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A Botanic Garden of the Mediterranean Islands

Volume 2 Number 6 - June 1996

M. Magdalena Vicens

Sóller is a town of 10,000 inhabitants situated in the Serra de Tramuntana of Mallorca (Balearic Islands). In 1989, the Sóller Town Council decided to convert a piece of land into a botanic garden and a science museum. This was carried out by members of the Museu Balear de Ciències Naturals (MBCN) Association; an association founded in 1982 by a group of naturalists. The Sóller Botanic Garden and the Balear Museum of Natural Sciences were opened to the public on May 1992 under the management of the MBCN Association. The staff consists of one guard and one gardener, with some seasonal workers and volunteers. The Garden is registered as a branch of the Museum, but it expects to become an independent entity within the next few years, when the Sóller Botanic Garden Foundation is established. At present, the Sóller Town Council only provides financial support for maintenance of their property but not for staff and projects. These are carried out by volunteers with elementary equipment, the scientific support of the University of the Balearic Islands and occasional financial support from the Balear Government. Unfortunately, since January 1996 an entrance fee for the Garden and Museums has had to be charged.

The Sóller Botanic Garden

The Garden is located in Sóller, (2º 42'E 39º 46'N, 60 m above sea level) and occupies an area of 8,500 square metres. Sóller has a mediterranan climate; the mean annual precipitation is 879mm, and the mean annual temperature is 17.2ºC.

The Garden has an important collection of species of the Balearic Islands, consisting of about 308 endemic (rare or endangered taxa). The Garden is organized into ecological niches designed to exhibit the biodiversity of plants. The objective is to form stable artificial populations, similar to natural ecosystems.

There is a dry area planting, with the local spiny pin cushion plants, such as Astragalus balearicus and Femeniasia balearica which require plenty of sunlight. Another group of plants, such as Hypericum cambessedesii subsp. balearicum, Paeonia cambessedesii, Helleborus lividus subsp. balearicum, Apium bermejoi, Ophioglossum lusitanicum, represent the humid stony ground ecosystems of the Balearic Islands. The species, such as Genista majorica, Euphorbia margalidiana, Brassica balearica, Hippocrepis balearica, Acer granatense, represent the plants which grow on dry stony ground in the cracks of cliffs and on rocky ground. The Balearic ferns are represented in a humid zone of the Garden: Asplenium sollerense, Asplenium azomanes, Dryopteris pallida subsp. balearica, Asplenium majoricum, Dryopteris tyrrhena. There is a collection of freshwater aquatic plants such as Marsilea strigosa, Thypha spp., Callitriche brutia, Damasonium alysma, Isoetes histrix, Lemna minor, Lemna gibba, Potamogeton pectinatus, Elatine macropoda and Ceratophyllum demersum. There is an area for aromatic useful, native and introduced plants used in traditional food such as Balsamita major, Origanum majorana, Foeniculum vulgare, Crithmum maritimum and herbs such thyme, mint, lavender.

Space has been left in the Garden for Balearic plants with a strong affinity to plants from other Mediterranean Islands such as Corsica, Sardinia and Sicily: Erodium corsicum/Erodium reichardii, Helleborus lividus subsp. lividus/Helleborus lividus subsp. corsicus, Femeniasia balearica/Centaurea horrida, Brassica balearica/Brassica insularis. The geological origin of the Canary Islands justifies a separate area for its flora at the Sóller Botanic Garden. Fossils of leaves and fruits found in many places in the Mediterranean region are of plants identical to species now found in the wild only in the Canary Islands. In Mallorca, fossils of Myrica faya, Ocotoea foetens and Laurus azorica have been found which date from Miocene and Pliocene periods of the Tertiary Epoch when the Mediterranean region formed part of the Tethys Sea. The vegetation of this area was similar in composition and appearance to the laurel forest communities still present in the Canary Islands.

Contact with the public is given high priority with much time spent in answering questions and identifying plants for visitors. Through guided visits different aspects of plants are shown to students to encourage the new generation to respect nature and protect and manage our irreplaceable heritage. Special activities and events (eg. conferences, workshops, short courses) will be arranged to disseminate information about botany.

A database of information on our living collections with the localities of specimens in the different areas of the Garden is being undertaken, as well as a database on the seed which we receive from others gardens and from our collectors. These databases can be transferred by the International Transfer Format for Botanic Gardens Plant Records (ITF) to the database held by BGCI.

There is a Seed Bank which represents the biodiversity of the natural populations of the endemic flora of Balearic Islands. In order to maintain the genetic variability of the original plant population 3,000 seeds are conserved. For long-term storage the seeds are cleaned and dried in an hermetically sealed cabinet and stored with silica gel in flame-sealed glass tubes at ~18ºC. The germplasm collection of some important rare, endangered and endemic plants includes populations of Naufraga balearica (Mallorca), Euphorbia margalidiana, Genista dorycnifolia (Ibiza), Anthyllis hystrix, Daphne rodriguezii, Femeniasia balearica, Vicia bifoliolata (Minorca) and Paeonia cambessedesi (Cabrera). The Index Seminum is published annually jointly with the Ibero-Macaronesian Association of Botanical Gardens and includes seeds collected both from plants grown in the garden and from plants in the wild. Once the seeds are cleaned and dried, they are placed in thermally sealed aluminium bags ready for distribution.

Conservation research is orientated toward the propagation of endangered species. In some cases ex situ conservation remains the last resort to save such taxa from extinction and this is an important part of the work of the Sóller Botanic Garden. Seed storage of endemic species is being worked out for reintroduction programmes, as well as distribution to other centres for conservation. Since 1993, a successful reintroduction of Lysimachia minoricensis into the wild has been undertaken with the financial help of the Conselleria d'Agricultura (Balear Government). This plant has disappeared from Minorca Island and was reintroduced on other occasions without success.

Floristic surveys, taxonomic studies and management of natural areas directly or in close co-operation with other land managing agences such as the Conselleria d'Agricultura are also being undertaken. For instance, an area which contains Ligusticum huteri subsp. lucidum, an endemic plant of Mallorca is under protection. The S¢ller Botanic Garden aims to be involved in the maintenance of other nature reserves in the Islands, as well as habitat restoration and species reintroduction.

The garden still has undeveloped areas. The next priorities include additional facilities as follows and new areas for:

  • fruit and vegetable plants with different varieties and cultivars of the Balearic Islands for the conservation and exhibition of these indigenous varieties.
  • medicinal plants with 250 species used in the modern pharmacopeia.
  • flora of Mediterranean Islands: Corsica, Sardinia, Sicilia, Malta, Crete, Cyprus
  • a living collection of Mediterranean endangered flora.
  • a Botanical Institute as a Centre for conservation and research on rare and endangered plants from MediterraneanIslands.
  • an exhibition greenhouse.

The principal aims of the Sóller Botanic Garden are conservation of endemic, rare and endangered native species, scientific research and education. In this way, the Garden contributes to biodiversity conservation and will become a centre for scientific research and conservation of the flora of the Mediterranean Islands.