabolic activity of plants begins to waken up. The season of rebirth and reproduction has arrived… spring is here.
On the bare trees, new leaves will bud, from the barren earth, new young plants will burst through and cover the ground with a splendid green carpet. Most of them will soon begin to flower, creating a beautiful coloured mosaic. Spring is the season of flowers par excellence. In Sóller Botanic Garden, over 60% of the Balearic flora flower at this time.
Moreover, we will also catch a glimpse of the insects that add an element of movement to the spring. We will see them flying amongst the flowers, searching for the precious nectar. The flowers, however, do not surrender this sweet liquid for free: their sacs of mature pollen are strategically arranged, ready to fertilise the ovules of other flowers of the same species. This delicate and discreet display of affection among flowers will provide us with a successful production of fertile seeds in a few weeks or months at the latest. These will be the seeds that will allow the species to proliferate and survive.
How do Mediterranean plants react to the arrival of spring?
A self-guided tour around the Botanic Garden will help us to discover the secrets of the reproduction of our plants and the strategies they use to carry out the spring stage of their life cycle.
This route through Sóller Botanic Garden (SBG) is self-guided and the visitor is helped by the scientific names provided on labels next to each plant and the names of each area, which follow those on SBG’s map.
Sexual reproduction of plants.
Sexual reproduction allows living beings to ensure the production of new individuals. The flower is the main reproductive organ of higher plants. In reality, it is a structure that protects the plant’s sexual organs, where the seeds are produced once fertilisation has taken place. It could be said that the sole purpose of the efforts a plant makes to grow and develop is to reproduce and thus ensure the survival of the species. The process during which pollen travels from the (male) anther to the (female) stigma of the same flower, or to that of any other flower belonging to the same species, is called pollination.
If we walk around the Botanic Garden and look at the flowers we come across, we shall see that there are many different shapes and colours. If we look closer, we will get a good idea of how pollination occurs in many of our species:
- The flowers with stamens laden with pollen, which give off a little cloud of yellow dust when we touch them, are in general plants that use the wind to distribute their pollen. This is known as anemophilous (or wind) pollination.
- Flowers visited by swarms of honeybees, bumblebees, butterflies, botflies, etc. no doubt offer these insects tasty nectar and, in exchange, the latter carry the pollen – stuck to their body – from one flower to another. This is known as entomophilous (or insect) pollination. This is the most specialised type, since some insects are only able to pollinate specific flowers, due to their nectar-sucking structure.
- Some species require an aquatic medium in order to pollinate. These method is used by higher plants that live in water and is known as hydrophilous (or water) pollination.
Others require no agents to transfer pollen because they are able to pollinate themselves. This can be seen in the arrangement of the sexual organs and how they coincide when the plant is mature. This type of pollination is called self-pollination.
The scientific name comes from the Latin verb vincire, to bind, in reference to its long, trailing stems. The periwinkle is a perennial plant, which flowers in spring. Its stems can grow to lengths of over 2 m, although flowering stems stand upright and are shorter. In the wild, this species forms evergreen ground cover in shady, moist locations such as the banks of streams.
This plant typical of sandy areas and rocky coasts is only found on Majorca and the eastern part of the Iberian Peninsula (the provinces of Castellón, Valencia, Alicante and Murcia). It is a carpet-forming, almost pulvinate – i.e. cushion-shaped – perennial. It would appear that the scientific name caput-felis derives from the fact that its flower buds are similar in appearance to a cat’s head.
M3: Tree heath (Erica arborea)
Tree heath is a shrub that can reach heights of up to 3 metres. Its leaves are acicular and the white flowers appear in the spring, forming large, pyramid-shaped terminal panicles. In the Balearic Islands, this species grows on the mountains of Majorca, Minorca and Cabrera, in some places forming large, almost monospecific populations.
The wood of this plant’s root (known as briar root), a characteristic reddish colour, is used to make pipes.
M5: Hawthorn (Crataegus monoginamonogyna)
L’espinaler o cirerer de pastor és un arbust de la família de les rosàcies igual que l’aranyoner. Pot arribar a assolir els 4 metres d’alçada.Hawthorn is a shrub that belongs to the rose family, as does blackthorn. It can reach heights of up to 4 metres.
It flowers between the months of March and April. The hawthorn’s white flowers have a pleasant scent and it produces red, fleshy fruit in the autumn, when the shrub has lost its leaves.
All orchids in the Balearic Islands are protected by Decree 24/92.
Orchids are herbaceous plants which, in the colder months of the year, remain dormant underground in the form of a rhizome. Their name derives from the Greek word orkhis, meaning ‘testicle’, referring to the shape of their rhizomes. Thanks to their attractive shape and colour, orchid flowers are excellent at attracting insects to pollinate them.
The fruit is a capsule, which can contain thousands of seeds. However, in order to germinate they require the right temperature, humidity and a symbiotic fungus, which means that many seeds are lost and never manage to germinate. This is the reason why the orchid plant produces so many seeds.
The "molinet" as this species is called on Formentera, is an endemism of the Pitiüses (Pine Islands, i.e. Ibiza and Formentera) and the eastern part of the Iberian Peninsula. It is an annual plant with pink flowers, which lives in sandy areas and on beaches.
This species is endangered as a result of the unchecked development of our coastlines. In the Botanic Garden, in addition to conserving Silene cambessedesii as a live plant in area 6, seeds of this species are kept in the Seed BBank
M7: Echium acanthocarpum
In general, in the Canary Islands, plants in the genus Echium are known as "tajinaste". "Tajinaste azul" also known as "tajinaste de la Gomera" is no doubt the most spectacular of all, not only because of its inflorescences, but also thanks to its dark green leaves. It flowers in spring and also in winter, but it is at this time of the year that we can see the plant in all its splendour. Its flowers produce excellent honey and are therefore extremely attractive to bees.
M8: Euphorbia rigida
This original Euphorbia from Mediterranean basin starts blooming at the end of winter or spring beginning. It needs plenty of sun and well-drained soil. It has very irritant latex and gloves are needed to prune it.
M9: Medicago strasseri
This endemism of Crete has a close relative (M. citrina) in some islands of Cabrera's Archipelago and the Islands Columbretes.
They can differ easily, among other characteristics, for the colour of its flowers: yellow orange in M. strasseri and yellow lemon in M. citrina.
M10: Chinese wisteria (Wisteria sinensis)
This climber, which is very commonly found in Mediterranean gardens, originates from China and Japan. It can live for 100 years and reach heights of up to 15 m. Thanks to the scent of its flowers, during the entire flowering period the plant is visited by large numbers of insects, which come to suck nectar.
M11: Borage (Borago officinalis)
Borage is a plant that flowers in spring and is very striking thanks to its intense blue flowers.
The flowers and leaves are used to decorate summer cocktails, salads and cakes. They also have medicinal properties, since this plant is rich in minerals, especially potassium. An infusion of borage leaves and flowers helps treat urinary and respiratory infections. Poultices of borage flowers and leaves can help relieve dermatitis, psoriasis, and restore smoothness to aging skin.
M13: The orange - Citrus sinensis
The fruit typically found in the springtime in Sóller is the ‘canoneta’ orange variety.
This orange, which is grown in the Sóller Valley, is basically used to make juice. Recently, studies have been carried out at the Universitat de les Illes Balears (University of the Balearic Islands) to find ways of using the fibre from this variety’s pulp and skin, the by-products of orange juice production.
Mediterranean plants accumulate reserves during the winter in order to flower and start their sexual reproduction in the spring. Don’t forget to visit Sóller Botanic Garden in summer, when the Balearic plants have finished flowering and have begun to produce fruit and seeds.