The flora of southern Africa is not diverse enough to emulate hollies, part 1

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European holly (Ilex aquifolium,, and see also and North American holly (Ilex opaca, are well-known for mainly non-biological reasons.

(Other similar species occur in China, Taiwan, Mongolia, Korea and Japan: and and

These plants happen to be evergreen and they happen to have cheerfully ruddy fruits, which remain attached during winter (

Hence they have acquired symbolic meaning, around Christmas, when the rest of the vegetation is drab (

However, when viewed through the lens of a naturalist, the familiar hollies of the Northern Hemisphere represent a noteworthy combination of adaptive features. This combination has also arisen - owing to evolutionary convergence - under completely different identities in other floras around the world.

The familiar hollies combine the following two adaptations:

Leaf-spinescence is ecologically significant because it tends to occur in plants adapted to nutrient-poor soils, where foliage tends to be so fibrous that it is unpalatable. Such plants tend to be adapted for consumption by combustion rather than by animals.

(For flammability of hollies see and

Bright-hued, succulent fruit-pulp is ecologically significant because it tends to occur where vegetation is protected from intense wildfires, there is accumulation of organic matter in the soil, and potassium is consequently plentiful ( and

There is obviously some incongruity between nutrient-poverty and potassium-richness, and between flammable and wildfire-free situations.

For this reason, the niches for plants combining leaf-spinescence with fleshy fruits tend to be restricted, and these plants are ecologically noteworthy wherever they occur.

to be continued...

Posted on February 16, 2022 12:14 AM by milewski milewski


Posted by milewski over 1 year ago (Flag)
Posted by milewski over 1 year ago (Flag)

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