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Nurse plant association   Ecology  ]

Dictionary of botanic terminology - index of names

     
  A nurse plant is a plant that creates an environment that is more favourable for young seedlings to grow underneath it to survive in a harsh desert environment  
     
Nurse plant association is a phenomenon that occurs mostly only in desert environments. A nurse plant is a plant that creates an environment that is less severe for young seedlings growing underneath it to survive in a harsh desert environment. The importance of nurse plant associations  ranges from providing shade to providing the only means of seedling establishment.


Seedlings of Pelecyphora aselliformis at the base of the mother plant.

The seedlings of many succulent plants are found only in sheltered microhabitats, nearly all occurring under the canopy of a desert grass, shrub or under the mother plant its self.
Seedlings were generally located near the base or on the northern side of the nurse plant this because the soil surface temperatures can reach 71C in exposed areas.
A seedling is vulnerable to desiccation when fully exposed to the heat of the desert sun, but when growing in the shade of a larger plant, has more of a chance of survival.
The larger plant also protects seeds from predation from birds and rodents, allowing them a chance to germinate. Seedlings in harsh environments are often more dependent on a nurse relationship than seedlings in more benign environments
In other environments, growing under the shade of a larger plant may be detrimental to a seedling's growth, reducing the amount of sunlight available for photosynthesis, but the harsh desert environment makes this protection more beneficial. Thus, although the nurse plant facilitates seedling establishment by reducing maximum soil surface temperatures and provides a microhabitats with higher soil nitrogen levels, its shading and competition for water reduce seedling growth.
Addition to benefits provided by a nurse, seedling performance in unfavorable environmental conditions can be aided by mycorrhizal relationships.
     

 


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