Friday, November 29, 2013

Arcophylla and Myomotia: Problematic Progress

Happy Thanksgiving break, everyone!  Sufficiently stuffed on turkey and potatoes, and grateful for my many blessings, I now have some time to devote to wrapping up this batch of nereophytes, which marks the halfway point.  When I started on them I didn’t expect to get done until December; it’s nice to see I’m a little ahead of schedule.  And with twenty-six completed and posted, all that is left is phylum Membranophylla, a clade that, much like Tensivolae plants, explores some features and adaptations unseen on Earth.

Order Arcophylla was predictably straightforward, since it was a basic design I had since I first began work with nereophytes, and the Gemellocaputids more so; golden bowstalk is the quintessential genus of this family.  I had always imagined these plants sprawling over hills and valleys, the nereid equivalent of grass, and wanted to depict them as such.  I think the image captures that, and I’m pleased with how it finally turned out.  As with many of these images, where several organisms are present in the frame, there is a great deal of duplication taking place.  I think I’ve done a good job hiding it from all but the most discerning eyes.

I included the fen bowstalk for two reasons: first, to indicate variety among the nereophytes, as well as to exercise my creativity in varying the biological theme; second, to illustrate the breadth of the taxonomic family’s influence.  It took some thinking to figure out exactly how this branch of the bowstalk family tree would differ from the golden breeds, but I think I succeeded.  It was a bit of a challenge to determine exactly how these plants would differ from their cousins, but as I looked at how different grasses of Earth vary, especially those in swampy areas, design ideas soon came to mind: shorter, more succulent stalks, and darker coloration that could be just a cosmetic difference or could reflect differing photosynthetic needs.

The hourglass tree was my first attempt at taking the Arcophylla bauplan to arboreal scales, and an attempt to take the concept of “reef building” out of the ocean.  There may be some biological kinks to work out of the system, but I’m satisfied with the results at this point.  As far as the picture goes, I wonder if I’ve sufficiently captured the glassy nature of the trunks.  I also considered showing what one of the dead trunks looks like when it has collapsed under its own weight, in order to show more of the nereophyte’s life cycle, but as always time is a prohibitive factor.  Perhaps your imagination can fill in those details.

The lingayoni is one of the Barbitids, a family that caused me to do some taxonomic revision as I began to finalize their designs.  Originally, this plant would be the only featured member of a more primitive branch of Arcophylla, neither Gemellocaputid nor Barbitid, but once I realized that the other Barbitids didn’t vary greatly in their respective bauplans, it was clear that some changes needed to be made.  Some of you who were following the site at that time may have noticed some mysterious shuffling around that was a result of those adjustments.

But it was the harpweed that most influenced the design of the Barbitids.  I had a clear image of them in my mind since their inception.  I admit that there may still be some biomechanical considerations to work out, especially when it comes to the egressor tissues and how they serve this design, but at the very least I have the basic ideas down for others to examine.  I consider a lot of these plants a bit of a first draft anyway, and welcome feedback as always.

One of my first real challenges of this batch was the treebuchet; when I first started writing about it on the savanna biome page I had no real concept of its appearance, and placed a sort of “place holder” that roughly approximated how I thought it would ultimately look.  But as I began work on this plant in earnest, I didn’t want to draw a tree that was little more than a scaled up version of its cousins.  So while the treebuchet still fits within the Barbitid bauplan, it seems different enough to accomplish the diversity I want to see in the project.

Moving on from Arcophylla, it was the Myomotia that caused me some real pause in my research and designs.  I had always intended for the newel tree to be different from the others of the clade, but as I visualized it growing from the base of the trunk upwards (a trait very different from Earth plants, but quite common in Nereid clades) I began to wonder where its reproductive structures are located.  In keeping with the nereophytes from which it derived, the central stalk corresponds to the photosynthetic stalk of the Barbitids and similarly evolved structures, but that fact seems to imply that the newel tree’s reproductive organs are located near the base of the tree and not at the tip, as evidenced in the other Myomotes.  This hardly seems an effective placement, and I’m having difficulty resolving the issue; any feedback or insight here would be especially appreciated.

Flaywood starts to stretch into some of the extremes of plausibility, I think.  After reading the plant’s description it’s possible that the reader might interpret that these vines are constantly writhing and twisting; I imagine them to be much less active than that, laying motionless for the most part until stimulated, like traps to be sprung by hapless savanna nereids.  There may still be more fiction than fact in the flaywood, but I’d like to explore them further before dismissing their inclusion entirely.

The final nereophyte of this batch is also the one I most looked forward to, as it’s one of the few additions that provide the conceptual basis for an entire biome.  The coryphee is the “prima ballerina” of the ballerina forests, the nereophyte that gave xenobotanists the impression of graceful dancers.  It’s quite different from the types of plants that are found in similar climates on Earth, which makes it satisfactorily alien, but hopefully not so much so that it too strains credulity.

As always, I welcome thoughtful feedback or insights that can help me develop my work on this project further.  You can either do so here in the comments section or at the appropriate thread in the Speculative Evolution forums.


  1. This is wonderful work! I very much like the way you combine drawings with the kind of blurring that is normally associated with photography. It is very creative.
    I see that you use large photosynthetic surfaces. I have various as yet unpublished paintings of trees with similar large photosynthetic surfaces. Lately I have started to worry about their likelihood: such large leaves are probably subjected to much larger stresses due to wind than small leaves are, so there is probably an optimum somewhere. On Earth you only see large leaves on jungle plants, I think, where there is little wind. For now I equipped Furahan 'broadsheets' with tough fibres, but is that really what evolution would favour? What do you think?

  2. Are we expecting to see more tree-like plants in later updates? Also, I see that most of the plants so far seem to have more defenses than offenses, like the treebuchet.

  3. Thank you, Sigmund! For the most part I'm very pleased with how that effect has turned out.

    Yes, nereophytes tend to have large photosynthetic surfaces, and it's a concern of mine. Most of the smaller plants are just fine, but in the larger genera I fear that most of them may be subject to change should this detail prove too implausible. I've thought of ideas like fibrous support structures, and for many nereophytes that would probably work just fine (it's an essential element of the leafcages of the upcoming Membranophylla, as a matter of fact) but there are other factors to consider, such as dedication of biomass and climate. Large leaves/blades may survive just fine in the jungle, as you mention, but in the more extreme climates, where we see Earth trees becoming quite conservative in order to combat cold or dry conditions, Also, a tree that loses a few leaves to a herbivore doesn't really suffer, but if a herbivore manages to rip away the large blade of a coryphee, for example, that plant has lost a significant percentage of its photosynthetic resources, not to mention an investment of growth. I think that's why so many of the nereophytes so far have had defensive features, as Nicky mentioned. Perhaps more is needed, such as poisons, thorns, or more active survival strategies.

    I considered pressing on with the rest of the nereophytes, but perhaps I should hold off until I can resolve some of these issues and give them sound designs in the first place. What are your thoughts?

  4. I'm very familiar with one plant possessing parts"growing from the base" :The Welwitschia, whose leaves grow at the base (Having a "Basal meristem") like fingernails. This may work for nereophytes such as the flaywood and "seaweeds", but this poses problems for actual tree-like plants which need to stay upright. Unlike fingernails that are dead at their tips, plants are mostly living matter. The growing tissue is normally softer and does not have fully-developed "pseudomusculature to hold a heavy stem upright. Welwitschia leaves trail on the ground and the plant does not suffer from that problem. In what stage of evolution did your plant adopt a basal growth, contrary to its ancestors?

    Hourglass palm: An ephihyte atop its dead-old stem. The trunk made of silica. Attempting to rise high above the lantern forest may put the old stem at a danger of breaking (It's glass!) at the slightest gust of wind, and the large leaves just make it worse. The dead stem base means the plant has to live as an ephipyte, no longer feeding off the ground. To keep building-up the silica stem, how would it get the silicon? Is silicon used alongside carbon as life’s building blocks on Nereus, providing silicon-rich debris feeding the hourglass palm?

  5. Evan: I have also been thinking about ways to keep plants with very large leaves, but so far it seems much more sensible to have smaller ones like on Earth. I find it hard to wiggle out of that one. At present I am inclined to give in, and keep the overall shapes intact to keep them appealing, but to have those shapes made up of multiple leaves, or a larger leaf, but with serrations. It's a bit like ballonts...

  6. Christmas Snow and Sigmund Nastrazzurro, thanks for your insights! It looks like there are some pretty serious issues I still need to figure out about both evolutionary pathways and biomechanical limitations.

    I should take a close look at the growth patterns I have for all the nereophytes so far, in order to determine how to best resolve the issue of basal growth. Perhaps I'll just need to do some rewrites where necessary in order to bring things into line with the most plausible templates.

    Regarding the hourglass palm, I've never really put much thought into the biochemistry of Nereus, largely because I don't have much understanding or experience within the field. To be honest, I threw in the silicates to suggest that life on this planet has a noticeably different biochemistry at work. As far as what that is, or the ramifications of the differences I've mentioned, I must admit I haven't thought that through.

    But you bring up several points that I must consider and even reconsider. If it's plausible that such a biochemistry can exist, the hourglass palm must still deal with the fact that it's a top heavy plant perched atop a rigid and fragile column of glass. I may be able to do away with basal growth if necessary through some careful rewrites, but it looks like this tree (at least) requires some fundamental reworking in order to make sense evolutionarily.

    And the more I think about it, the more it seems like large photosynthesizing surfaces just won't work. As I said before, I think the smaller genera are fine, but when things get into larger scales there should be some bifurcation or fractalization at work. I'd say the treebuchet probably works as it's currently rendered, but the hourglass palm needs smaller leaves (among other things), and the myomotes (at least the upright ones) need some reworking, and perhaps redrawing. I've got some ideas for how to make the coryphee work, but the newel tree seems conceptually rigid to me; any ideas for what could make that one work?

  7. *pat on back* Good luck with the updates, and have a very merry Nereid Christmas!!!

  8. I had some time to look at some of the problem points people have helpfully pointed out to me. For one thing, regarding the hourglass palm, I'm thinking of replacing the mention of silicates with hydrocarbons, since those are much more believable products of large plants. It's really only a first step to resolving the issues of that particular nereophyte, but hopefully it's a step in the right direction.

    My research into the growth patterns is showing that basal growth isn't that practical, or even really that plausible, given evolutionary precedents. Some simple rewrites could solve much of those issues, but I'm also considering putting together a "phleboxulon anatomy" page, not unlike the tetrabrach anatomy page currently on the website. There I would explain things like growth patterns, reproductive strategies, and comparisons between the different taxonomic classes.

    I've also considered putting smaller leaves on several of the new nereophytes, but it will take some reworking of about a half dozen pictures, which will take some time. I guess the question I have at this point is what people would like to see first. Should I put together an anatomy page for what I have so far, explaining nereophyte traits in more general terms, or should I first modify the existing imagery to better conform with more plausible ideas? Or would you rather I press onward, listing all of the membranophylls before going back for reworking images or an anatomy page? What would you rather see?

  9. Hi Evan,

    My personal preference os for an anatomy page. I always liked the tetrabranch anatomy page a lot, and suspect that doing the anatomy first will help ingetting the later species right.

  10. Right, Sigmund, his description about the treebuchet necessitates that the growth tip is at the top/end side, not the base. (Each new seed-pod is at the top, same goes for the golden bowstalk: A new seedpod is above the old leaves). Do you think that switching to basal growth (if it serves any purpose) would necessitate drastic anatomical changes?

  11. I've been thinking about a second possible morphology for "hourglass palm" resembling that of true palms on Earth: A wooden trunk, which remains alive throughout the plant's life-cycle. The true nature of the trunk - whether it resembles that of dicotyledonous or monocotyledonous plants or otherwise- is a matter of evolution. Alternatively, it can be a climber. The large leaves can be feathered (fern-like or palm-like), or perforated (some Monstera species).

  12. I think your basilisk is really cool, Mr Black

  13. Why do so many of your animals have 3 limbs, is it the evolutionary number, like how on earth most animals have 4 legs?

  14. I think you should add more carnivorous animals