May 18, 2024

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Cyathea rojaiana, a tropical tree fern that reuses its dead leaves

Cyathea rojaiana, a tropical tree fern that reuses its dead leaves

PANAMA CITY, February 27 (EFE).- The Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama reports that several scientists have discovered a fern endemic to the Central American country that is able to “revive” its dead leaves to turn them into root structures that they can grow to feed the mother plant.

Specifically, the fern Cyathea rojaiana was able to regenerate dead tissue, its “zombie leaves,” to reverse the flow of water and thus return nutrients to the plant, according to research published in the scientific journal Ecology, according to the Smithsonian Institution. Details in the statement.

“This is a new reuse of tissue,” said the discoverer, a professor of plant biology at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and a Smithsonian research associate. “It's different from what we know about other ferns.” , James Dalling.

Daling and his team discovered that this “strange phenomenon” occurs exclusively after the leaves die and fall to the ground, as “zombie leaves” extract nitrogen from the soil.

When the scientist was in a forest reserve in Panama, he realized that the fronds (fern leaves) were firmly embedded in the soil and had sprouted a network of small roots and after conducting tests in the laboratory, they noticed that the “fern leaves” extracted nitrogen from the soil.

Even after they become roots, wilted fronds look like decaying plant matter, which is likely why generations of plant biologists didn't realize they were performing a life-sustaining mission, Dalling says.

According to the scientist, it was already known that other plants, including some ferns, send out leaves in contact with the ground and sprout roots to support a new plant, but dead tissue remodeling to nourish the original plant had not been reported.

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“Zombie leaves” and “claws”, adapted to volcanic soil

C. Rojasiana is a species of plant belonging to an ancient lineage of tree ferns from the Jurassic period, so the “zombie leaves” are most likely an adaptation to nutrient-poor volcanic soil, Daling details.

The biologist says: “Panama is a land bridge between North America and South America. It merged 7 million years ago from an archipelago of islands, and those islands are the result of volcanic activity in the past.”

The irregularity of the vegetation means that soil nutrients are distributed unevenly as well. For this reason, tree ferns, which grow very slowly, appear to “stick their tentacles out to sample the soil around them,” Dalling says.

“They're able to sample a wider range of nutrient environments for the same amount of investment in roots than if they just sent a single rooting structure around the fern. I think it's all about the economics of how they use resources in the environment.” Irregular,” he says.

Each leaf represents a significant investment of resources that the plant reuses after the leaf dies. Slow growth also means the tree fern is short enough that it falls to the ground when its fronds die, he adds.

“They're probably putting on one or two leaves a year, so they're adding a few centimeters of height a year,” Dalling concludes.

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