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Within the monocotyledons the acquisition of the tree habit is enhanced by either primary growth of the axis or a distinctive mode of secondary growth. However, a few arborescent monocotyledons deviate from this pattern in developing trunks up to four meters high that resemble those of tree ferns, i.e., their "woody-fibrous" stems consist mainly of persistent leaf bases and adventitious roots. This type of arborescent monocotyledon occurs in both tropical and temperate regions and is found within Boryaceae (Borya), Cyperaceae (Afrotrilepis, Bulbostylis, Coleochloa, Microdracoides), and Velloziaceae (e.g., Vellozia, Xerophyta). They have developed in geographically widely separated regions with most of them occurring in the tropics and only Borya being a temperate zone outlier. These mostly miniature "lily trees" frequently occur in edaphically and climatologically extreme habitats (e.g., rock outcrops, white sand savannas). Characterized by a high degree of desiccation tolerance and a certain amount of fire-resistance, these plants are xerophytes that among vascular plants possess a unique combination of ecophysiological and morphoanatomical adaptations (e.g., poikilohydry, roots with velamen radicum). Moreover, most "lily trees" tend to form clonal populations of considerable age by means of stolons or by basal branching, which provides substantial advantages for the rapid and long lasting occupation of suitable sites. A summary is given of the major vegetative traits that obviously evolved independently within Boryaceae, Cyperaceae, and Velloziaceae.

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© 2006 Stefan Porembski

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