Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Lights for all

Over the last few months I have mentioned the National Rural Electrification Program, Lights For All, time and again. Getting the power line in was a very traumatic experience because it required cutting many newly planted trees, as well as losing an untold number of older trees in the 15 meter swath required for construction of the line. Yesterday, the electrical company, CELPA, made the secondary connection between the power line and the Bosque reception center. It may be a few days yet before we turn a light on because I need to have the place wired first. But in the meanwhile, I get a kick out of seeing the new meter in take-off position. Looking at that string of 0000000s reminds me of getting a new car with the odometer still set at zero.

Looking for a name IV

The tree that produced this leaf and pod is another unknown on my wish list for names in the world of tropical biodiversity. It isn't anything that would attract your attention but the red seedpod certainly is. What we see in the attached image is the pod in a dessicated form. While still on the tree, it opens up to disperse its seeds and then flattens out and doubles up as depicted. I've done some research in books and on the web trying to identify the species but it yet remains an unknown. If all fails, I'll have to contact Sr. Manuel, the botanical classifier, who did the one and only classification of trees at the Bosque. Refer to the "Botanical listing" label on this blog.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Looking for a name III

Oddly enough, our nameless tree got cut this week because the power company decided to make the electrical connection from the power line to reception center via the trail I mentioned earlier. Cleuson and Bimba cut the dozen or so trees condemned by the "lights for all" rural electrification program. I mentioned the pajucara story to Cleuson, to which he responded, "it's a miolo preto tree. We use it a lot for making charcoal." The word miolo is used in referring to "brains" but it also refers to "pith", as the heartwood of the tree. Thus, black pith. Well! Another lead in identifying the tree. I need to do some more research but a fast look at possibilities via the net didn't produce any new information. Secretly, I take to the name miolo preto much better than pajucara. Believe me, it's always an adventure learning something new in the world of tropical biodiversity.

Looking for a name II

After some looking around the area where the pods were falling, I found the tree. It's worth repeating that just in a few square meters of this area, there are a number of other trees which I'd like to identify. My friend and neighbor who had given me the name "pajucara" for this particular tree, may have been putting me on, or he was simply showing off some false knowledge that he had learned from his grandfather. Irregardless, the name got me nowhere. I discovered that just about everything under the Brazilian sun is called Pajucara, except for this tree. Next image: the cut tree and a new name.

Looking for a name

It was a question of time before I had to create a new label, this one "unidentified trees." When we deal with tropical biodiversity, it's inevitable that we'll beat our heads against the wall looking for some name to identify an unknown tree species. I only need to walk out the door of the Bosque Santa Lucia reception center to encounter a number of trees which I've never been able to identify, by common name or by scientific nomenclature. Just as an example, on the very short trail between the center and the dirt road going to Poco Branco, we encounter pods and seeds shown in the attached image. To be frank about it, they are quite distinctive looking and I thought some local person could clue me in with at least a common name. No way. I asked anybody and everybody that came to see me and nobody could help. I got my hopes up one day when a neighbor down the road told me that he knew the name but couldn't remember it. The next day he was back with the name, "pajucara", he said. All right! Now I had a lead that might take me down the road for a google search. Next image, the tree.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Reception Center II

And this is what the reception center looks like inside. I'm making a few changes now to make it less museum-looking but I'll continue to concentrate on showing wood samples. It all fits into the tropical biodiversity theme. Visitors see the live forest outside and the byproducts inside.

Bosque Reception Center

Every now and then I make mention of the Bosque Santa Lucia Reception Center. This is a view from the backside of the building. There was a time when I referred to it as a "museum" because of the collection of woods and forest artifacts housed inside. I finally got away from the museum concept because I could never afford to expand it into what could be called a real museum. Then, too, there could be some legal implications to having a museum, like special government licenses, inspections and so on. In reality, we have few visitors to the Bosque, so we're not in a position of creating more bureaucracy and expenses. Aside from a collection of more than 60 species of wood samples from the region, the next most important item in the center is a bathroom. No running water or electricity yet but when in need, it's a blessing. Jugs of water are available for flushing the toilette. We are now close to getting electricity at the Bosque, which means that we're also getting closer to drilling a well. With lights and water, we'll be "uptown".


This dove found her nesting place on top of the jarana column of the front porch of the Bosque reception center. There is another nest on the back porch, also a dove. It seems this one has gotten used to us human beings. In the beginning of her intern she would fly off whenever we entered the porch area. Now she holds ground until the last minute, as was the case when I took this picture. It's fascinating how all birds have the innate ability to distract us from their chicks by pretending to be an easy prey. Our little guest was no exception. She flew off the nest onto the nearby ground and pretended to be injured. A few minutes later she was back on the nest.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Birds (Tanager)

And the eggs made it through incubation. Two lovely chicks in a nest well placed in a lemon tree next to the reception center. Sorry kids, I'm just a photographer. You'll have to wait for for your mom to bring the food.

Bird eggs (tanager)

To continue with birds and their eggs, I took this picture a year or so ago. The mother was around enough that it was easy to identify, a tanager. We have several different kinds of tanagers around this region but as I remember, it was a silver-beaked tanager.

Unidentified bird

I took this picture of bird eggs last week on a tour with Amizade volunteers, Steve Williams, his wife and two daughters. I'd taken a shortcut to get us back to reception center in time for return to Santarem when all of a sudden the owner of the eggs flew off at such a speed, I didn't get a clue as to her identity. What surprised me more than the flighting bird was her nest. It was in a very visible cavity in a rubber tree, about 1.5 meters above ground. I took the picture looking down at the nest. I'm surprised that some smart snake had hadn't made an easy snack of the eggs. Speaking of snakes, only a few days ago Cleuson opened the reception center to be greeted by a papa-ovo (egg-eater) more than 2 meters long. The snake had taken advantage of an open space under one of the doors to get in. Our guess is that it was attracted by the many frogs that hang out in the building. This snake is known for its aggressiveness and this one was no exception. Cleuson told me that he had to call one of the neighbors to help get it out. As would be expected, they killed the snake and threw it into the woods. A couple of days later we were visited by many turkey vultures, all anxious to finish the job.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Carpenter beetle III

Here's the same tree branch shown in the previous post. This one gives a better view of the size of the branch cut by our friend, the long-horned bettle. It is average in diameter. Some are much larger. Seldom do I see really small branches.

Carpenter beetle II

I seem to be using the word "carpenter" erroneously, given that I can't even find it in Charles Hogue's Latin America Insects and Entomology. Likewise, I haven't found anything to satisfy my curiosity on any of my searches on the web. To be honest about it, I'm not sure how I came by the idea that the severed branches of trees, like the one in the attached image, was the work of a beetle with a saw-like mandible. I had visions of this insect going around and around the branch until eventually cut. Well ... it ain't true! According to Hogue, the culprits responsible for imitating the chainsaw are the long-horned beetles, which get their name from their long antennas, not their cutting instruments. Of the more than 5,000 Neotropical species, only a few are capable of gnawing through a live branch like this one I found day before yesterday. And that's exactly what the female beetle does. She gnaws through the wood. Why? The long microscopic tunnels of the wood provide the perfect environment for development of the her larvae.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Jambeiro II

A beautiful carpet of purple/red forms under the jambeiro trees (Eugenia malaccensis) as the flowers fall from the tree. Some people don't take too kindly to this art form because it requires a fair amount of work to keep the ground or sidewalks clean. Another negative point to having the tree close to your house is that the root system gets quite large and is quite capable of breaking up floors. I saw that happen to the home of a neighbor at Bosque Santa Lucia. But regardless of all the bickering, the fruit of the jambeiro tree is appreciated by all, especially the kids.


It's that time of the year, the jambeiro trees (Eugenia malaccensis) are blooming again. They put on quite a show with their brightly colored flowers, which come to paint the ground below. Although not native of Brazil, people here adore malay apple trees (I think that is the English name) because of the fantastic shade provided by them. I have a friend who compares the tree to an air conditioner because the temperature is always much cooler under the dense foliage.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Carpenter beetle

I've never seen a carpenter beetle but I see evidence of their activities on a daily basis. On any day, on any walking trail, I find branches of trees that have been neatly sawed off from up above. As depicted in the attached image, the cut is so professional, you would think that it had been done by a hand saw. The size of the branch can be two or three inches thick! I understand that it's the female carpenter beetle that goes to all this work to find an appropriate environment for laying her eggs. I wonder how long it takes to saw through a branch like this? Is it a cut from up above, or does the beetle work around the branch?

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Santarem - Riverboat Town

Santarem - Riverboat Town, was published by the Missouri Partners Publishing a few days ago. For more information, go to www.amazonriver.com/book.html

I started writing this book quite a few years ago but could never finish it. I kept adding to it, deleting things, changing things, revising it, etc. At last it's done, thanks to the Partners of the Americas, Missouri/Para Chapter. My thanks go to Mark Morgan at the University of Missouri for the idea; Clarence Wolfshohl, retired professor at the University of Missouri, for the final editing; and to Arthur Daniel Alexander, my son, for the cover design.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Pau mulato II

When we bought the Bosque Santa Lucia property back in 1981, I was still employed by an international health organization and therefore I didn't have the time I have now for looking after it. My backup at that time was a hired hand, who lived in the old house that used to be part of the estate. The falling-down structure of mud and wattle was more than 50 years old. The original homesteader had raised his family there, 11 daughters and one son. It was subsistence living in those days because it was nearly a full day by horse or mule to get to Santarem and back home. That same trip now takes 25 minutes by car, as an old man drives! Even at the time we purchased the place in 1981, transportation wasn't an easy affair. Not one inch of the Santarem-Cuiaba Highway, BR-163, was paved and the 3 kilometers from the highway to the Bosque was impassable part of the year. I had an old jeep that would get me to Cipoal and from there I would often have to walk in to our property. The point I'm getting to is that with a full time job and roads being what they were, I didn't get out there every day. Likewise, my hired hand didn't work for me every day. On one of my sporadic visits, I discovered that he'd cut down nearly all the pau mulato (Calycophyllum spruceanum) trees in the baixada (lowland) next to the house to make charcoal, which his wife used for cooking their food. I assume part of the production was sold or bartered off to the neighbors too. The years have passed and my hired hand eventually took off to the gold fields. He was last seen on a marble slab at the local hospital mortuary. Malaria, I think. Many pau mulato trees still exist in the baixadas of the Bosque. The one in the attached image was cut just recently by the electrical power company because it was too close to where the lines were being put up.


This image of the carambola fruit (Averrhoa carambola) was taken at the old school and chapel site, across the dirt road from the main entrance to the Bosque Santa Lucia. The tree escaped being cut by the power company because it's off the power line path by a few meters. Carambola doesn't get to be a big tree, so it wouldn't have been a treat to the power line anyway. Carambola is a favorite with the Brazilians for making juices and most people are quick to tell you that the fruit contains a high quantity of potassium, which is recommended for heart disease. I enjoy eating the fruit directly from the tree, if it is mature. Anything less, will tie a knot in your tongue. It's called five star in English and comes from India originally.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Pau mulato

The pau mulato trees (Calycophyllum spruceanum) get my attention as I pass through this low-land area close to the entrance of the Bosque. They love the extra water and humidity they get in the these baixadas (lowlands). Pau mulato is an iron-wood tree, which means that it is heavy, dense wood. Locals love to make charcoal out of it because it produces hot, long lasting coals. I read somewhere that this was the favorite wood for feeding the boilers of the old steamships traveling the Amazon. An rough translation of "pau mulato" is something to the order of the black man's, you know what. Another name for the tree is "escorrega macaco", alias monkey slide. When the red paper-like bark sheds from the trunk, it's so slick, even the monkeys can't climb up!

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Old Bloggers

Old bloggers never die, they just lose their connections. Our resources for internet services are rather meek in Santarem but the interest for using them is overwhelming, like everywhere in the world. The capacity of the telecommunications system and the servers can't keep up with demand ... but they keep signing on new clients as there were no limit. The result is an overloaded system, which reduces connections to the use of the messenger programs. Anything beyond that, like posting new blogs, is problematic. Getting a website published requires getting up before dawn to take advantage of a less congested connection. And there are times when there's NO connection, as happened to me these days. I tried to be polite to discover what was happening but servers don't reveal information about any possible technical problems their way. I finally had to get nasty, which got results. The problem was my broadband antenna, which is up on top of the staircase tower, nearly three stories up. Some part of the antenna was full of water! Second time this has happened. For two days following the repair, my connection was so great I thought of apologizing to the server for my unkind words to them. But starting last night the connection strength dropped to low and it's been difficult to do anything since. There's been no rain, so I know that's not a problem. Keep blogging!

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Army ants

Everything seems to be on the move. I saw several dead snakes on the roads this week and now I see army ants moving about by the millions. On the dirt road to the Bosque yesterday I could see them streaming across the road in such numbers they appeared as black streaks on the red clay fill dirt from quite a distance away. At the point where I took this picture there were actually several separated streams of ants, all moving in the same direction. If you want a better image of the ants, click in on the thumbnail pix. You'll see that in the middle of the crowd that there's dinner being transported to the queen and her crowd. Army ants don't have permanent nests, they bivouac it from day to day as they scourer the environment for anything that moves, including snakes. They are carnivorous. I suspect that they would dissect a person, if he/she stayed in one place long enough. I'm sure that's never happened but ... other varmints of the forest get out of the way fast, if they can. The only time the ants stay in one place for a few days is when the queen is laying eggs. I saw this once. It's a real show. Untold number of ants join "hands" in forming a gigantic live nest while she is laying her eggs. After the newborns are hatched, the ants break up and return to their nomadic ways.


It's amazing the assortment of wasp species around, each with its own style of nest. I discovered the ones in the attached image in the Pau Brasil tree next to the reception center. I've seen lots of engineering feats in that tree over time, I guess because I show it off as one of our stars, in terms of famous trees. It seems that each new nest is different than the old ones. This one isn't very noticeable because it looks a lot like a dead piece of a tree branch, or a dead leaf all curled up. Very large wasps and a small elongated nest. Quite a contrast. I assume that these wasps build the cells for their larva only. I see no way that they could share the space.


The first time I ever heard of rambutan (Nephelium lappaceum) was here in Santarém at João Sena's jewelry shop, maybe three years ago. The master goldsmith was nibbling away at one of the spiny red fruits, which are originally from southeast Asia. He offered a couple to me and I have to admit that they tasted better than I had expected. The second time I heard of rambutan was at Rose Dalton's home. Rose is an ex-pat American, who spent a good part of his life as a Franciscan brother at the diocese in Santarém. In the early 1980s love for a local girl got the best of him and he ended up getting married. He and his wife, Rosângela have two beautiful kids, the oldest of which lives in the United States. To gossip a bit, Rose hails from the state of Tennessee, where he had the honor of knowing Elvis Presley personally as young man. He tells the story of having double-dated with Elvis before his rock and roll fame. Our visit to see Rose that day was to see how he was doing after his surgery for vascular ailments. I had taken a young Phoenix palm as a present and on our way out, Rosângela reciprocated by giving me the rambutan seedling you see in the image. It was in a vase at the Bosque for more than a year but this last rainy season I moved it to the ground. It's growing and doing very well.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

African mahogany

This post is a follow up to an earlier report on my African mahoganies, Kaya ivorenis. I had mentioned that one these trees (planted in January of 2001), became very top heavy and broke off at about five meters. After cleaning up the mess, my thought was to cut the rest of the tree, thinking that it would be an opportunity to see the development of heartwood vs. sapwood. Luckily, someone alerted me that the tree would probably develop new branches and foliage, and that it has. You can see in the attached image that it's getting to be a beautiful tree. Nothing like the old one, which was bent over almost to the ground. There are four more of these mahoganies around the entranceway to the Bosque. Only one grew straight up, probably because it got more sun. The other three continue to be bent over, even though they're getting to be bigger. The rejuvenated tree is so nice, I'm giving thought to cutting the bowed ones so that they can grow straight up.

Pata-de-vaca (Bauhinia)

The "cow's foot" is a fairly common plant at Bosque Santa Lucia. There are at least four different species, some of which are used in the treatment of diabetes and cholesterol. I think the one in the attached image is Bauhinia forticata but I'm not absolutely sure. This is a young plant I photographed alongside the dirt road next to the Bosque. When it grows up to be a small tree, it produces large white flowers, which are very attractive. The smallest variety of bauhinia has a leaf just a bit larger than my thumbnail. I chew on the leaves some days, hoping that it will release some miracle nutrient which will keep me in good health for some years. Well ... at least it's done no harm and it makes for a good cud.

Aloe vera II

Another view of the aloe vera (Aloe vera) plant, this one of a cut leaf, if that's the right nomenclature. No, it's not hollow, it's packed with a relative clear gel that picks up the background color of the leaf. Truly, this is nature's tube of medicine. Squeeze on the tube and gel comes out. There are thousand and one uses of aloe vera (called babosa in Portuguese, which means slobber) but the most famous one is for burns. Every now and then I use it on my arms for sunburns and dried up skin. My next experiment will be to rub it into my bald head. If it brings back a beautiful head of hair, I'll patent it as the "tarantula", referring to our hairy friend shown in a post last week. It might not be a hit with the women folks but men will stand in line to buy the remedy.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Sebastião Manoel dos Santos

Some days ago I had the pleasure of seeing Sebastião Manoel dos Santos at Bosque Santa Lúcia. Sabá has played a major role in nearly everything that has happened at Bosque and our small tour agency over the years. I don't remember when he started working with me but I would guess around 1988, when I was doing mostly riverboat tours. Sabá is one of those characters who is a jack-of-all-trades, and I should say, a master of many. His construction skills accounted for an additional room on to our house in Santarem, the placement of tile ceramics in part of the house and the outside areas. He fairly much built the reception center at the Bosque over a period of four years, little by little, as we could afford to buy more bricks and materials. He was the cook on riverboat tours in the late 1980s and 1990s and also took on the task of being a woodman and guide. A friend and client, Alice Stein from Buffalo, New York, schedules her many visits to the Amazon based on Sabá's availability. If he's not available, she doesn't come. Some 4-5 years ago, Sabá joined the staff of Santarém Tur, another agency here in Santarem. I would have preferred that he work for me full time but unfortunately I couldn't pay him the salary he deserved. It's not easy raising a family with 5 kids, and I understand that perfectly. At Santarém Tur he has moved up in rank from common sailor to commander of a fleet of four riverboats, all dedicated to river tours. Having good eyes and a good memory, Saba is capable of navigating any of the rivers in the Amazon without ever looking at a chart. I took this picture of him when he visited the Bosque. The palm is the result of some seeds he gave me, in 2004. It is a caranã palm from the Tapajós River area.


I remember seeing a Time/Life book some years ago with a full page photograph of one of these vines. It was given the title "peperomia" but I've talked with other people who say it isn't. We find these hugging vines in the woods around Bosque Santa Lucia with some frequency but I guess what caught my attention about this one was the size of it. The leaves are several times the size of the others and it starts at the bottom of the tree and goes all the way to the top! And it's all in tact and green, as you see in the image. Notice the small bauhinia vine in the background. This plant was described in another post some weeks ago.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Fungi IX

I also discovered these chalice or cup mushrooms today. They are much larger than the ones I've shown on the blog previously and they have long trunks, which don't seem to support the weight of the chalices. Or it could be there were leaves or brush on top of them. Regardless, they are beauties.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Passion fruit flower

Passion fruit flowers have been very scarce over the rainy season but now with several days of hot sun and everything drying out, I'm seeing splotches of red on the edge of the forest around the reception center. I took this picture this afternoon as the flower was beginning to close up and it required a flash. You can see the darkness in the background.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Tarantula spider IV

And here you see our eight legged friend doing a disappearing act in an opening between two boards in the work table. He certainly didn't take off in a sprint after he was spotted hiding between between the sacks of dirt. I removed one sack from the table and came back in about five minutes. Then I removed the other sack but he remained in a frozen position. Finally, he got tired of being photographed and decided to look for a more secluded place to hide. Look at the red hairs on the tail. I wonder if that might not be a sperm sack? I forgot to mention that the size of the beautiful creature is about five inches long.

Tarantula spider III

I discovered this tarantula spider at the Bosque between two plastic sacks of dirt used for potting plants. I assume that it is a male spider because of all the colors. I don't think I've ever seen a spider so decked out for a date. You're looking towards the head of the creature. In the next image, I'll show the colorful tail.

Tatajuba logs

At last my neighbor delivered on his part of the deal to deliver four of the tatajuba (Bagassa guianensis) logs to the Bosque reception center in return for the rest of the two trees cut by the power company. Another neighbor down the road brought them in with his tractor. I wasn't there at the time but I gather that the logs were much too heavy to be lifted entirely off the ground by the tractor. I could see the marks in the road from the dragging. That's my ex-neighbor, Sr. Teixeira standing next the logs.

Entering a new month

So, June of 2007 is behind us and we enter July in full force of summer, which is our dry season. We are now eight days without rain and I've returned to my daily mantra of filling five-liters plastic jugs with water from our home in the city for the purpose of watering plants, trees and palms around the reception center. It's much like chanting Ave Maria with a rosary because it calms the soul and allows my mind to wander off to less mundane matters.

A new summer and a new fence and gate for one of the entrances to the Bosque forest. The old gate was one of those heavy duty wooden structures that went up in the air some five meters and wide enough for a truck to enter. The wood was maçaranduba (Manilkara hubert), which has the reputation of lasting forever. Believe me, it's not true. Termites will begin their lunch with the softest wood they can find and eventually get around to eating up the hardest. It took them about 20 years to do the job but they did it in good style. I reserved the final act of pushing the gigantic columns over myself for fear that they might fall on visitors. Cleuson, my part-time helper built the new gate out of maçaranduba slats left over from another construction job and then painted the whole thing with these very striking colors. It probably won't last as long as the old gate but it cost very little and .... nothing is forever.