Field of Science

Tears of a Baby

For many people, the most familiar members of the plant family Urticaceae are the stinging nettles. However, the nettles make up only one part of this cosmopolitan family and there are many representatives that do not sting. One such plant is Soleirolia soleirolii, commonly referred to by the vernacular name of baby's tears.

Baby's tears Soleirolia soleirolii growing around dwarf horsetail Equisetum scirpoides, copyright Carnat Joel.


The only species of its genus, Soleirolia soleirolii is a small creeping herb with more or less succulent stems and subcircular leaves half a centimetre or less in diameter (Harden 1990). It grows in damp habitats and may even grow submerged in water. Baby's tears form a dense flat mat with stems rooted at the nodes. The tiny white flowers reach only a millimetre in size. Wikipedia lists a number of vernacular names for this plants, such as baby's tears, angel's tears, Corsican creeper, or mind-your-own-business (I have no idea what this last name refers to).

In its native range, Soleirolia soleirolii is mostly restricted to islands of the western Mediterranean, including Corsica, Sardinia and Majorca, with a localised mainland population near Rome in Italy (Schüßler et al. 2019). A population was also recently discovered near the coast of Algeria (Hamel & Boulemtafes 2017). On the basis of molecular phylogenetic dating, Schüßler et al. (2019) suggested that its current range may be relictual, having gone extinct over most of mainland Europe as the climate changed. However, as those who glanced at the references for this post may have already guessed, Soleirolia has now become established in many parts of the world outside its native range. It has often been grown as a ground cover or houseplant. If it finds itself somewhere it likes, it may become invasive; though easily uprooted, its proclivity for vegetative reproduction means that it can easily return if not thoroughly cleared. And so we have a paradox, where what is regarded as a valuable relict in one location may be considered a vexatious weed in another.

REFERENCES

Hamel, T., & A. Boulemtafes. 2017. Découverte d'une endémique tyrrhénienne Soleirolia soleirolii (Urticaceae) en Algérie (Afrique du Nord). Flora Mediterranea 27: 185–193.

Harden, G. J. (ed.) 1990. Flora of New South Wales vol. 1. New South Wales University Press.

Schüßler, C., C. Bräuchler, J. A. Reyes-Betancort, M. A. Koch & M. Thiv. 2019. Island biogeography of the Macaronesian Gesnouinia and Mediterranean Soleirolia (Parietarieae, Urticaceae) with implications for the evolution of insular woodiness. Taxon 68 (3): 537–556.

No comments:

Post a comment

Markup Key:
- <b>bold</b> = bold
- <i>italic</i> = italic
- <a href="http://www.fieldofscience.com/">FoS</a> = FoS