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Delicate predators

In the searing dry heat of the Cabral Hills in Minas Gerais, the thin stalk with its transparent purple flowers pokes its head out of the white sand. The sight is poetic, but Philcoxia minensis resorts to tricks to survive. One of them is keeping its leaves buried and protected from the sun, which even so reaches them sufficiently for photosynthesis to occur. The second trick, proven by environmentalist Rafael Oliveira and his student Caio Pereira, is to attract underground worms that become a food supplement in the poor soil. Digestion is undertaken by the phosphates secreted by the plant’s glands, seen under a scanning electron microscope in the photo on the left.

Photo sent by Rafael Oliveira State University of Campinas (Unicamp)