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I must admit i'm not not really a plant person, but I found this interesting. My work at the lab has forced me to choose vertebrates over invertebrates. Seems the culture of the lab makes you take sides and develop fierce affinity for your group. I will, on occasion, dig a fern out of a 50 M year old rock or the imprint of an ant or some such critter, but my interest is with whales, dolphins, sharks, rhinos , and terrestrial vertebrates.

Ants in plants:

One of the world’s rarest plants is literally clinging to life on two adjacent cliff sides on the Spanish side of the Pyrenees
All the world’s 4-5,000 individuals of the small herb Borderea chouardii can be found within an area the size of a football field.
This yam-like herb, with its heart-shaped leaves and unassuming green flower, has been growing into crevices in the rock some 850 metres above the sea for millions of years.
Its closest relatives are extinct, but the Borderea chouardii strangely managed to pull through. And from their high-rise home they have lived to see Ice Ages and civilizations come and go.

But occasionally a few ants – of the Lasius grandis and Lasius cinereus species – passed by, and it soon became clear that it’s these ants that pollinate the flowers.

The herb has arranged its flowers so that they point toward the rock and this enables the ants to reach the nectar.

As the ants slurp the nectar, they’re lubricated in pollen which, with a little luck, ends up on the female part of a flower further up the cliff.

So that’s the sex mystery solved then. But how about gravity? How did the herb make its way hundreds of metres up a cliff in the first place?

The answer, again, is ants. But this time we’re talking about a third species – Pheidole pallidula – which pays regular visits to the herb when it seeds.

It’s very rare to see plants using the same animal for pollination and for dispersion.
The herb has another clever trick up its sleeve: it equips each seed with a small fatty compound which the ants find highly palatable. The ants then drag the seed off to their nest in the rock’s crevices, where the seeds that are not eaten are left to germinate.

It can live for up to 300 years. Maria García has demonstrated this by counting leaf scars on the tuber, which produces a new leaf every year.

In the 17 years that Maria García has been counting, only eight new plants have sprouted per year, on average. And since some individuals also die, the population only just grows enough to survive.

”It constantly lives on a razor’s edge. It has a really bad propagation, which is entirely dependent on ants,” he says.

On the other hand, it lives a tranquil and stable life up there on the cliff, free from the dangers of grazing animals such as sheep and goats.

It only grows on the north side, where the sun doesn’t shine. Here conditions are always slightly humid and the temperatures are fairly constant. In winter, the rock keeps warm, and in summer it maintains a nice and cool temperature.

“It’s well protected,” says Olesen. “However, a few years ago, some rocks fell down due to natural causes, and this had a negative effect on the Borderea chouardii population.”

Ultimately, the survival of this strange herb could depend on the strength of the rocks it's clinging to. There have also been attempts at ensuring the herb’s survival by trying to grow it elsewhere. Only time will tell if that will work.

Pretty pictures:

Wonder what it tastes like.

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