Observation of the Week, 5/15/18

Our (City Nature Challenge) Observation of the Week is this Orobanche plant, seen in Italy by @finrod!

From April 27th - 30th of this year, sixty-nine cities took part in a worldwide friendly competition to get outside and document the wildlife around them - the City Nature Challenge! Rome was one of those cities, the World Wildlife Fund organized a bioblitz of the Parco di Centocelle, site of the first airport in Italy. While it had long been an area in disrepair and is still struggling with some environmental issues, iNat user (and bioblitz participant) Stefano Doglio - aka finrod - says “it's an important green area for the crowded, working class neighborhoods around it.”

While participating in this bioblitz, Stefano photographed the very cool plant you see above (and below). While there’s some disagreement over exactly which species it is, the plant is a member of Orobanche, a genus of about 200 completely parasitic plants. When not in bloom, these plants are entirely underground, slurping water and nutrients from the roots of other plants. The flowers and their stalks do break the surface of the soil and are often colored yellow, white, or blue-purple. Leaves are tiny and lack chlorophyll, so there is no green at all on these plants. Which is kind of awesome. Some species are only able to parasitize certain plants while other are generalists, and Orobanche ramosa is even considered to be an agricultural pest.

In English, Orobanches have the unfortunate common name of “broomrapes,” but the blog In Defense of Plants tells us:

in this context, rape stems from the Latin word “rapum,” which roughly translates to “tuber” or “turnip.” Broom is an English word that, in this context, refers to a shrubby plant related to vetch, which is often parasitized by broomrapes. So, the literal meaning of broomrape is something akin to “broom tuber.”

Whatever you call them, these are glorious, bizarre plants.

While he now lives in Rome, Stefano is from a small village in the Cottian Alps, near Italy’s border with France and says he he has “always” been interested in nature and the outdoors. “My current interests and research are ecology and biogeography of the Mediterranean region (to Central Asia),” he says. “Amphibians, and to a lesser extent orchids are my main interests taxonomy wise.”

Interestingly, Stefano says that he long ago made his own natural history observations database application, which

had been missing it until I found iNat (I first heard of it at the Mediterranean herpetology congress in Marrakech back in 2011, I think), [which is] even better because this way all this info doesn't just sit idly in a hard disk (or gather dust in a forgotten notebook) but can be shared and possibly be useful for others, for our collective knowledge... I gather and upload more observations that I wouldn't have collected if they had then just stayed in my hd/notebook.

- by Tony Iwane


- You can check out Stefano’s ResearchGate page as well some of his other photos on CalPhotos.

-  Stefano also worked on a free book - Jbel Sarhro – Maroc Projet d'établissement d'un Parc National - which you can download in French and Italian here. It stems from a project that is “trying to set up a new national park in Morocco's Anti-Atlas.” 

- Over 1,700 Orobanche sp. plants have been posted to iNaturalist - check them out here

Posted by tiwane tiwane, May 15, 2018 04:55 PM

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