Tuesday, 12 March 2013

On the path of the begin

The Gaokerena tree, or the Tree of Life in the Zoroastrian tradition, is one of the manifestations of the Haoma-plant. In the legend, divine birds have brought the plant from heaven to the Elburz Mountains (Iran). According to the Zoroastrian tradition the plant it is collected in a box, placed in an iron vase and only after the priest has washed several pieces of the plant it can be used along, of course, rituals and prayers. The sacred juice is usually mixed with other herbal extractions and finally you have it - Amrut, an authentic elixir of life!

The Gaokerena Tree, or the Tree of Life

This plant was believed to give strength to men and gods, some myths say that the juice from this plant can restore and give long life along with other important properties. Such a deep meaning for a culture, I thought, the plant had to have hallucinogenic effects – that is how many times humans relate the terrain with the mystical and sacred, or the other side of life. For sure this “long-life elixir” had to be related with it and indeed, most specialists have been trying to understand which plant were in the origin of the sacred recipe. A lot of theories have rouse, but Ephedra seems to be a good hint, and ephedrine the main component of the heavenly drink.

Those who know Ephedra are familiar with its peculiarity and are aware that this plant does not have flowers – so what is the purpose, you might be thinking, of posting a story of a non-flowering plant in a blog about flowers? The answer is simple: because of evolution. The evolutionary history of flowers is a very interesting story on its own, and, even though the discussion about the ancestor of flowering plants is still running, Ephedra seems to have characters of both Angiosperms and Gymnosperms. It is true that it does not have real flowers, but cones (similarly to Conifers); however… What is in fact a flower? A structure bearing sexual organs and protective leaf-like organs.  The strobili were already compared to inflorescences of angiosperms, and there are indeed similarities – so, even though Ephedra does not have real flowers (according to the modern definition of flower), the reproductive structures resemble so, they seem to be the ancestors of flowers (or at least inflorescences).

A – Part of a male strobilus; B – Cyme (type of inflorescence in Angiosperms) The circles represent both microsporangia (A) or flowers (B); Comparing both structures, the strobilus resembles a condensed cyme, where the bracts act as a perianth (already present as part of the flowers in B)

Ephedra is usually dioecious, with male and female strobili and each strobili acts as a condensed inflorescence, where each bract bears a flower, a group of micro or megasporangium (except for the lower bracts which are usually sterile). Each one of these sporangia are also protected by leaf-like structures, the bracteoles.

Even though it is not represented here, each microsporangium is borne in a stalk called sporangiophore
[Photo Source: http://www.plantsystematics.org]  

Meanwhile the male strobilus produces a large number of microsporangia, the female strobilus produces only a pair of ovules, each corresponding to a terminal bract.
Though anemophily (pollination through wind) is an important pollination syndrome in Ephedra, it is been reported entomophily in some species. The pollen grains are caught in the pollination drop, which contains many nutrients, including high concentration of sucrose. Also, some authors argue that drops of nectar can be found in both female and male cones in several species, which contributes to the attraction of insects to do the very much appreciated job of pollen transfer and the consequent origin of the modern flower.

[Photo Source: http://www.plantsystematics.org]


  1. Amazing blog!Great knowledge and information! Cpngratulations, keep the project :) João

  2. Thank you João! :) It is really good to hear people's feedback!