Nature Notes - The Mallorca Pages

Leguminosae - The Pea family


On leafing through a Mallorca flora for the first time, the British botanist is relieved that many of the most difficult British genera, such as Carex, Potamogeton, Juncus and Epilobium, have relatively few Mallorcan representatives.  Where Mallorca makes up for this is in the Pea family, particularly among the Medicks, which are very plentiful and very hard to tell apart, in Spring at least.  They are probably easier when they have some fruit on.  Mallorca boasts 15 Medicago species, 17 Trifoliums, and numerous other genera of the same general appearance.  Species of the pea or vetch type are also well represented with 25 in total, and there are many thorny bushes to get to grips with.  According to Anthony Bonner's "Plants of the Balearic Islands", the Pea family is the best represented of all families in the Balearics, accounting for 11% of all species found there.  I certainly had to leave more plants, actually in flower, unidentified from this family than from any other.  In fact probably more than from all other families put together.  But here are those I did get...

Ceratonia siliqua   Ceratonia siliqua

The Carob, Ceratonia siliqua, occurs both wild and in cultivation.  Tree on left and close-up of leaves on right. The pods are used as fodder for livestock.  The flowers, which appear in late summer, are unusual for the Pea family in having no petals.

Calicotome spinosa
Small flower pointing left c 7 mm long
  Astragalus hamosus
Flowers c 7-8 mm long

Thorny Broom, Calicotome spinosa, is a shrub similar to Gorse or Broom, but with trifoliate leaves that have thorns in their axils.  The flowers are like those of Broom when open, but as they expand before opening they push the upper part of the calyx off the end of the flower, as seen in this picture.  The Milk-vetch Astragalus hamosus (right) was only seen in one spot, where it was carpeting an area of bare ground.

Psoralea bituminosa
Inflorescence c 2.7 cm wide
  Vicia sativa
Flower c 12 mm long incl calyx

Pitch Trefoil, Psoralea bituminosa, above left, is a common roadside plant, like an outsize clover with a smell of tar.  Mallorca has 12 true vetches or Vicia species, but all the ones I examined turned out to be the Common Vetch, Vicia sativa, well known in Britain.  Still, as its picture got taken, it gets included, above right.

Lathyrus latifolius   Lathyrus cicera
Flower c 18 mm long incl calyx

There are 9 Lathyrus species on the island.  I managed to identify the one on the left above as Lathyrus latifolius, Broad-leaved Everlasting Pea, despite its lacking flowers.  On the right is the flower of an incredibly beautiful species with very narrow leaflets and solitary flowers on long stalks hanging down from stems that sprawl across other vegetation.  It can only be Red Vetchling, Lathyrus cicera, though the leaflets are much narrower than those in any picture of that plant that I've seen.  It was quite common and some plants had broader leaflets more like those in the books.

Pisum sativum   Melilotus sulcatus?
Inflorescence c 2.5 cm including peduncle

The Wild Pea, Pisum sativum, was quite common on roadsides, and was just coming into flower while I was there.  It is the same species as the cultivated pea, but the flower colouration here is correct for the wild form.  The picture on the right is, I think, Furrowed Melilot, Melilotus sulcatus, though M segetalis is possible.  The flowers were 4 mm long which is on the cusp between the two.

Medicago arabica
Lowest leaflet c 2.2 cm across
  Variegated trefoil leaves

Although I found several Medicks in flower which I couldn't identify, I did manage the one on the left from its leaves only, as it is clearly Spotted Medick, Medicago arabica.  The leaves on the right probably belong to a Clover (Trifolium sp).  The books don't show any with markings quite like this.

Lotus ornithopodioides   Lotus tetraphyllus
Picture c 2.4 cm wide

Two very distinctive Lotus species, or Birdsfoot Trefoils, now.  The first has the flowers mostly in groups of four with 3 broad upright bracts behind them.  This is Lotus ornithopodioides, and was quite common on roadside banks etc.  The second was very easy to identify despite not yet being in flower, as its leaves have only 4 leaflets instead of 5 as in other Lotus species.  The three large leaflets typical of a Birdsfoot Trefoil are there, but instead of two small stipule-like leaflets at the base of the leaf it just has one, making the leaf as a whole asymmetrical.  This is Lotus tetraphyllus, found on rocks or bare ground in woods, and is endemic to the Balearics.

Anthyllis cytisoides
Flowers c 13 mm long incl calyx
  Anthyllis tetraphylla

Two of Mallorca's three Anthyllis species now.  The first is Anthyllis cytisoides, a very common shrub about 30-100 cm high, with white-felted leaves.  I didn't recognise this as an Anthyllis at all, since our own member of the genus, Anthyllis vulneraria or Kidney Vetch, is a prostrate plant.  To make up for this, when I saw the second species, on the right, I thought it was Kidney Vetch itself, but it is actually Bladder Vetch or Anthyllis tetraphylla.  Kidney Vetch is the third Mallorcan Anthyllis species and the only one I didn't see, but apparantly its flowers are always red there rather than yellow as with us, so it must be quite a sight.

Apr-May 2005 Leguminosae