Dendrophthora fortis Photo by Jerry and Linda Harrison Although mistletoes are familiar to many for their significance in European cultures, from ancient Norse mythology to modern Christmas traditions, they reach by far their highest diversity in the tropics. Most of Europe is inhabited by only one mistletoe species (Viscum album), as is most of eastern North America (Phoradendron leucarpum). By contrast, Panama alone hosts at least 45 species, and more are continuing to be discovered. One of these species, Dendrophthora fortis, holds a special place in the Canopy Family's heart, as it is not only endemic to Panama but was recently discovered and described by our own field biologists Jerry and Linda Harrison! The genus Dendrophthora (Greek, "tree destruction") contains over 125 species in total, distributed across Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South America, although the taxonomic details are complicated and many uncertainties remain. D. fortis (Latin, "strong") was discovered by Jerry and Linda—along with two additional new species, D. perlicarpa and D. primaria—not far from their home in the cloudforests of Los Altos de Cerro Azul, in the foothills of Cerro Jefe. A formal species description was published in 2015. D. fortis has subsequently been observed in additional nearby locations at Cerro Jefe, which is well known for hosting many localized cloudforest species (and is a popular day-trip birding destination from the Canopy Tower). Otherwise this species is known to occur in only one other population, at El Valle de Antón in Coclé (home of the Canopy Lodge). Mistletoes, in general, are plant parasites from multiple taxa that survive primarily by extracting water and nutrients from their host plant. Over time mistletoe parasitism may stunt or even kill host trees—hence the genus name Dendrophthora, "tree destruction." D. fortis has been observed parasitizing small Clusia trees that are very common in the Cerro Jefe cloudforest. It
Dendrophthora fortis Photo by Jerry and Linda Harrison Although mistletoes are familiar to many for their significance in European cultures, from ancient Norse mythology to modern Christmas traditions, they reach by far
Cannonball Tree Couroupita guianensis Photo by Jocelyne Pelletier. The “cannonball tree,” so called for the appearance of its large, round, woody fruits, is a member of the Brazil nut family (Lecythidaceae) native to Central and South America. This species has a mostly “peri-Amazonian” distribution, occurring in lowland forests on the periphery of the Amazon basin in South America, but it also occurs in small subpopulations northward into Panama and Costa Rica. Cannonball trees also thrive under cultivation in tropical and subtropical environments around the world and are popular in botanical gardens and as ornamental trees. The flowers of the cannonball tree are colored yellow to pink and are pollinated by bees. The flowers and fruits grow directly from the trunk of the tree as well as from large branches. The "cannonball" fruits themselves, which take about a year to mature and can grow as large as 25cm in diameter, typically break open when they fall from the tree, revealing a blue-green pulp containing tiny seeds. Wildlife such as peccaries eat this pulp and swallow the seeds, thereby facilitating seed dispersal. Locally the pulp is also used as feed for domestic pigs and chickens. In some Amazonian communities the leaves, flowers, bark, or fruits of the cannonball tree are put to a variety of medicinal uses, including to treat hypertension, tumors, colds, stomachaches, toothaches, and skin conditions. As mentioned, cannonball trees are native to Panama but occur very rarely in the wild here. However, they are often cultivated as ornamental trees, and several mature specimens can be seen at the Summit Gardens near the Canopy Tower. C. guianensis flowers, by Jocelyne Pelletier. References Al-Dhabi, N. A., et al. (2012). "Antimicrobial, antimycobacterial and antibiofilm properties of Couroupita guianensis Aubl. fruit extract." BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine 12:242. Condit, R., R. Perez, and
Cannonball Tree Couroupita guianensis Photo by Jocelyne Pelletier. The “cannonball tree,” so called for the appearance of its large, round, woody fruits, is a member of the Brazil nut family (Lecythidaceae) native
Cecropia Cecropia spp. Photo by Jerry & Linda Harrison Cecropias are some of the most conspicuous Neotropical trees, identifiable by their thin, pale trunks and large, lobed leaves. They are typical of secondary forest, as they are very fast-growing and adapted for colonizing forest clearings. The Cecropia genus, formerly placed in its own family Cecropiaceae but now usually placed in the nettle family (Urticaceae), contains more than 60 species in total, all from the Neotropics. Of these, 10 species occur in Panama and 6 in central Panama. Distinguishing different Cecropia species is often difficult and can require close inspection. The photo above shows the leaves of a C. peltata, sometimes known (along with other Cecropia species) as "trumpet tree," near the Canopy Tower. Inflorescence of C. obtusifolia, near the Canopy Tower, by Jerry & Linda Harrison. Cecropia trees grow and reproduce quickly to take advantage of the light afforded by gaps and clearings in the forest; C. peltata, for example, grows on average 2.5 feet vertically per year, lives for only 30 years, and begins producing seeds at around 3 or 4 years of age. Under ideal conditions a cecropia can grow 10 feet in one year! In their ecological role as "pioneer" species, cecropias facilitate forest recovery by rapidly colonizing cleared areas, conserving nutrients and preventing erosion, and providing shade for future growth. Cecropias are also very popular with animals, as their fruits, flowers, and leaves provide food to tanagers, cotingas, toucans, monkeys, squirrels, coatis, opossums, bats, iguanas, and especially sloths. The cecropias that surround the Canopy Tower afford us superb eye-level views of all these species when they are flowering and fruiting! Canopy Family founder and president Raúl Arias de Para has taken the effort to plant many cecropias (C. peltata and C. insigna) around the Tower and the Canopy Lodge
Cecropia Cecropia spp. Photo by Jerry & Linda Harrison Cecropias are some of the most conspicuous Neotropical trees, identifiable by their thin, pale trunks and large, lobed leaves. They are typical of
Panama Tree Sterculia apetala Photo by Raúl Arias de Para Declared the official National Tree of Panama in 1969, this species is a typical component of a wide range of forest habitats across Panama. In fact, one proposed (though perhaps apocryphal) etymology for the name “Panama” is that it derives from an indigenous word for this tree. The Panama tree is a medium-sized deciduous species that can grow to be as tall as 50m. It flowers variably, once every two years or as frequently as twice a year, depending on location; flowers are typically yellow with red or maroon stripes. Its fruits/seedpods mature about a year after flowering, and its seeds are eaten by agoutis, monkeys, squirrels, deer, and birds such as parrots and parakeets. Seedpods are lined internally with orange stinging hairs (trichomes), which may facilitate seed dispersal as animals often find them sufficiently irritating to discard the seedpods before finishing off all the seeds. Usually a Panama tree begins producing seeds when it is 20–30 years old. The Panama tree has been put to a variety of uses: its wood for timber, its seeds for eating (roasted, boiled, or used for flavoring), its oils for cosmetics, paints, soaps, and mechanical lubricants, and its bark in traditional medicine to treat ailments such as malaria, skin conditions, and respiratory conditions. These days Panama trees are also planted in residential areas as ornamental and shade trees. In fact, Canopy Family founder and president Raúl Arias de Para has his own Panama tree on his grounds adjacent to the Canopy Lodge. Raúl planted this tree, now over 20m tall, around 40 years ago! This year he has been making a special effort to collect and transplant the seedlings that have sprouted up around it; so far he has distributed about 20
Panama Tree Sterculia apetala Photo by Raúl Arias de Para Declared the official National Tree of Panama in 1969, this species is a typical component of a wide range of forest habitats
Yellow Dancing Lady Orchid Oncidium stipitatum Photo by Jenn Sinasac The genus Oncidium is a large, recognizable group of tropical orchids, containing approximately 330 species. This medium-sized, epiphytic orchid is found in the lowlands of Panama and possibly Colombia. The Yellow Dancing Lady has small cylindrical pseudo bulbs enveloped by 4-6 papery sheaths and a single, longitudinally grooved, fleshy leaf 24-70 cm long and 1 cm wide. The beautiful inflorescence consists of a single bloom stake extending horizontally from the base and terminating with many yellow and reddish-brown flowers up to 2.5 cm in length, shaped like a dancing woman wearing a fancy flamenco dress. This orchid blooms in the dry season (January – April) in the shady lowland rainforests around the Canopy Tower and Canopy Camp Darien. Pollination: Oncidium stipitatum is pollinated by a bee of the genus Centris.
Yellow Dancing Lady Orchid Oncidium stipitatum Photo by Jenn Sinasac The genus Oncidium is a large, recognizable group of tropical orchids, containing approximately 330 species. This medium-sized, epiphytic orchid is found in the
Scaly Tree Ferns Cyatheaceae Photo by Jerry & Linda Harrison Scaly Tree Ferns look like something out of Jurassic Park—in fact, they are ancient plants and originated in the late Jurassic. They are true ferns (Class Pteridopsida) that are rather tree-like in appearance, with trunk-like stems. The world’s tallest tree ferns are in this family, and can grow up to 20 m tall. The fronds are some of the largest in the plant kingdom, reaching 3-4 m in some species. The pinnate leaves are covered in scales and hairs; “sori” or spore clusters are located on the undersides of the leaves. They are mostly terrestrial (although some are epiphytic). Tree ferns growing in the forest understory have adapted fronds allowing chlorophyll to photosynthesize more efficiently in lower light conditions. In the family Cyatheaceae, there are 13 genera; the genus Cyathea is the largest and contains approximately 500 species, although the exact number of species is unknown. Scaly tree ferns are found in wet lowlands to mid-elevations in tropical regions around the world, and there are more than 40 species of Cyathea in Panama. From the Greek: “Cyathea” comes from the Greek word “kyatheion”, meaning “little cup”, referring to the cup-shaped sori on the fronds.
Scaly Tree Ferns Cyatheaceae Photo by Jerry & Linda Harrison Scaly Tree Ferns look like something out of Jurassic Park—in fact, they are ancient plants and originated in the late Jurassic. They are
Rush-like Flatsedge Cyperus luzulae Common in wetter areas around Panama, the Rush-like Flatsedge is a clump-forming, grass-like perennial member of the sedge family, Cyperaceae. It typically grows 20-50 cm tall, with the tallest plants reaching up to 1 meter in height. The main stem of the plant grows from short rhizomes (rootstalks). Leaves are linear, 3-7 mm wide. The bracts surrounding the inflorescence are leaflike as well, growing to 30 cm in length. Numerous spikelets grow in dense clusters approximately 1 cm in diameter, bearing up to 10 or more whitish flowers. Fruits are smooth, oblong capsules 1 mm in length and light brown in color. Cyperus luzulae flowers and fruits throughout the year. The Rush-like Flatsedge has a number of useful purposes by humans. The crushed rhizome is used as an aphrodisiac. The strong, flexible stems can be used as twine. Parts of the plant (likely the rhizome) is mixed with Genipa americana (Jagua – family Rubiaceae) and is rubbed on hair to encourage and maintain healthy hair growth! This distinct plant prefers wet habitats, and can be found commonly in marshes and swamps, wet fields and stream edges. It is found in the lowlands and foothills up to 1400 m. elevation, in tropical moist forest and premontane moist forest. Cyperus luzulae has a wide distribution throughout the tropical regions of Central and South America. The genus Cyperus contains approximately 700 species of sedges distributed worldwide. The species name “luzulae” comes from “Luzula,” a genus of rushes (family Juncaceae) which this species resembles.
Rush-like Flatsedge Cyperus luzulae Common in wetter areas around Panama, the Rush-like Flatsedge is a clump-forming, grass-like perennial member of the sedge family, Cyperaceae. It typically grows 20-50 cm tall, with the tallest
Sensitive Plant Mimosa pudica The Sensitive Plant is a creeping herb in the Fabaceae family. It has long, prickly stems that can grow to 1.5 meters in length, and has compound, bipinnate leaves with 10-26 leaflets. The round, pale pink flowers arise from the leaf axils. The fruits are clusters of 2-8 pods, 1-2 cm long, containing pale brown seeds with hard seed coats. The Sensitive Plant is one of the more “entertaining” and memorable plants in a tropical forest—it demonstrates “rapid plant movement”, in which the leaves fold inward and stems droop when touched or disturbed by warming, blowing or shaking. This behavior is known as seismonasty. It is believed to aid in predator protection from harmful herbivores. They reopen shortly after the disturbance has passed. It grows in shady areas, forests, edges and roadsides, and is pollinated by wind and insects. The Sensitive Plant is native to Central and South America, and is now distributed throughout the tropics worldwide; it is considered invasive in some areas it has been introduced. It is common in the forests around the Canopy Tower and Canopy Lodge. Did you know? The latin name “pudica” means “shy,” “bashful” or “shrinking.”
Sensitive Plant Mimosa pudica The Sensitive Plant is a creeping herb in the Fabaceae family. It has long, prickly stems that can grow to 1.5 meters in length, and has compound, bipinnate leaves
Tropical Milkweed Asclepias curassavica Photo by Jenn Sinasac Commonly known as Tropical Milkweed, Scarlet Milkweed and Blood Flower, this plant is a member of the family Apocynaceae, the dogbane family. The genus Asclepias (the milkweeds) are named after Asclepius, the Greek god of healing, for the many medicinal uses of the milkweed plants. As their common name suggests, they have milky sap, of many species contains toxins and can cause injury. Tropical Milkweed is an evergreen perennial shrub. It grows to 1 meter tall and has pale gray stems. The leaves are oblong and end in a sharp point at the tip, and are arranged oppositely. The inflorescence has 10-12 flowers with red corollas and yellow or orange petals, and flowers all year round. Fruits are 5-10 cm long, and contain small, flat, oval seeds with silky hairs for wind dispersal, similar to other milkweeds. Tropical Milkweed is a source of food for many species of butterflies, and like other milkweeds, particularly for both larvae and adult Monarch and Queen butterflies (subfamily Danainae), and is a favorite flower for planting in butterfly gardens. Tropical Milkweed is native to the Neotropics, and has been introduced to other tropical regions worldwide. It can be found throughout the forests of Panama.
Tropical Milkweed Asclepias curassavica Photo by Jenn Sinasac Commonly known as Tropical Milkweed, Scarlet Milkweed and Blood Flower, this plant is a member of the family Apocynaceae, the dogbane family. The genus Asclepias
Vanilla Orchid Vanilla spp. Photo by Diego Bogarin Well-known and very popular for its sweet aroma and flavoring, the Vanilla Orchid is the source of our commercial vanilla extract and perfumes used very commonly in our daily lives. The genus Vanilla consists of 110 species of orchids found throughout tropical regions globally. Two species, V. planifolia and V. pompona, are used commercially, the former on an industrial scale for food and cosmetics. Both species are native to Mexico and Central America. Vanilla is a vine-like plant that grows vertically along tree trunks and has aerial roots for attachment as it climbs. Long, thin stems grown up to 35 meters in length, and large, oblong, thick leaves with a leathery texture extend alternately from the stem. Flowers grow from the leaf axils, and are large and attractive, usually white and cream colors with green and yellow tints. Flowers are short-lived; matured flowers bloom in the morning and close in the afternoon, giving a sweet scent and opening only once per flower. We are familiar with the term “vanilla bean”; however, it is not a true bean, rather the fruit of the plant—a pod 10-20 cm long that ripens gradually over 5-9 months. It turns black when ripe and has a strong aroma; it contains thousands of tiny seeds, and both the seeds and pods are used to create vanilla flavoring. The word “vanilla” translates as “little pod” in Spanish. Vanilla plantations require trees for the vines to climb, thus providing open forest habitat for wildlife as well. Pollination: Flowers are self-fertile but require pollination, achieved by the aid of stingless bees and hummingbirds. Commercially, vanilla is hand-pollinated. Read an interesting article about the discovery of hand pollination here. V. pompona, by Diego Bogarin
Vanilla Orchid Vanilla spp. Photo by Diego Bogarin Well-known and very popular for its sweet aroma and flavoring, the Vanilla Orchid is the source of our commercial vanilla extract and perfumes used very