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Naturally Occurring Bonsai or Environmentally Dwarfed Plants
Let’s talk about naturally occurring Bonsai, or environmental dwarf plants. We will take an example of a growing plant, pressed against a mountain side. This article is not intended as a scientific book, so I have no need and even less desire, to go into all the nuances of each subject.
Any plant, given the required growth conditions, will survive if not mature, for the expected number of years for a particular species, if not longer. However, before the plant seed can even grow, it needs: soil, sun, moisture in some form and nutrients. Also, the pre-emergent seed must deal with:
– temperatures and exposure,
– an inappropriate final resting place (in a tree, a cave, between a rock and a hard place, etc.),
– lack of available moisture,
– unsuitable land types,
– and being by any of the myriad other elements in nature, from: birds and animals large (bears) or small (rodents), insects, bacteria, molds, fungi in general and various other pathogens.
We did an experiment in the 80s, using 1 1/2 kilos of irradiated (for tracking purposes) seed (seed size is naturally split head) from the casuarina river variety. This species grows near the water’s edge and most of the tree stands on the water. Most of the seed is released at tree height (v. 20ft) to the river, as this is the natural seeding event of the plant, with the wind playing an important role. From this release and up to the next 5 years, we found that 3 trees survived. Think about that, 1 1/2 kilos of seed the size of a pin head. That’s a lot of seeds that don’t, in the best conditions.
This simple fact of seed prediction and life in nature, is why plants are such seed producers. Chances are nothing actually survives – it’s just a forest out there.
Now, provided the seed lands where it lives and survives, this is all well and good. But what about the poor people on the hill? Multiply the chances of getting hit additionally. So how can a plant survive in this situation?
In harsh environments, the plant needs a few tricks for survival:
Speed of germination and establishment:
Once the right conditions are met, they can be temporary. If, a plant arrives – in the land of the rock, on the land that can be settled, with some moisture, so take care of many questions, this may be the only day in the year that actually rains. Seed growth and establishment need to be fast, in hostile conditions.
One adaptation to the germination and establishment process, including the development of taproots. This is the main central root from which the smaller branch roots come. In hard areas, this taproot will be the first part of the plant to develop, increasing the water of the available soil depth as possible, as quickly as possible. Not only does this allow the plant to be more stable, but more importantly, it allows access to reserves of moisture and nutrients that are not available to plants with a smaller root system.
Changes in temperature:
There are those places on earth that experience the full gamut of seasonal weather in a day. Melbourne, Australia, comes readily to mind. On the one hand, depending on the aspect of the sun, a plant can experience temperatures well below freezing at night and hot throughout the day.
To understand this, plants have through natural selection, there are many protective changes to compensate. This can take the form of:
-A wax-like oil on the leaves that reduces water loss,
– a covering of hair on the leaves to reflect light, or dissipate heat,
-modified leaves, or needles, reduce leaf area and water loss,
– rhizomatous root systems, yams like deep roots buried to escape such extremes,
– small leaves to reduce moisture loss,
-and latex-like sap, further reducing evaporation, plant palatability and in some cases, acts as a kind of anti-freeze.
Let’s not forget annuals and herbaceous perennials. In harsh environments, once the conditions are right, annuals can grow, flower, set seeds, then die, all in a few weeks, and repeat the process the following year. Herbaceous perennials, will die down to ground level, possibly with a rhizome, to resist the effects of expansion and contraction due to freezing and thawing.
There are many plants that deter predators, especially predators, by having sterile leaves. This can take the form of prickles, poisonous juice, etc. Or for that matter, the great weakness of the plant.
If a plant has found a foothold in a place that meets all the requirements, but is under frequent damaging winds, adaptation can take the form of the way the plant grows, or shape. These plants will always grow either low to the ground, or in fact with it, to reduce wind resistance. The shape of the plant creates an ideal environment for continued growth and the subsequent shade can go a long way in keeping, or recapturing, moisture.
Some species, such as juniper and cypress, will readily lose the bark on the back side of the trunk, surviving at times with a thin vein of bark that can feed the tree. Uhh, starting to look like a bonsai.
There is no plant that will not survive without some kind of food. Again, in harsh environments, this comes down to chance. If we find a footprint in the lee of the rock, there is a very large possibility that there is food, due to the action of wind and rain, organic detritus will accumulate in these places, eventually it will break down to make a kind of compost. Of course not enough to grow vegetables, but just enough to maintain a plant that has known what a rock and a hard place is.
As these hardy plants grow, so the actual act of survival gets a little easier. Branches are begging for creatures to land on, adding their manure, the fact that the shelter provided will do the same. The bigger the plant, the more moisture it will take in its leaves and branches, either after rain or from the morning dew. This moisture, when it is on the leaves or needles, will be shed in the drip line, further increasing the moisture levels and the chance of survival.
Animals can burrow under or around the plant, mixing manure, soil, minerals and organic matter as they do so. All that may sound peachy only for the plant in question, however, progressing in the physical aspects of where it grows, will not turn into a Christmas tree. The deciding factor is still the environment. A healthy lifestyle will keep you alive, longer.
Most of the above, happens incrementally, on a molecular scale and is therefore painfully slow. The fact that a plant that survives an infected area, looks really, really, old – probably because it is. The growth room is soft, full of juice, fully exposed and not able to withstand the depredations of hard areas.
In this case, in those situations the plants become naturally occurring Bonsai, or environmental dwarf plants. It is purely a matter of survival.
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