Neblinaria celiae (Theaceae), a rosette shrub endemic to the exceedingly rainy summit of remote Cerro de la Neblina in southern Venezuela, has a previously undescribed set of adaptations to fire. Its growth form entails sparse branching, massive terminal leaf rosettes, and thick bark. It is highly fire-tolerant, with a survival rate of 93% in a stand recently ignited by lightning, vs. 0% in seven co-occurring woody species. Survival increases sharply with rosette height, favoring a sparsely branched habit that would maximize the rate of upward growth through the sparse fuel layer supported by a sterile substrate. Thick bark and massive rosettes help protect cambial and foliar meristems from brief exposure to high temperatures. Rosettes on shorter plants are exposed to greater damage from fire near the ground and, as expected, are bigger and impound more rainwater; the greater number of leaves nearly balances the greater leaf mortality caused by fire. We relate Neblinaria's growth form to its dominance atop Neblina, to a general model for the evolution of sparse branching, and to the evolution of growth form in other tepui plants.
Additional publication details
Fire adaptation in Neblinaria celiae (Theaceae), a high-elevation rosette shrub endemic to a wet equatorial tepui