Star-of-Bethlehem Hippobroma longiflora Photo by Jenn Sinasac On the outside, this attractive perennial, with its long, snow-white, tubular flower and 5 petals arranged in the shape of a star against dark green leaves, is rather eye-catching. The thick, hairy leaves form a rosette, and are pinnately lobed. The fruit is a hairy green capsule containing tiny light-brown seeds. It stays close to the ground, reaching a height of 60 cm tall. However, on the inside, this pretty plant gives more bite than its pretty external appearance would suggest. One of its common names, “Madam Fate,” offers a warning. It is well-known for its concentrations of two powerful alkaloids, lobeline and nicotine, and if taken in high dosage, various effects including vomiting, trembling, irregular breathing, convulsions and paralysis can occur. Its milky white sap is a strong irritant, and can be absorbed through the skin, causing a burning sensation, and even just a drop or two of sap in the eye can cause blindness. On the other hand, in some cultures this plant is used for medicinal purposes, as it is applied to wounds to cauterize and promote healing, and has also been used to treat asthma, bronchitis, epilepsy and hydrophobia. This plant is native to the West Indies but has been widely introduced and is now common throughout the tropics and Oceania. It prefers moist, shady lowlands with moderate rainfall, and can be found around the Canopy Tower, Lodge and Camp. The name says it all: Hippobroma means “horse madness.”
Star-of-Bethlehem Hippobroma longiflora Photo by Jenn Sinasac On the outside, this attractive perennial, with its long, snow-white, tubular flower and 5 petals arranged in the shape of a star against dark green leaves,
Spanish Flag Orchid Epidendrum radicans Photo by Jenn Sinasac A “weedy” orchid, common along the roadsides and fields of middle elevations in Central America, the Spanish Flag Orchid is rather eye-catching and distinct. This terrestrial orchid is recognized by its bold inflorescences of fiery reds, oranges and yellows, situated atop a long, cane-like stem up to a meter in length. Leaves are oval, fleshy and are placed regularly along the stem. The stem is covered in imbricated sheaths, as well as the base of the inflorescence. Inflorescences can contain 20-30 flowers, and can be up to 50 cm long. Flowers have a three-lobed lip, which are fringed, and fringes may be lighter in color, fading to yellow. The column and the lip are fused together. Seeds are very small. Several key characteristics distinguish this species from other similar Epidendrum species and other flowering plants in the ecological complex to which it belongs. It produces adventitious roots (secondary roots) that grow off the stems and are used to absorb nutrients and support the plant on different surfaces, including other plants! Its flowers bend backwards and face upwards (resupinate), unlike other Epidendrum species. Its stems do not swell to form pseudobulbs, and it does not produce nectar in the flowers. E. radicans is placed in a complex with several other orange-flowered species that are ecologically similar but otherwise unrelated, including Asclepias curassavicia (Tropical Milkweed) and Lantana camara. These species all share the same habitat and pollinators, and are a great example of convergent evolution. A hypothesis exists that E. radicans mimics the two aforementioned species for pollination, since E. radicans does not produce nectar and the other two do; however, this hypothesis is not supported (Bierzychudek 1981). This orchid is pollinated by butterflies. The Spanish Flag Orchid ranges from southern Mexico throughout Central
Spanish Flag Orchid Epidendrum radicans Photo by Jenn Sinasac A “weedy” orchid, common along the roadsides and fields of middle elevations in Central America, the Spanish Flag Orchid is rather eye-catching and distinct.
Gumbo Limbo Tree Bursera simaruba Photo by Jenn Sinasac The Gumbo Limbo tree is one of the most recognizable trees of the American tropics—often called the “tourist tree” because of its characteristic peeling red bark, reminiscent of a sunburnt tourist! This medium-sized tree grows to 30 meters tall and has a diameter of 1 meter or less. The leaves are pinnate with 7-11 leaflets and are arranged in spirals. The fruits are small, 3-valved capsules which encase one small seed covered in a red fatty seed coat (aril). The Gumbo Limbo is an important food source for many resident and migrant species of birds, as well as monkeys and squirrels, who feed on the aril. Gumbo Limbo is a very useful tree; its wood is suitable for light construction and firewood, and the resin is used as glue, varnish and incense. Anti-inflammatory properties in its leaves, bark and resin can be used to treat a variety of aches and pains. The resin is used as a treatment for gout. The bark is used as a common topical remedy for a variety of skin conditions including sores, measles, sunburn and insect bites, and a decoction can be taken internally to cure pain, cold and flu, fever and sunstroke. Furthermore, this tree is considered one of the most wind-resistant species and can act as a good wind barrier to protect crops and roads, and is commonly planted in hurricane zones. Gumbo Limbo trees grow in a wide variety of habitats from south Florida through Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean, to Brazil and Venezuela, and is common in the lowlands of central Panama around the Canopy Family lodges. Cool Fact! The wood of the Gumbo Limbo tree was the traditional wood used to make carousel horses in the United States before plastic became
Gumbo Limbo Tree Bursera simaruba Photo by Jenn Sinasac The Gumbo Limbo tree is one of the most recognizable trees of the American tropics—often called the “tourist tree” because of its characteristic peeling
Bijao Calathea latifolia Photo by Jenn Sinasac Locally known as “bijao,” Calathea latifolia is a distinct roadside plant of central Panama. Standing 1-2 meters tall, the Bijao plant is recognized by its large, thin, pleated heliconia-like leaves and purple inflorescences. It has flowers in pairs with as many as 13 pairs tended by a single bract. Seed capsules are approximately 1 cm long and contain 3 small seeds. The roots have large, edible tuber-like storage organs. Light purple bands on the underside of the leaf blade best distinguish this species. There is a cream-colored flower form, and this lacks the purple bands on the leaves. Calathea latifolia flowers throughout the green season from July to December. Flower buds do not open until forced open by bees responsible for their pollination. They are pollinated by orchid bee Euglossa imperialis on Barro Colorado Island (Panama) and 2 other bee species elsewhere (from the genus Eulaema). Some bees are nectar robbers and do not pollinate the flowers. Fruits develop to mature size in about 2 months and are usually present in the same inflorescence throughout most of the flowering season. During the dry season, the Bijao plant dies back to the roots. Seeds are shed but do not germinate until the beginning of the following rainy season, an adaptation to dealing with the dry season conditions. Calathea latifolia is found in Panama, Colombia, Venezuela and Trinidad. In Panama, it occurs in central and eastern lowlands and premontane moist forest. The Bijao plant is common around the Canopy Tower, near Pipeline Road and along open roadsides. Hailing from the widespread Marantaceae family, the genus Calathea has approximately 250 species and is the main genus of the family in the Neotropics. Many Calathea species are popular as potted plants; attributable to their decorative leaves and
Bijao Calathea latifolia Photo by Jenn Sinasac Locally known as “bijao,” Calathea latifolia is a distinct roadside plant of central Panama. Standing 1-2 meters tall, the Bijao plant is recognized by its large,
Aechmea setigera Photo by Jerry and Linda Harrison Aechmea setigera is a large bromeliad native to tropical America. Like many bromeliads, it is epiphytic and usually found high in trees. It grows to 1.5 m tall, with leaves up to a meter long and 3.5 to 7 cm wide with black spines along the edges. Bright red bracts up to 20 cm long surround the base of the inflorescence stalk, which is covered with many flowers and often more than a meter in length. Spikes have 2 to 4 fertile flowers. Petals are pale yellow or greenish-yellow, and up to 3.5 cm long. The flowers produce a lot of nectar, which accumulates in the flower tube. Fruits are fleshy berries containing 8 seeds, reddish in color. In Panama, Aechmea setigera flowers from February to May, and fruits during the rainy season. This bromeliad attracts a wide variety of creatures – ants live at the base of the leaves, and fruits are dispersed by birds, despite that the fruits are not overly colorful or well-exposed when mature. Aechmea setigera is fround in Panama, Colombia, Venezuela, the Guianas and in Amazonia Brazil. In Panama, it is common at Pipeline Road and throughout the lowlands and foothills, and is most abundant in the wettest areas along Panama’s Caribbean coast. It can be seen around all the Canopy Family properties.
Aechmea setigera Photo by Jerry and Linda Harrison Aechmea setigera is a large bromeliad native to tropical America. Like many bromeliads, it is epiphytic and usually found high in trees. It grows to
Achiote Bixa orellana Photo by Jerry & Linda Harrison Achiote is a distinctive shrub or small tree in the family Bixaceae. The tree grows 6-10 meters tall and is identifiable by its bright white to pink flowers which form in clusters of five at the ends of branches, as well as by its fruits, clusters of red-brown seed pods covered in soft spines. Each pod contains many seeds covered in a waxy red aril layer. Dry pods split open when mature, exposing the seeds (see photo below). Achiote is familiar in the Neotropics as the source of "annatto," a condiment and red food coloring that is widely used in the cuisine of Central and South America, Mexico, and the Caribbean. Annatto is made from the aril of the seeds, which contains carotenoid pigments such as red bixin and yellow norbixin. As a seasoning, annatto can be used to substitute for paprika and saffron. Achiote paste or sazón is a product consisting of the ground seed mixed with other spices. Achiote is now cultivated in many other countries with tropical or subtropical climates. Achiote also has many traditional uses as a dye, from red body paint to hair dye, from which comes one of its common names, the “lipstick tree." In Panama, the Emberá use Achiote seeds to dye Chunga palm fronds for weaving baskets, producing a vibrant red color. Open dry pods exposing red seeds, photo by Jerry & Linda Harrison.
Achiote Bixa orellana Photo by Jerry & Linda Harrison Achiote is a distinctive shrub or small tree in the family Bixaceae. The tree grows 6-10 meters tall and is identifiable by its bright
Firebush Hamelia patens Photo by Jenn Sinasac This large shrub or small tree of the coffee family (Rubiaceae) stands out in the crowd—its bright red-orange tubular flowers give it many appropriate common names including Scarletbush, Hummingbird Bush, Redhead, and in Panama, Uvero, Canelito and Zorrillo Real. The flowers of the Firebush plant vary in length, and attract a wide variety of pollinators including hummingbirds, butterflies and bees. The flowers give way to small, dark red fruits which turn black as they mature. Tanagers and other birds feed on the juicy fruits. Leaves arranged in whorls are 6 inches in length, oval, pointed and green-gray in color with pinkish veins; stems and leaf stalks are red. The Firebush plant has antibacterial and antifungal properties, and can be used to relieve and treat a variety of ailments including skin rashes, sores and insect stings as well as fever and headache. This sun-loving plant occurs in tropical clearings or in partial shade, among tropical moist forest and premontane forest where there are well-drained soils. Hamelia patens is a common plant around our lodges; watch for hummingbird and butterfly activity at the Firebush in our gardens. Photo by Jenn Sinasac
Firebush Hamelia patens Photo by Jenn Sinasac This large shrub or small tree of the coffee family (Rubiaceae) stands out in the crowd—its bright red-orange tubular flowers give it many appropriate common names
Expanded Lobster Claw Heliconia latispatha Photo by Jerry & Linda Harrison Of all the thousands of tropical plants, Heliconia is one plant genus that many people visiting Panama recognize. Even determining species is not too difficult, in most cases! Heliconia latispatha is native and common from Mexico south through tropical South America. The relatively inconspicuous flowers emerge from gaudy, claw-shaped, reddish-orange floral bracts. The entire flower stalk can be 50 cm long! The flowers of the Expanded Lobster Claw plant are followed by smooth blue fruit. The leaves are large and banana-like. Known by enthusiasts as “Expanded Lobster Claw,” Heliconia latispatha prefers partly shady, moist edges of tropical forests and roadsides bordering good forest. The large, unusual flowers of the Expanded Lobster Claw plant make long-lasting cut flowers in floral arrangements. Heliconia quick facts: • Native to the tropical Americas and Caribbean • A disjunct group of six species from the Pacific islands (Samoa westward to Sulawesi) • 200-225 species are generally recognized, with many more cultivars and varieties • all New World species are pollinated by hummingbirds • Pacific island species are pollinated by nectar-eating bats and honeyeaters (birds) • Popular for tropical landscaping • Used in floral arrangements because they are long-lasting • Known in Panama as “Platanillo” • Related to Bird-of-Paradise flowers • More types of cultivars exist than actual number of wild species • About 10 species can be found near the Canopy Family lodges. For more information, please visit www.heliconia.org.
Expanded Lobster Claw Heliconia latispatha Photo by Jerry & Linda Harrison Of all the thousands of tropical plants, Heliconia is one plant genus that many people visiting Panama recognize. Even determining species is
Guayacan Trumpet Tree Tabebuia guayacan Photo by Jenn Sinasac Every March, the forestscape bursts with color as the Guayacan trees start to bloom, producing a full crown of golden, tubular-shaped flowers. It is believed by locals that the Yellow Tabebuia Tree presages the coming green season—they are said to bloom one month before the rains start. This large tree, up to 50 meters tall, is native to Central and South America. It sheds its leaves during the dry season, then flowers before leafing out again. The flowering period for each individual tree is abrupt and very short; flowers drop after only 1 or 2 days. After flowering, it bears fruit at the end of March—fruits are 25-60 cm long, green and resemble bean pods. Inside the fruits are small, winged seeds. The wood is very hard, heavy and dark; it is valued and used for making railway ties, flooring and boats. Furthermore, this tree also has medicinal properties. A tea made from the leaves can provide relief for urinary tract and kidney problems, and is a treatment for tuberculosis. It is found from Mexico to Colombia, Venezuela and Peru. It is most common in Costa Rica and Panama, and during this month while blooming, dazzles guests from the Canopy Tower observation deck just as much as the birds do!
Guayacan Trumpet Tree Tabebuia guayacan Photo by Jenn Sinasac Every March, the forestscape bursts with color as the Guayacan trees start to bloom, producing a full crown of golden, tubular-shaped flowers. It is
Crimson Passion Flower Passiflora vitifolia Photo by Jenn Sinasac One of the large, conspicuous flowers of the forest understory, the Crimson Passion Flower is one of the most beautiful sights when blooming! This woody vine is distinguished by large (up to 15 cm in length), grape-like lobed leaves with two glands at the base and cylindrical stems. Flowers, bright crimson in color, form individually along the vine in sequence. Flowers have bright red petals with red, yellow or white corona filaments in 3 series, and green sepals. Fruits are equally distinguishable, an oval up to 8 cm in length, green with white spots somewhat resembling a small watermelon! Fruits contain numerous seeds. The fruit of the passiflora vitifolia is sour but edible; it can take up to a month to ripen after falling from the vine, and tastes like sour strawberries. The passion flower blooms and fruits throughout most of the year. It can be found in the understory of the forest, as well as along the edges of primary and secondary forests and roadsides. The larvae of several species of passion vine butterflies (subfamily Heliconinae), including Juno Longwing, Julia, Cydno Longwing, Hecale Longwing and Green Longwing, use Passiflora vitifolia as a host plant. Two species of ants are also known to visit the flower’s nectar. The fruits of the passiflora vitifolia are widely consumed by animals as food. Found from Nicaragua to Bolivia, Venezuela and western Brazil, the Crimson Passion Flower is one of the most common passion vines in the lowland and foothills rainforests of Panama, easily distinguished by its bright red flowers. It can be found around all the Canopy Family lodges. The name “vitifolia” refers to the vine’s grape-like leaves. Crimson Passion Vine fruit, by Jenn Sinasac
Crimson Passion Flower Passiflora vitifolia Photo by Jenn Sinasac One of the large, conspicuous flowers of the forest understory, the Crimson Passion Flower is one of the most beautiful sights when blooming! This