Nature Diary 4: If you don’t value small things….

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An Egletes prostrata on the San Pedro plain, flowering on a small piece of earth providing enough nutrients for the plant to grow and prosper. The flower as we see it is actually a group of small individual flowers.

During our wanderings about the island in both residential and natural areas we always find something fun to photograph, to film or to write an article about. The latest addition to our camera kit gives us the opportunity to put those little things you generally tend to overlook or even trample, in the spotlights. Only when these members of the local flora and fauna become better visible by means of macro shots, you’ll realize how enormously diverse the natural environment of our island of only 444 square kilometers really is, and how little we know about it and pay attention to. Sinful! In this article some small insights.

Close up of an Egletes prostrata

A daisy?

One of our recent wanderings brought us to the San Pedro plain. The rains transformed the normally dry and dusty landscape into an area with many red-brown colored puddles, and green and fresh looking vegetation which flowered with a vengeance. Precisely on this plain, where the living conditions generally are harsh, because of the lack of nutrients within the thin layer of soil which forms in pockets in the limestone rock, combined with the salty sea breeze, it is almost unbelievable to encounter life on the surface. The ignorant eye might only perceive a small plant with curled leaves which looks inconspicuous until one becomes aware of a small flower with a yellow center and white petals that looks suspiciously like a daisy.
The Latin scientific name of this plant is Egletes prostrata, which is certainly not the Bellis Perennis, the scientific name of the daisy as known in Europe. However, the two plants are distant relatives of each other since they both belong to the Asteraceae (Composite family).

Drawing of a ribbon flower, to which the Egletes prostrata belongs. The individual yellow flowers have a corolla that is fused into one petal. A = the ovary, B = pappus (reduced chalice in the form of hairs that can grow into fluff that ensure dissemination of the seed), C = anthers (part of the pollen thread), D = reduced corolla, E = pestle. Illustration: Wikipedia

This family is huge. About 25,000 species have been described worldwide. The family is characterized by so-called reduced flowers. The actual flowers are clustered in flower heads, which as a whole give the impression of being one flower. In fact, the yellow “heart” of the flower is a collection of a large number of individual flowers, or ribbons. In biology these flowers are called the disc flowers. The drawing shows how an individual flower is built up.
The flowers are hermaphroditic, which means that they consist of both female and male reproductive organs, the pistil and stamens.
The plant occurs on several islands in the Caribbean and South America. On Curaçao no local name is known. In botanical databases in the Caribbean the plant is called the prostrate Tropic Daisy, or loosely translated the tropical daisy that hangs forward. A daisy after all, with a tropical detour.

Wild tea

Along the dirt road across the plain many more surprises are to be found for those looking for the little beauties in the plant kingdom. The Capraria biflora is one of them. On the Island the plant is called the Tanchi (aunt), but in English it has even more vivid names like Goat Weed, or Wild Tea. In favorable conditions the plant can grow to a height of 1.5 meters, but on the San Pedro plain it does not look like that anywhere. Often you’ll find it growing flat along the surface, and growing in between other plants such as wabi and indju that usually will not grow too high on this location as well. But sometimes the plant grows alone. Not surprising when you consider that the plant really does not like shade at all. The plant has striking bright green tapered leaves which are quite jagged at the edges. The flowers occur usually in pairs or threes together in the axils of the leaves. If you are lucky you will also find the seed pods on the plant that look like capsules of about half a centimeter long containing tiny yellow seeds. The plant occurs on all three Leeward islands, and also in the United States (Texas and Florida), Central and South America, the Caribbean and even the Galapagos Islands.

The plant grows in many areas including in meadows, along rocky shores and sandy beaches. In areas where it rains a lot but also where it’s relatively dry. On low-lying areas to mountainous landscapes up to 1000 meters elevation. It is so widespread that scientists assume that the plant probably needs disturbed areas to be able to establish itself, areas that have been scraped bare, burnt or disturbed in other ways.

The Tanchi with a flower.

The plant can bloom year round, in principle, but on our island you’ll observe a strong relationship with rainy periods. On the San Pedro plain this is certainly true. It is not only difficult to stay alive in the dry season because of the lack of fresh water, but the dusty material that is easily swept up by wind and passing traffic sometimes covers the plants in such way that they collapse.
The seeds of the plant are generally spread by wind and water, or stick to the fur and feathers of passing animals. Research in Puerto Rico has shown that one gram of seed of this plant consists of an average of 42,300 seeds. If this also holds true for the plants on Curacao is not known, but it will probably be in this order of magnitude. It is therefore a good thing that not all seeds will actually grow into plants. Otherwise, the island would be covered with these plants very quickly.

Secondary plant

Because the plant does well on disturbed land, it is an ideal plant for the recovery of these grounds. It not only ensures the protection of soil, because its roots prevent erosion and its leaves provide shading for the germination of other plants, it also provides protection to animals like insects, and it produces nectar that is devoured by butterflies and other animals. Therefore it is an attractive plant for those who like butterflies in the garden.
The plant can not be used as regular tea, despite the name Wild Tea. In many countries, however, tea is extracted from the leaves as a homeopathic remedy in the form of an eye bath, to fight itchy skin or as a general health drink. The potion is also used elsewhere to combat fever, flu, vomiting, recovery from childbirth and other ailments. Because of the disorientation and paralysis that the overuse of the plant can cause one must be careful with its dosage. On Curaçao, the plant is used together with the Kokólode (Heliotropium angiospermum), according to the website of herbalist Dinah Veeris.

About Michelle da Costa Gomez

One Response to “Nature Diary 4: If you don’t value small things….”

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  1. dr mahmod says:

    thanks from botany lover and physician