Spec's floral life is largely the same as that of Home Earth, although the discerning eye can spot the differences. Many archaic plant taxa that, in RL, are extinct or restricted in range may, in Spec, be found in relative abundance. A few plant groups extinct in RL, such as the cycad-like cycadeoidophytes (or bennettitaleans) live in Spec — most in the Northern Hemisphere. Ginkgophytes (genera p- Ginkgo and Singinko) may be found in both and, although only five species have yet been found. Coniferous trees are somewhat more prevalent in the temperate forests of and than in our home timeline, and certain angiosperm trees (such as the Hamamelidae — oaks, birches, and others) are reduced. Other so-called "advanced" plant groups, such as Musaceae (bananas) and Bromeliaceae (bromeliads) are absent in Spec, but others like as Compositae (composite flowers) and Gramineae (grasses) are just as prominent in Spec as in RL (or moreso).
The greatest difference in the plants of our respective time-lines seems to be the "nastiness" of Spec's flora. Most Spec plants have evolved potent anti-grazing strategies that would strike a Home-Earth botanist as somewhat excessive. Deadly bracken ferns are common on all continents but, siliceous, deep-rooted grasses cover the plains, and trees are either very tall, poisonous, bushy and fast-growing, or covered with thorns. Without the "break" from high-level grazing that RL's plants got during the early Tertiary, it seems Spec's flora has become increasingly violent in its efforts to deter dinosaurian gullets.
MARJANOPHYTACEAE (Zlaktopalms)One of Spec's more unusual endemic plant groups is Marjanophytaceae, the zlaktopalms (so called because of their yellowish wood), which grow only in the lowlands of southern and eastern Eurasia. Marjanophytes are not particularly diverse, most species being low trees or shrubs, but there is one species (the austere zlaktopalm, Marjanophyta altus) that grows to 10 meters in height.
Because of a number of unique specializations present in this family, exact classification has proven difficult, but most experts regard the marjanophytes as primitive angiosperms, related most closely to the magnolias (Magnoliaceae). This relationship is proposed mostly because of the anatomy of the marjanophyte flower, which is actinomorphic (radially symmetrical), with the stamens and carpals arranged radially around the flower's heart. Also, like magnolias, zlaktopalms are pollinated chiefly by beetles, which, attracted by the scent of rotting meat the zlaktopalm's flowers produce, rub up against the carpals, transferring sperm-laden pollen (monocolpate, as with magnolias) to the ovules. Past this point, however, the resemblance of the zlaktopalms to any other living plant group fails.
Marjanophytes are dicots, like magnolias, but must have diverged fairly early from the main dicot line, perhaps as much as 100 million years ago, during the middle Cretaceous (although no fossils exist to prove this theory). The zlaktopalms' leaves are particularly bizarre, beginning life as fairly normal elliptical foliage similar to that of a magnolia, and aging into fringed structures similar to the leaves of a palm tree. The secret to this change is the marjanophytic margin, a border of dead cells around the leaf that harden into a tough, leathery substance as it is extruded by the living cells at the leaf's base. Thus, the interior upper surface of the leaf is green and photosynthetic, while the outer rim is brown and dead, fragmenting by action of wind and rain into a series of long, palm-like filaments. These filaments dangle toward the ground, forming a dense mesh of leathery tissue that blocks sunlight, killing all underbrush that might compete with the zlaktopalm for nutrients and space. These leaves are also a deterrent to browsers, who find the tough outer leaf surface too much trouble to chew through.
Zlaktopalm fruits are also fairly odd, not the exploding-kernel variety used by the magnolias and their kin, but horny, knobbly structures called "zlaktonuts". Within the tough outer covering of the nut are the actual seeds, called samarae, each produced by a separate carpal, each covered in an oily coat (the sarcotesta). This oil is rich in buteric acid, which gives the fruits their distinctive odor (likened to very strong cheese or vomit).
Despite their seemingly unpalatable nature, zlaktonuts are grown to be eaten, specifically designed for consumption by the dawnhorn (Plateoceros soloriens), a primitive cenoceratopsian that is the only animal with a jaw strong enough to cope with a zlaktonut's rind. Zlaktopalms are found only in the places inhabited by dawnhorns, which spread their seeds and apparently do not mind the terrible smell.
GRAMINEAE (Grasses)Monocots with silicone-bearing leaves and a tough disposition.
Spec’s flora has some notable differences from it’s HE counterpart. Among other things, older clades now extirpated on HE have survived, while clades common to both realms have produced remarkably different evolutionary paths (usually towards being exceptionally poisonous in Spec). Examples of ostensibly either can be found in the temperate forests from Aotearoa’s South Island. In both time timelines, these ancient groves have been composed of unique plant lineages that have once dominated most of Gondwanna, but now can only be found here. In Spec, this is even more evident, as the absence of the KT event meant that several clades extinct in HE managed to survive, such as seed-ferns and southern gingkos.
Maui’s False-Oak (Xenoquercus australis)
Within this menagerie is one of Aotearoa’s most enigmatic plants, Maui’s False-Oak (Xenoquercus australis). Externally, Maui’s False-Oak lives up to its name: it strongly resembles a member of the genus Quercus, which are in fact also present on Spec, being as-old-as-the-Maastrichian plants as they are. However, being absent from southern continents until the american interchange, they never got into New Zealand, making Xenoquercus‘ discovery quite a mind screw, given it’s primeval location. When it was finally studied in detail, specbotanists were pretty much relieved that it isn’t an oak, in fact not even within Fagales. However, a new problem arouse then: what exactly is Xenoquercus?
Based on genetic studies, Maui’s False-Oak is among the most basal known angiosperms. Appearently, it diverged soon after the appearence of the clade itself, and its ancestors must have had a restricted Gondwannan distribution, for they were likely never very widespread. Some specbotanists have suggested a close relationship with Amborellacea, and indeed it is possible that they are at the very least sister taxa; considering that New Caledonia and Aoteroa were fused together during the Paleogene, Xenoquercus‘ possible status as p-Amborella‘s closest relative is plausible. However, the few genetic studies that concluded such a relationship seem to indicate that this genus would have diverged from p-Amborella very early indeed, not long after their divergence from the rest of Angiospermia, and unlike its new caledonian relative it isn’t dioecious, as an individual plant has both female and male flowers.
Xenoquercus is endemic to South Island, though subfossil pollen records suggest that a close relative (p-Xenoquercus [?a.] meridionalis) occured in North Island, later disappearing as late as 2000 years ago. The causes for such sudden extinction aren’t well established, but it seems it was fairly rare since the beginning of the late Pleistocene, and some natural hazards might have eventually wiped the remaining plants out, specially considering most of its population was seemingly restricted to some forest pockets in the North Island peninsula. Precisely at the same time of its possible sister species’ began to disappear, Maui’s False-Oak seemingly started to spread: it briefly managed to establish itself on southern North Island, but eventually disappeared, with no younger than 300 years ago. All that can be currently be said with certainty is that the two known species of Xenoquercus had different distribution patterns: whereas X. meridionalis was a mainly a subtropical denizen that could usually be found close to members of its species, forming forests mainly composed of its species, X. australis prefers colder temperatures, and is seldomly found near members of its kin, with an individual tree sometimes being kilometers away from another one, though in a few areas they do occur in reasonably large numbers, even forming cohesive forests.
The possible reason for these different distribution patterns between the Xenoquercus species was probably resulted from their reproduction. Xenoquercus, like Amborella, has its flowers organised in terminal cymose inflorecenses, and unlike more advanced angiosperms there is no clear distinction between petals and sepals, and they are arranged in a spiral. The flower has a structure clearly very similar to that ofAmborella, though like more derived flowering plants it has stamens on filaments and syncarpous ovaries. The petal/sepals are brightly colored, and the color varies within members of the species. Yellow, orange, pink, red and purple are the most common colors, though green and blue aren’t unheard off. At least 12 pollinators are known, the majority of which are birds (some species, like the tweety Kalimantornis xenoquercophaga, feed exclusively on False-Oak nectar, while others like Cracticavis novazelandica prefer the tree’s nectar but aren’t by no means dependent on it to survive), with at least two volaticothere species and several insects and even one lizard (Urogecko quercophilus) as polinators as well. Once polinated, the ovaries become a chestnut sized fruit called “nut-acorns” (alternatively called “heart-fruit”). The name is somewhat misleading, since its not a “nut”, but a juicy, bright coloured fruit (identical in colour to the tree’s flowers) somewhat similar to a peach in texture and taste, though the seeds are much smaller and similar to those of an orange.
These fruits are targeted by a few animals, but it is believed that the intended target is the Aotearoan Sifaka (Callaeopithecus apteryx), a secondarily flightless elphaba that glides around in the forest canopy. The tree produces a potent smell that quickly spreads across the forest once the fruits are developed; because birds and (most) volaticotheres have a poor sense of olphaction, the first animals to reach the tree are the primates, quickly followed by large frugivorous birds. Pseudomysticine volaticotheres also have a fairly accurate sense of smell compared to their aerial insectivore cousins, being terrestrial omnivores as they are, and they often climb trees at nighttime to get those fruits. The plant has no specific reproductive season, so fruits and flowers are available year long.
Because of the known distribution of animals specialized in eating flowers and fruits of Maui’s False-Oak – the Aoteroan Sifaka, for example, was never present in north island, but other elphabas are -, it is possibly safe to assume X. meridionalis probably didn’t had such a large “fan base” as its modern relative. Because sadly no remains other than the tree’s pollen survived to the modern days, one can only speculate if the tree’s fruit was more acidic and less “tasty”, the lack of known animals that consumed the fruit being a possible explanation for the tree’s less wide distribution and eventual extinction. A similar thing happened to gingkos on HE: unlike Spec’s gingkos, which have some mammals that feed on their “fruits” and helped them to spread around, HE’s had no known consumer of their fruits in the Cenozoic, so they had more trouble to spread around and virtually died out in the Pleistocene.