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Non-Flowering Plants

CyatheaceaeWestern Ghats

Cyathea nilgirensis – Nilgiri Tree Fern

Cyathea nilgirensis is a kind of tree fern that is endemic to south India. This should not be confused with Cyathea australis which is also a tree fern native to Australia. These tree ferns are found in shady places of the forests and along the sides of the streams. Generally these love to grow alongside water because it is the primary mode of reproduction for ferns!

Taxonomy

Kingdom:Plantae
Division:Pteridophyta
Class:Pteridopsida
Order:Cyatheales
Family:Cyatheaceae
Genus:Cyathea
Subgenus:Cyathea
Species:C. australis

Occurrence

The range of Cyathea nilgirensis is only in the Indian states of Kerala, Karnataka, Tamilnadu and Southern Andhra Pradesh. It is generally found on high altitudes from 600 metres to 2500 metres. They are mostly found along streams in the forests under the shade of other trees. Their range map as on IUCN website is below

Their primary habitat is in the Western Ghats, in the Tirunelveli hills and the Palani hills. They can be found along the ghat road in the Upper Palnis and on many of the surrounding Sholas. A fairly common species here but found rarely on the Kerala ghats and Andhra Pradesh. They are also occasionally found in the Anamalai hills.

Identification

Stem

These can grow upto 8 meters in height with a scaly dark brown or almost black trunk. The scales are pointed and very sharp. They cover and protect the young fronds. The trunk is woody and can be found with scars from fallen fronds.

Leaves

The leaves are bi-pinnate and fern-like. The leaves form a crown of fronds at the top of the main woody stem like a Palm tree. The leaves have a stout base, may reach upto 200 centimetres in length and the rachis is covered densely in brownish hairs. Leaf margins are crenate, membranous and the nerves forked.

Spores

The spores are found on the lower surface of the leaves. Sori situated on the vein forks of the lower half of the segments, exindusiate (indusium membranaceous), paraphyes intermingled with sporangia, spores trilete.

Reproduction

These ferns too like other ferns depend on spores as their primary mode of reproduction. This is why they are found near the streams in the forests. Without water, the sperms from antheridia cannot reach the egg cells in the archegonia. Learn more about the reproduction of ferns here.

Conservation status

Cyathea nilgirensis is regarded as “Least Concern” in the IUCN red list. However, these species are facing a decline of population due to habitat loss. The streams that flow in the hills of Western Ghats are being diverted for cultivation and this results in water deprivation for several downstream species. Due to this loss of water, the tree ferns are unable to withstand the following summers and their survival is at stake. Overgrazing of ground vegetation by domestic cattle from adjoining villages also suppresses the regeneration of the tree ferns.

These plant species too do not attract too much attention from the conservationists who concentrate mainly on the angiosperms in the Shola forests. They are also a part of our Sholas and should be saved as they are found nowhere else in the World!

More photos ūüôā

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Pinaceae

Pinus wallichiana – The Himalayan Pine

Pinus wallichiana

This variety of pine is native to India, Bhutan, Nepal, northern Pakistan. These trees are found in a wide range of areas from eastern Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Nepal, Bhutan and towards Yunnan in South west China. Pinus wallichiana is called as Bhutan Pine or Himalayan Blue Pine.

 

Taxonomy

Kingdom:Plantae
Division:Pinophyta
Class:Pinopsida
Order:Pinales
Family:Pinaceae
Genus:Pinus
Subgenus:Strobus
Species:wallichiana

Identification

These trees can be identified by the following charecteristics,

Needles

The leaves are in the form of needles and the needles are about 15 to 20 centimetres long. The needles appear in bundles of 5. The needles appear to be hanging from the branches rather than being erect as seen in other pine trees.

Pinus wallichiana forest in Ooty, Tamil Nadu, India, captured while my trip to Ooty!

Bark

Bark covered in Moss and Lichen

The bark of the young trees would be mostly reddish brown. But the bark gets thick and slate-grey coloured. The bark will also be shallowly fissured in old trees. The bark shown here is of an old tree with moss and lichen grown in the fissures.

Cones

The cones of Pinus wallichiana are generally long and slender. The cones vary in length from 16 to 32 cm. They are borne in the branches in bunches of 2 to 3 cones. The cones appear generally in the months of April to June. The seeds are 5 to 6 mm long with a 20 to 30 mm wings.

 

Economic Importance

The timber of these trees are considered of high quality and are used for local carpentry. The wood is generally resinous and it is durable. The wood is also useful in making tea-boxes. The timber is also a good firewood. It burns emitting a pungent smoke as the wood is resinous.

 

Pinus wallichiana cones from a fallen branch in a forest in Ooty, Tamil Nadu, India.

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Dicksoniaceae

Dicksonia antarctica – Tree Fern

Dicksonia antarctica

The tree ferns or Dicksonia antarctica is the most popular of the tree ferns species that are found naturally in the Oceania. Unlike the other ferns of their type, they grow upto 10 meters in height. Walking through a forest of Dicksonia antarctica, one can definitely feel like he has come to an ancient Jurassic or Triassic forest where dinosaurs lived!

Taxonomy

Kingdom:Plantae
Division:Pteridophyta
Class:Pteridopsida
Order:Cyatheales
Family:Dicksoniaceae
Genus:Dicksonia
Species:D. antarctica

Occurrence

The tree ferns are native to Australia. It is also found naturally in Tasmania and New Zealand. D. antarctica is the popular tree fern that is found in South Eastern Australia. They grow well and in abundance in moist and shady environments.

The fern grows on damp, sheltered woodland slopes and moist gullies, and they occasionally occur at high altitudes in cloud forests. – Wikipedia.

These ferns are generally tolerant to acidic, neutral or alkaline soil. They can grow in semi-sheltered places but hate droughts, and drying up of their roots.

Reproduction

These ferns generally reproducing by producing spores like other ferns. The spores are produced under their leaves. As these spores get matured, they are dispersed and they grow into a thallus containing male and female gametophytes which produce male and female gametes. The male gametes fertilize the egg cells and the zygote develops which then grows into a complete plant!

Dicksonia antarctica spores on the underside of a frond

Learn more about the life cycle of ferns here – Life Cycle of Ferns.

These trees can also be propagated vegetatively. This can be done by cutting the tree at  its base leaving its rhizome in the soil which dies off and the top part produces fronds and grows into a new tree when planted.

Once cut, the base looks like this. Beautiful isn’t it? But sadly it is left¬†die

The cut tree trunks or shoots that are ready to be planted. They’ll readily sprout and grow into new trees!

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Cupressaceae

Sequoiadendron giganteum – The Giant Sequoia

Sequoiadendron giganteum

Giant Sequoia trees are the largest growing tree varieties of all trees. They can easily reach a height of 300 feet. They are commonly called as redwoods.  They are non-flowering conifer trees that prefer to grow in colder climates!

Taxonomy

Kingdom:Plantae
Division:Pinophyta
Class:Pinopsida
Order:Pinales
Family:Cupressaceae
Subfamily:Sequoioideae
Genus:Sequoiadendron
Species:S. giganteum

Anatomy

The Sequoia trees will have a red bark (Trunk) as the name suggests “Redwoods”! Their leaves are needle like and these trees are conifers. Moreover, the Giant Sequoias are evergreen i.e., they bear their needles all the year long. ¬†This is an image of the foliage of the Giant Sequoia. Look for¬†Narrow, grey-green, flat, lance-like leaves with prickly ends, forming round, rope-like foliage sprays of short, overlapping scale-like needles. Opposite or alternate arrangement. The leaves would be sometimes grey on the rear-side.

Needles of Giant Sequoia

Male cones of Sequoiadendron giganteum

These Giants reproduce by producing male and female cones as seen in the image on the right. The male cones are smaller and produce pollen and disperse them in air. The female cones are larger and are formed at the ends of the needles. They get fertilised and the seeds get matured inside. As the seeds mature, the cones dry and open up to release the seeds which grow into new trees!

Male cones and female cones!

Occurrence

Redwoods like the Sequoia are native to Western Sierra Nevada, California, United States. These trees grow naturally here and had been doing this for several thousands of years. They grow well in cooler climates. They grow well here as the winters are snowy and the summers are dry. The Giants also seem to like the foggy climate as it brings more moisture. They grow and survive to their fullest in places with such climatic conditions. They also survive in a very few other places but not to their fullest!

They occur in scattered groves, with a total of 68 groves, comprising a total area of only 144.16¬†km2 (35,620 acres). Nowhere does it grow in pure stands, although in a few small areas, stands do approach a pure condition. The northern two-thirds of its range, from the American River in Placer County southward to the Kings River, has only eight disjunct groves. The remaining southern groves are concentrated between the Kings River and the Deer Creek Grove in southern Tulare County. Groves range in size from 12.4¬†km2 (3,100 acres) with 20,000 mature trees, to small groves with only six living trees. Many are protected in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. –Wikipedia.

Over Exploitation

These trees were ¬†discovered by the Europeans in 1839 and they called these trees “Mammoth trees” and had realised the value of its Timber! They started to play havoc on these poor trees and cut down most of them just for Timber! Now, these trees are near the verge of extinction and are severely protected. Despite of the protection, these trees still face high mortality due to drought in California, competition from other conifers, etc.

See the size of the trees compared to people. Yet they cut it down without sympathy ūüôĀ

The images are from Google which shows how severe was the logging back those days.

You can read about this further in the following websites, Monumental Trees and National Park Service.

General Sherman Tree

 

General Sherman is a Giant Sequoia tree located in the Giant Forest of Sequoia National Park in Tulare County, in the U.S. state of California. By volume, it is the largest known living single stem tree on Earth.

You can view this YouTube video to know the real size of this tree! One true Giant!

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