Saturday, June 08, 2013

Name this tree!

There are dozens of trees like this in Venice, California (USA) in the neighborhood where my grandchildren live. Can you name this tree (common name and species name)?

Can you come up with an adaptationist explanation for why this tree is so different from most other trees and bushes?




57 comments :

  1. This tree looks like a Jacaranda sp. a southamerican tree of Bignonacea family

    ReplyDelete
  2. Well, if the tree was associated with a specific pollinating insect, one could argue the tree's defining characteristics reflect the preferences of that insect, and so it's evolution into that tree has been "selected for".

    Of course, one then has to ask why that inect finds those features attractive and not others etc. etc.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Not that I consider myself an adaptationist anyway.

      Delete
  3. 'so different' in what way? More purple? More flowers? Bigger? Smaller? Leafier?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. In my experience, most trees don't have brightly colored flowers. The lilacs in our back yard are an exception. If you fly over a typical North American forest you don't see much color in the spring.

      Why does this tree have bright purple flowers?

      Delete
    2. Many North American trees are pollinated by wind. Flowers can be inconspicuous in these plants. We don't have Jacarandas in North Carolina, but I know that other plants in the Bignoniaceae family are pollinated by insects and birds.
      Color probably attracts the insects or birds. I don't know if they are particularly fragrant, but that would also be attractant. If they attract insects, they probably also provide nectar. I know hummingbirds and bees liked my Bignonia vine (that had orangey-red colored flowers).

      And let's not forget that humans have probably been selecting the most ornamental plants for centuries (longer?). Even if that's not a particular cultivar (cultivated variety) it has likely been selected either vegetatively or by seeds from the best bloomers and the species itself has possibly changed.

      Delete
    3. I think the main difference from most other trees and bushes is that you're Canadian. Here is California there are plenty of native trees and bushes with brightly colored flowers. Now, if you restrict yourself to trees, you have a bit better case. Of all the sizeable trees, only buckeyes have showy flowers (at least, that I think of). The obvious adaptive explanation is animal pollination vs. wind pollination, but we are still left with the question of why some trees use one and some trees the other. Direct response to selection or simple inheritance? You could start by looking at the phylogenetic distribution of tree habit and animal pollination. That might provide some clues.

      Delete
    4. John, do you know if much phylogenetic work has been done with plants?
      All I ever see is animals, animals, animals!
      I'd love to see more about plants. And I don't mean crop plants.

      Delete
    5. The Blue Jacaranda has been widely introduced into the US, Africa, Australia, etc. Its native land is Bolivia and Argentina. There it is visited and presumably pollinated by hummingbirds, bumblebees (Bombus) and other large bees (Eulaema and the likes). The 'explosive' flowering seems allow trees to be seen from afar. This may help reproduction, especially when trees are well spaced. Flowering synchrony is also important, for each individual tree may only flower for a week or two.
      Larry: There are many, many tropical Bignoniaceae and Leguminosae (among others) tree species with gaudy flowers. Canada is exceedingly depauperate and atypical with regard to evolutionary diversity. You should take a trip to the tropics with some 'adaptationists'.
      W. Benson

      Delete
    6. I've been in tropical rain forests and I don't recall seeing many trees covered with colorful flowers. Nevertheless, I bow to your expertise.

      Since there are so many tropical trees that survive just fine without having to attract animal pollinators, what selective advantage does blue jacaranda have? And why didn't it take over the rain forest?

      Delete
    7. I think one has to be up in the canopy to see colorful flowers. I'd expect more white and flowers with scent attractants in the dim of the understory.
      I wouldn't expect too many wind pollinated plants in rainforests. I really can't think of too many tropical plants not pollinated by animals.

      "And why didn't it take over the rain forest?", Larry, I am surprised to hear this from you. Perhaps I misread.

      Delete
    8. Lynn,

      Of course there's plenty of phylogenetic work done by plants. For a quick entry into the literature, try http://tolweb.org/Angiosperms, though I see it hasn't been updated lately.

      Delete
    9. Thanks for the reminder, John. I haven't visited that site in a while and hadn't noticed there were plants. You are right that that's easier than searching papers--better with my schedule. Besides most papers have just a few bits of phylogeny, don't they?
      It would be nice if they'd update that site

      And I just checked OneZoom TOL to see if they've gotten to plants yet and they seem to be working on it. I do hope they keep it up. Check it out here: http://www.onezoom.org/plants_Soltis2.htm It's still in Latin (but I like that--I don't know animals nearly as well as I do plants) and just to genus as far as I can tell. I can't wait until it is as complete as the other trees. I used the mammal tree with my high school bio class. Now they've put all the tetrapods together.

      Delete
    10. Sorry the link got a little lost in there:
      Here it is again:
      http://www.onezoom.org/plants_Soltis2.htm

      Delete
    11. lynnwilhelm: Another good source for plant phylogeny is the plant phylogeny website (http://www.mobot.org/MOBOT/research/APweb/). It's technical as hell, but I enjoy browsing the trees and finding out relationships between things.

      I see that the Bignoniaceae (including Jacaranda) is in the mint order (Lamiales), in a subgroup with unresolved relationships. Plants in that subgroup include Acanthus, Verbena, and the aquatic carnivorous bladderworts. A group can be "unresolved" because it hasn't been studied enough, or because it diversified really fast a long time ago, so it's hard to find genes that track the relationships well.

      Delete
    12. Larry, your comments about this tree are really surprising! Tropical forests have many mass-flowering showy trees. Lynn is absolutely right; virtually every tree in the rain forest is pollinated by active creatures seeking rewards. The pollinator diversity is staggering, and the floral diversity is also great, but far from random. Floral morphology of most trees is very specialized to attract a small subset of the total range of potential pollinators.

      I strongly suggest that you spend more time in nature, preferably with an ecologist. You will quickly come to respect the adaptationist position. Your comments in this thread and others show that your emphasis on drift is not based on close examination of real nature.
      LJ

      Delete
    13. @unknown (LJ),

      I'll take you at your word. I'm not familiar with tropical trees and it may be true that large numbers of them are covered with flowers at certain times of the year.

      I know of several examples in temperate climates such as the lilacs in our back yard and cherry and apple trees.

      Your other comment is bizarre. I'm well aware of the fact that field biologist have adaptationist explanations for every single shape and variety of flowers and leafs. That does not mean they can't be questioned. For example, what is the evolutionary advantage of specializing in attracting only a small subset of potential pollinators? Why not be a generalist or rely on the wind? Why don't all the palm trees in the neighborhood have colorful flowers? They seem to be surviving quite well without that selective advantage.

      Delete
    14. The evolutionary advantage of a specialized plant/pollinator relationship is that it works!
      Of course being specialized is only an advantageous adaptation if your pollinator is always around, if not...extinction. Adaptation fail.

      I'm sure you would agree that a working adaptation does not mean it's the best solution.

      I have just recently learned of this argument about selection vs. drift and I'm a bit stymied. It seems that both are important, but wouldn't selection always "win" when the environment changes? I do suppose that drift has been downplayed too much, but in my layman's eye I see that nature ultimately selects what works and what doesn't? And couldn't drift result in adaptations that could be selected?

      Or is the argument about adaptationism? Because I try very hard not to look at evolution teleologically, I have a hard time understanding why some people would think that everything could be an "adaptation". As Barbara and others said in other comments, there could (should be) be a lot of chance involved in the adaptation process.

      Barbara I am familiar with MOBOT as a good database for information on ornamental plants, I hadn't looked at what else they had. I have a horticultural background and need to start thinking more like a botanist to find out more. Thanks again.

      Delete
    15. Try Deep Green too: http://ucjeps.berkeley.edu/bryolab/GPphylo/

      Delete
    16. I am fairly sure lynnwilhelm has hit it on the head. There are various "competing" selective pressures, and some of them may work over very long time horizons.

      In the short run, it may be advantageous to evolve some costly signalling to get more females to mate with, in the long run it may doom your species.

      In the short run, specialized pollination may be a good adaptation because it is more precise and you save costly pollen. In the long run, it is the generalists that survive because this or that pollinator group dies out, at least locally.

      Delete
  4. Jacaranda?

    Blooms twice per year.

    Can't determine species without a much closer look. Maybe acutifolia?

    ReplyDelete
  5. Definitely Jacaranda. A rainforest tree from South America. Rainforest tree species often have a reproductive strategy involving producing massive numbers of brilliantly coloured flowers all at once. The Australian flame tree, Brachychiton, is another example

    upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/5/59/...

    ReplyDelete
  6. Jacaranda (mimosifolia?). I lived in Santa Monica for a few months and most of the streets in the neighbourhood were covered with a thick carpet of falling jacaranda flowers at this time of the year.

    ReplyDelete
  7. PS They call it the blue jacaranda, if you need the common name. I'm afraid I have no adaptationist explanation for the colour of the flowers other than that already suggested by Rumraket (attractive to bees or humminbirds, or whatever pollinates jacarandas).

    ReplyDelete
  8. As a botanist, I have no idea what you consider so different about this species. Different in what way from what other species?

    And if it is about the flowers, adaptationist explanations do make a lot of sense because a plant that does not get pollinated will not reproduce and die out.

    If you want to talk about random walks in botany, go for leaf margins or leaf division (e.g., "provide an adaptationist explanation for the huge diversity of leaf shapes in the oak genus"). As long as the plants live in a well-watered habitats, the major selective pressure on leaves appears to be that they should be flat, but everything else looks like historical contingency plus stochastics.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Alex, there is often more to it than that, though as you implied, being well-watered does take away some of the pressure. Compound and serrated leaves have advantages in some drier climates. Leaf size varies regularly with rainfall and humidity. Leaf shape can be driven by insect predation (Passionflowers, for example). Leaf waxiness is typical of certain environments, across taxa. Fuzziness is also common across taxa in certain habitats. Deciduousness is common across taxa in seasonally dry or cold habitats. Even when contingency and history play a big role, part of that history is often due to past adaptations; for example, many compound-leaved trees that now live in wet forests belong to families that seem to have their evolutionary centers in drier forests, where compound leaves are favored.

      I don't deny the role of drift and contingency, but I strongly disagree with Larry's insistence that so many morphological characters are due to drift. Looking closely at nature, that is not a reasonable inference.
      Lou Jost

      Delete
    2. But wouldn't leaf shape also be associated with light exposure? I know I have heard this, but I don't know if any work has been done on it.
      However, leaf arrangement and shape could maximize the amount of light reaching leaf surfaces. Then add in coatings, margins and overall shapes to maximize available water.
      It would of course be a compromise between maximizing light exposure and minimizing water loss where necessary.

      Delete
    3. I think you guys misunderstand. This is me, who LM would likely consider to be an "adaptationist", leaning over backwards to try to find something morphological in botany where it may makes more sense to assume drift than in flowers of all things.

      Of course there are lots of selective pressures on leaves but all else being equal there really is no particular reason why a leaf should be serrate instead of crenate around the margins, for example.

      Delete
    4. Alex, it was your last sentence that seemed to bend too far towards drift. It is certainly not true as stated. But point taken, some leaf characters are better candidates for drift explanations than major floral characters. I don't think leaf margination is beyond selection, though. Different margins may have different abilities to dispose of guttation water, or shed dew or rain, or alter the duration of surface films of water on the leaf after rain, or deter specific herbivorous insects (who nearly always start eating at the margins), or cool more or less efficiently by affecting the laminar/turbulent flow regime of air passing over the leaf, or to imitate herbivory damage in order to attract visually-oriented parasites or predators of herbivores, etc. These are testable claims, either in the lab or by seeing whether certain habitats had an excess of one type of margination across families.
      LJ

      Delete
    5. Alex - You are incorrect about leaf margins. The nature of leaf margins is very strongly correlated with mean annual temperature (MAT). This his been a well-known fact ever since Bailey and Sinnott showed nearly a century ago that the percentage of leaves with toothed margins increases with MAT. It is a nearly perfect correlation and is probably because toothed margins have more area for photosynthesis early in the growing season. This is the basis for the widely used tool of Leaf Margin Analysis in paleoecology. Unfortunately, you chose one of the most well established cases of leaf morphology correlated with climate.

      Delete
    6. Sorry - I meant to write above that toothed margin leaves increase with DECREASING MAT. The point is that all of this is part of the botanical subfield of leaf physiognomy. You can find out more about LMA here for starters: http://www.smithsonianeducation.org/educators/lesson_plans/climate_change/

      Delete
    7. Thanks for the link umkomasia. This lesson will be one I might be able to us in my high school classes.

      Lots of adaptations in trees...

      Delete
  9. Ah, a fun set of thoughts followed by, “but then on the other hand . . . .” And thank you for explaining that the colorful flowers are the “anomaly”, for purposes of your question.

    The question “Can you come up with an adaptationist explanation . . . ?” is kind of silly because of course I can. The more useful question would be, “Can you come up with an adaptationist explanation that seems to have some meaningful relationship with reality?”

    This tree is obviously adapted to pollination by animals (probably large insects or birds). The size, shape, overall color, color pattern, scent, pollen presentation, nectar supply, etc., of the flowers are shaped by natural selection because these traits attract animals that transport pollen, necessary for fitness. Adaptation, adaptation, adaptation.

    On the other hand, ancestral flowering plants were pollinated by insects. Colorful flowers are the default, so to speak. Perhaps what needs explanation here is why most of the trees you’re familiar with in Toronto have the small, green or brown flowers associated with wind pollination, not why this tree has big colorful flowers. (And then we may need to explain why/how some insect-pollinated plants like willows and the sedges Cymophyllus fraserisanus and Eriophyllum cringerum evolved from wind-pollinated flowering plants that evolved from insect-pollinated ancestral flowering plants, which evolved from wind-pollinated protogymnosperms – but let’s not go there just now.)

    Once a tree has a relationship with an effective pollinator, selection will “improve” the tree, making it a more effective attractor of that pollinator. Adaptation.

    However, what causes a particular pollinator to establish a relationship with the tree? There were probably many potential pollinators, and the few that ended up “selecting” the trees traits were those present in the ancestral tree’s environment, responsive to its traits, and most effective at transporting pollen. Many potential pollinators might have “worked.” The outcome isn’t due to chance alone, but it might have been different. And it may become different in the future, depending on the pollinators present in the habitats to which humans move these trees and the mutations that occur in the trees.

    Assuming that the tree established a pollen-transporting relationship with animal species X, did it have to produce flowers of this exact color, shape and size? Probably not. The pollinator would probably have responded to other signals. In fact, it probably does respond to other signals and visits other plant species. The large purple flowers result from chance. Mostly chance. Chance constrained by what the ancestral trees could do and the behavior of their ancestral pollinators.

    However, it is important that all the trees present the same signal, because pollinators will probably move on to another, similar tree. Odd ones are less likely to be pollinated. Adaptation, adaptation to a probably arbitrary standard.

    Now this tree species has to respond to human cultivation, and may be very successful even if no effective pollinators visit it – a new wrinkle in its evolution.

    And so forth, in a swirling sea of selection, adaptation, chance, and phylogenetic constraints.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. A fantastic response, Barbara. I wish I could have said it as well as you did.

      Both chance and selection are needed.
      Can't we all just get along?

      Delete
    2. Thanks! And I meant Eriophorum, not Eriophyllum in my mini-essay. Should have stuck with the older name, Scirpus.

      Delete
  10. Pretoria is known as the Jacaranda City

    http://camerazzi.net/2010/01/08/jacaranda-city/

    But Johannesburg actually have far more Jacaranda's than Pretoria.

    http://www.joburgexpat.com/2010/11/jacarandas-in-bloom.html

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This is what my City looks like with the Jacaranda's in bloom. Beautiful!

      http://theycallmemummy.com/2012/10/22/peppermint-crisp-pudding/jacaranda/

      Delete
    2. Some info on the Jacaranda City

      http://www.gopretoria.co.za/the-jacaranda-city

      And of course some info on Joburg and Jacaranda's


      http://citysearchblog.yellowpages.co.za/citysearchblog/post/245829

      Delete
  11. Actually, I amazed that a Jacaranda tree can survive in Toronto - a city with exty feet of snow in winter.

    Grafton, New South Wales, also has a Jacaranda festival.

    When, in the far distant past, I was at university in Brisbane, Queensland, the Jacaranda was known as the Examination Tree, because it flowered when the Dreaded Event rolled around.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Tim, that tree is in California, not Toronto. Would need to be in a conservatory up there.

      Delete
  12. Botany has come a long way in recent years. Contrary to what is implied in some of the comments here, we don't just make it up as we go along. Hypothesis of adaption or other constraints on floral morphology is a very active are of study, and is based on a rigorous phylogenetic framework, observations, and experiments. Nobody yet in this thread seems to have taken a look at the primary literature. Floral evolution is well studied in the family to which this plant belongs (Bignoniaceae). Start here:Pollination Biology of Jacaranda oxyphylla with an Emphasis on Staminode Function, Ann Bot. 2008 November; 102(5): 699–711. This is just one of many good studies of this kind.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I was just thinking that a look at the literature would be a good idea. I just searched "floral phylogeny" at my library and have a lot of reading I can do. (I've graduated recently and don't know how long I'll have access.)

      Delete
    2. "Nobody yet in this thread seems to have taken a look at the primary literature. " umkomasia, that's a bit presumptuous of you. I based my leaf morphology remarks on the literature. There is a large literature on how plant morphology relates to environmental constraints.
      LJ

      Delete
    3. Point taken LJ. But most of the commenters seem mostly obvious to this fact. There is not only a large literature on this topic in general but specifically about the plant in question.

      Delete
    4. But the answer to Larry's question may in fact have little to do specifically with the plant in question. It appears that the entire family has large, showy flowers, so the answer to how this species got to be that way could be just that it inherited a characteristic from its ancestors. What study of the species itself might tell us is how that characteristic is maintained by selection, not how it arose.

      Delete
  13. I think you need to get out more, Larry. There's lots of flowering trees in Toronto in the Spring! e.g.: http://torontoist.com/2013/05/cherry-blossoms-bloom-at-high-park/

    ReplyDelete
  14. I can't name the tree but it makes a creationist case.
    Rather then seeing mutation and selection creating new species it would be better to see trees etc as just taking advantage of opportunity to thrive in RICH areas.
    So originally , after the great flood, the world was so rich in climate, like the amazon today, that easily the slightness difference in a typr of tree etc would breed and thrive within feet of its parents. Not desperate mutationism but easy minor differences in pffspring getting rich options.
    The biblical creationist can see massive adaptation as a result of a original great climate and diversity created by great options to bredd within minor changes from birth. I think diversity however is also from innate triggers greatly changing bodies.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Creationists believe in more and faster evolution than evolutionists do. You gotta love it!

      Delete
    2. And did trees get planted in the hold in twosies because they were "Unclean?" Or did they get planted in sevensies? Or did the seeds float on the flotsam and jetsam of the flood until the waters receded and germinate where they laid?

      It's a fun thought, Lynn.

      Delete
  15. I live in West LA, about 5 miles north of Venice. After reading this yesterday, I made it a point to see if I could spot one of these trees the next time I was in the area.

    Then I discovered one about a block away from my house. And now I'm seeing them pretty much everywhere I look! Love the fragrance, too.

    ReplyDelete
  16. lutesuite
    Its not evolution by selection on mutation plus time.
    Its just wealth and health of migrating flora. Every niche is taken by minor differences in offspring. no mutations needed.
    Yes there must be and is other mechanisms for great changes.
    I am confident within years or decades land creatures became the marine creatures we know and love and eat today.
    I am confident of many great morphological changes even quicker. Finally I'm confident that all the present, or almost, differences in mankind were already here within a century or two after the flood.
    So no slow evolution but serious triggering of innate biological mechanisms yet undiscovered.
    We all need mechanisms to explain the diversity.

    ReplyDelete
  17. I second guessed myself, thinking, "nah, that isn't a jacaranda..."

    It seems that trying to find the tree that grew in the front yard of my childhood home is next to impossible when I'm is looking for it; it appears only when not!

    The pictured example is a little different from the species (variety?) that I knew: This has multiple trunks converging at the ground. Mine had a single, solid trunk and vast canopy. But, of course, lots of the same sticky, purple flowers that ended up as a purple carpet on the ground.

    Here's my "adaptationist" explanation for why this tree is so different from most other trees and bushes:

    They are different for the same reason house cats and domesticated dogs are different from most other felines and Canidae: Because people really like them for all the reasons peculiar to humans! Maybe it's the perfect combination of evergreen, filtered light and abundant, perfumed flowers? We keep planting them (or not cutting them down), so they keep growing and reproducing -- naturally, in varieties we tend also to prefer.

    Or, not. How would I know?

    ReplyDelete
  18. Alexander,
    The form of the tree could be affected by how it is grown. Multitrunk or single stems can be created by a nursery for the trade. Multiple trunks can also result for damage to a tree which caused multiple shoots to grow from the base.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Can you come up with an adaptationist explanation for why this tree is so different from most other trees and bushes?

    That's a curious formulation, which I would have read without surprise on ENV. It's like saying "why doesn't everything have a long neck, if it's so great being a giraffe?".

    The basis of any adaptive explanation in a sexual species is relative to alleles in an ancestral population, not in unrelated (or at least, more distantly related) species. As others have noted, the specific conditions of its ancestors, and the role of human selectors, will have a significant influence. And constraint and contingency, of course.

    My own tendency would be to assume adaptation as the 'default' explanation in the matter of flowers - nectar, scent, shape, colour and pattern in the visible and the uv are all typically adaptive in insect-pollinated species. One could, of course, point to these same features in asexual species. But since these invariably have sexual ancestors, relatively recent, this does not disbar an adaptive explanation for their origin.

    ReplyDelete
  20. Can you come up with an adaptationist explanation for why this tree is so different from most other trees and bushes?

    I don't know whether to call this parochialism, naivite, or ignorance.
    Question: why should anybody pay attention to bloviations about biological evolution from somebody who doesn't know the first thing about organisms?

    ReplyDelete
  21. this tree Botanical name - Strobilanthus kunthiana and common name - Neelakuranji

    ReplyDelete