Thursday, 12 July 2012

The beauty of simplicity

I have been trying for long time to talk about palm tree flowers. Palm trees have a great symbology in some religions, being considered as the tree of life in ancient Egypt, and in the Kabballah. In Judaism it has a symbolic importance as one of the four plants used during the Sukkot, according to the Torah. Also in the Quraan palm trees, especially date palm trees, are mentioned several times, and so a certain significance is given in the Islamic culture. In Christianity, palm leaves are used to celebrate the Palm Sunday, the Sunday before Easter, remembering Jesus’ triumphal entry in Jerusalem. It happens that in the region where all these monotheistic religions were founded, palm trees are probably the taller trees growing in the wild, so it does not surprise me that they are mentioned in the sacred books in many different occasions, giving them this mysticism.

Virgin Mary nurtured by a palm tree, as described in the Quran (Source: Wikipedia)

However, Arecaceae (the family of palm trees) is originally from tropical and sub-tropical regions, where they are much more diverse due to the typical wet and hot conditions. That is probably why palm trees are usually associated with our idea of paradisiacal islands, exotic beaches and holiday’s advertisements. Only in South-East Asia these trees started to gain a different meaning to me. They were part of the landscape everywhere, giving that tropical touch to the surrounding environment. I could find them in the beach, in the mountains, near the rivers, you name it! And even though I have never paid much attention to these plants because I never found them neither pretty nor very attractive, it seemed to me that I was starting to understand their beauty somehow. In Thailand I had the opportunity to look closely at the flowers like never before, and it was like finding a hidden treasure that nobody have ever heard about.

Male inflorescences and flowers of Pinanga sylvestris
Female tree, infructescences and fruits

The flowers are amazing, they are tiny and immaculate, strong and vivacious – a mix between delicacy and will to live. It was like the flowers were confident and ready for the adversities of the world! Yes, I kind of gave them “flowerality” (or the “personality” of the flower). However, I thought that the structure itself was a bit inglorious to talk about, in the sense that they are so simple that it won’t bring anything new, but I will introduce you the palm tree flower structures anyway! Like all monocots they are trimerous, having a bipartite perianth of 3 organs (3+3 tepals), and 2 whorls of 3 stamens. The carpels are also trimerous. The flowers can be both uni- or bi-sexual, depending on the species, but they are usually small and white, organized in panicles or spikes hanging from the tree top.

Bi-sexual flowers of palm tree

How did such a small and simple flower return such a feeling of amazement? Maybe there was nothing complex to show you here, but isn't simplicity the purest sense of beauty? Isn’t simplicity effective? There is no doubt about this! Keeping it simple seems to be the watchword in palm flowers, and that leads to a pollination syndrome which is still not very well defined in many groups only because it is not specific.

It is just simple, effective and beautiful.