Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The log

It's been fun discovering some of the flora on this old log at Bosque Santa Lúcia. I wish I could show you the log in its entirety but it's much too big for that. I'm sure that if I were to measure the length of this old piquiá log, it would be more than 40 meters long. Imagine the tree with branches and crown. It must have been a giant! The deforestation of primary forest in this area started almost one-hundred years ago. There are still a few old timers around who remember when Poço Branco and the region was full of majestic trees and wild animals. There's not much of that left now but as long as that old piquiá log remains on the Bosque grounds, it's testimony to the fact that it existed. It's part of the history!

Mumbaca palms in the log

Just to keep us on our guard as we observe plant life on the old piquiá log, some mumbaca palms (Astrocaryum gynacanthum) have made their way into the hollow of the trunk. If I dared look closely, I think I'd find that their roots are already down in the ground. As reported in earlier posts, the thorns on this palm are dangerous. Referring to a little botanical history in the Amazon, I tell visitors that this is the palm that Richard Spruce made famous.

Philodendron on log

Without looking too hard, I found another plant on the old fallen log. It's a philodendron that I placed there some years go. The plant is called imbé locally and this variety is quite common in the forest at Bosque Santa Lúcia. Sometimes they climb trees right up to the crown.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Portuguese lace on log

Once I got to taking pictures of what's on that old piquiá log, I realized that it's a real botanical garden. Mind you, this is summer time when the hot tropical sun beats the heck out of the place. If I didn't haul water out there every day, it would be drier than a cow skull in the Arizona desert. The little fern you see in the attached image is renda portuguesa, which translates into Portuguese lace. Unlike the other fern, I placed this one on top of the log. I don't remember when, but it was this year. I do remember that the log was harder than a rock and I had problems coming up with enough organic material to cover a small piece of rhizome. Surprisingly enough, the cutting is well established and I can expect to the plant to spread out once the rains get underway. The mushroom to the left is the same one I showed just a few days ago. It's decomposing very quickly into a blob of whiteness. Right under the fern there's another mushroom making its way up into stardom.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Russelia on log

I planted russelia (Russelia sp) on the piquiá log thinking that it would be a great place to attract hummingbirds and butterflies. To my disappointment, the shade from surrounding trees didn't make for proper flowering and the dryness of summers always set back the growth of the plants. Interesting enough, I see more flowers now than ever before! I took this picture earlier this week, right in the middle of the dry season. I should add, however, that we got an unexpected rain about two weeks ago, which may have saved the day. Nevertheless, I haven't seen any hummingbirds coming in to sup on nectar. I do see them feeding on the hibiscus flowers on 70 yards away. Again, it could be the shade factor.

Lily on log

This is one of the lilies that Áurea planted on the piquiá log a few months ago. I was surprised to see it blooming on one of my watering runs. I had no idea what kind of lily it was until one day Áurea was flipping through a magazine at the Bosque reception center ... and there it was! It's a Peace Lily, well named indeed. I added the link because I found the described merits of the lily very interesting. We'll be planting more of these, for sure.

Croton on log

I don't know for sure but I believe that this plant with its root system dug in on and under the log is a croton. I planted it many years ago and I honestly can't remember who gave it to me, but it was someone from Santarém, for sure. I remember seeing one of these plants at one of the local universities (FIT) sometime back and I think it's an exotic from Asia. Planting it on a bare log wasn't too smart on my part. The first few years it did well during the rainy seasons and then nearly died during the dry seasons. In more recent times, the roots have grown down into the ground and now it's looking good, even this time of the year. I don't water it. Water is so scarce, not everything gets it.

Rhizomes on log II

I enjoy watering the rhizomes of the gigantic fern described in the previous post because they continue to snake along the top of the log and they're fuzzy red. The frond stems are coming off the rhizomes on the lower right. I haven't measured the fronds but I guess they are more than a meter long. I'm anxious to see how extensive this network becomes. What water will do!

Fern on log

The log referred to in this post is the remains of a piquiá tree (Caryocar villosum) that is said to have fallen more than 50 years ago, long before my time. Neighbors say that the log used to be almost on top of the road going through what is now Bosque Santa Lúcia. Road construction equipment eventually pushed it to the side, where it remains to this day. For the most part, it's hollow inside. I'm told that the heart wood was removed but I wonder how this was done without destroying most of the outer log, which is also harder than a rock. In the past I've tried filling the hollow spaces with dead wood from other trees, as well as some dirt, hoping to use it as a giant planter. Within a year or so all that material decomposes and the hollowness remains. This past winter, Áurea planted some lilies on top of the log and they're doing well. Now it's summer time, our dry season, so they need to be watered every day. The wild fern in the attached image was a leftover from the rainy season and it would normally die back this time of the year, but I've watered it on a regular basis, as I need to water the lilies.

Visitors from Kentucky

Right in the middle of a very large group of German passengers on a passing cruise ship, I discovered a handful of Americans from the State of Kentucky. Serendipity was with me because I had brought a University of Kentucky baseball cap to the Bosque that day, one that Waldinor Mota and his wife had brought me on one of their recent returns to Santarem. I quickly ran to the car for it and in no time we had a fast reunion right on the porch of the reception center. That's me with these beautiful ladies! They were holding up quite well from a long walk in very hot tropical weather. What the picture doesn't show are a number of other folks with their tongues hanging out from the heat. By the way, my pleasure in meeting cohorts from Kentucky is that I graduated from Berea College, Kentucky, back in 1962. Image, Jeremy Campbell.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Visitors II

Another group of ship passengers on one of the trails of Bosque Santa Lucia. Image, Jeremy Campbell.


Tours at Bosque Santa Lucia are normally few and far in between but from time to time we host passengers from cruise ships making stops in Santarem. On those days we may have several groups walking the trails, which means we must make adjustments to accommodate for numbers. I personally conduct the day-to-day walking tours for small groups of two or three people; when there are large numbers of visitors, English speaking guides on the order of one guide per group of up to 20 passengers are contracted by the tour operator. In the attached image, a group making their way to a walking trail on the backside of the Bosque. Image, Jeremy Campbell.

Mushroom on old log

I wish to thank GingerV for sharing her emotional experience of sharing space with a thousand year old Jequitiba-rosa tree in the Parque Tres Picos in the State of Rio de Janeiro. Surely a sample of what used to be found in the Atlantic Forest before man cut most of it down. I can only meditate on what the Amazon Forests will be like in a few generations from now. Will it fair any better than the Atlantic forest, or old growth forests of North America and Europe? I doubt it. "Developed" countries point fingers at Brazil and its neighbors sharing the tropical forests of the Amazon, but in reality we were the first to swing the axe. What remains of our once mighty forests are no more than pinpoints on the map. We only need to look at what's happening to the remaining redwoods of the northwestern United States to realize that our national mentality is no better than that of the poor people of the Atlantic Forest, folks who invade the forest at night to cut trees to make charcoal in order to feed their kids. The forest and its animals are no match for man, no matter how poor, uneducated or enlightened.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Howler monkeys in Ipê tree

Summer time and the ipê trees (Tabebuia serratifolia) are in their glory. An explosion of yellow from the large trumpet-shaped flowers provide a show for everyone, whether you are in a plane, vehicle or on the ground. The ipê in the attached image is an old tree located only a few meters from the Poço Branco spring, a rare source of water in this region of the Planalto. I've been seeing this show of nature since 1981, the year we bought the property that is today Bosque Santa Lúcia. Howler monkeys, without fail, come to feed on the blossoms of the tree every year. I took this picture yesterday, but when I returned today, the howlers were still high up there in the tree tops. I assume they were the same ones. There appeared to be four or five howlers present when I took the picture, but some were together and they may have been resting. There are a number of other ipê trees around but the howler monkeys seem to have a preference for this one. Why? Probably because of the safety factor; they're up there in the sky.

Pingo de Ouro

The tour I did yesterday was with a Swiss couple, John and his wife, who have been driving their camper truck throughout South America for the last three years. As they described it, they have no time schedule for visiting any one place. As a matter of fact, they don't use the words "visit" or "tour". They simply live wherever they are until they feel it's time to move on to another location. I picked them up at the Bombeiros (Fire Department), where their truck is in very good company. We spent the morning at Bosque Santa Lúcia and I presented my humble introduction to Amazonian flora. In reality it was a learning experience for me too because the couple shared their experiences in other forests they have visited on their long trip. John's favorite color is yellow. Fortuitously, many yellow blooming trees are now flowering at the Bosque. One is Pingo de Ouro (Acacia sp) shown in the attached image.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Cacau da mata

The translation for this title is wild cacao, or cacao of the forest. What you see in the attached image are the flowers of the tree, which are cauliforous. This variety of cacao is also called monkey's cacao because the monkeys normally get to it first. It's always a surprise to find one of these trees in bloom, as we did today. The flowers begin at the bottom of the trunk and go almost to the top, a spectacular show of color. I was with a Swiss couple, who also enjoyed the highlights.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Açaí palm, a new variety

While at the home of Zacharias Oliveira a few days ago, I was surprised to learn of a new variety of açaí palm (Euterpe sp), one that produces fruit at a height of about two meters. The EMBRAPA scientists developed this one with the objective of facilitating harvest of the açaí fruit, which normally requires a a person akin to a trapeze artist to climb up the 20-30 meters palm to cut the stalk. In the attached image you can see the newly forming açaí berries on panicles, which are easily reached by anyone standing on the ground. As far as I know, these palms are still in a experimental phase.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Calabash tree

I discovered this calabash tree (Crescentia cujete) in the front yard of Zacharias Oliveira, a friend here in Santarém. These trees are fairly common, but it was the size of the tree that caught my attention. The trunk and main limbs are just huge. This is another one of those trees classified as cauliflorous, meaning that the fruit develop directly from the main trunk and limbs of the tree. Except for a mass of seeds, there's nothing inside the huge ball-like fruit, called cuia locally. After drying out, they are normally cut in half and serve as containers for everything under the sun. Decorated cuias are sold in the arts and crafts stores of Santarém.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Muiracatiara tree

In the previous post I showed muiracatiara wood but I forgot to mention that it has an English name too,"tiger wood". Since we don't have tigers in the Amazon, obviously the Indians didn't think of that one. The "painted wood" seems more appropriate! In the attached image you can see what the tree looks like, at least when it's still quite young. I took this picture two years ago. The tree has grown a lot since that time but it still has that "bushy" look to it. In the forest it would probably be growing straight up because of the competition with other trees. I planted nearly 200 muiracatiara trees along the dirt road going into the Bosque but unfortunately most of them were cut down when the power line was put in earlier this year. The right approach would have been to plant the seedlings further back from the road but the area is already in trees. For every tree I plant, I need to cut several others to make allowance for the light factor. As a matter of fact, I've planted hundreds of trees along the Bosque trails, but few have survived because of the shade from the older trees.

Muiracatiara wood

Áurea brought this classy vehicle back from Belém on one of her recent trips there. It's made of muiracatiara wood (Astronium sp), which is very popular for furniture making throughout the Amazon. Muiracatiara is an indigenous word meaning the "painted wood". As you can see from the model car and the piece of wood under it, the wood is well named. Nearly every piece of muiracatiara presents a different scene. Over time it becomes darker in color, thus losing its natural designs.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Ipê, Part II

It's a breath taking event to look at one of these ipê trees in bloom. I compare it to looking at an orchid flower! It's so beautiful, you just can't stop looking at it. I'm only sorry that I didn't take my pictures a few hours earlier when the tree had a full load of blooms. You can see in the image that some of the flowers have fallen from the upper branches. New leaves form almost immediately thereafter. This ipê tree is located on the Municipality Hospital grounds here in Santarém. Given the size of the tree, I assume that it must be the yellow-blooming ipê of the high forest, Tabebuia serratifolia.

Ipê tree

An explosion of yellow blasted my eyes as I drove down Rio Branco Street past the Municipality Hospital yesterday morning. I wasn't able to get back to the location to take pictures the ipê tree until mid-afternoon and by that time the ground was a carpet of yellow flowers. I had missed the peak of flowering by only a few hours. Nevertheless, the tree was still a show of beauty.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Ficus benjamina, Part II

When I took the pictures of these fig trees on Sunday morning, I had to do some maneuvering to get shots without including an array of paraphernalia belonging to the street vendors and car washers, all stashed up in the trees. There were tables, stools, buckets and boxes, all of which would normally be in use down below, except it was Sunday. People earning their living in the streets; all of them survivors making the best out of what nature offers. Included in the tree decorations was this sign, which states, "Please, don't put up banners". A riot!

Ficus Benjamina

Travelers who visit the Nossa Senhora de Conceição Cathedral in Santarém are always impressed with the very distinguished trees on the other side of the street. They, no more than a dozen of them, have that look of being very old and something you might expect to find on the banks of the Amazon River. I could never find anyone who knew the name of trees, so likewise, I could never answer the inevitable question from clients, "What kind of a tree is that?" I didn't stay awake at night pondering the issue, but from time to time I would ask locals about the trees. One day someone told me that they were Benjaminas. Darn it! I should have figured that out long ago. They are fig trees, Ficus benjamina, which is an exotic from somewhere in Asia. As described in a blog post last month, the tree is a favorite for planting on the streets of Manaus and Santarém because it provides lots of shade and it's a "clean" tree, meaning that it doesn't shed its leaves profusely like most of the other species. It also has dense foliage, which makes it a natural for pruning into artistic shapes. Now there are lots of these fig trees around Santarém but I never saw them equal to the ones in front of the cathedral. I can only assume that these are much older.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Amazon and Tapajós Rivers

I'm not running out of blog material at Bosque Santa Lúcia, but I decided to add three more labels to my Tropical Biodiversity theme, those of Amazon River, Tapajós River and Santarém. No justification needed, since visitors will have contact with all three long before making arrangements for a visit to the Bosque. They all fit "hand in glove", so to speak. I'll intermix all labels as I publish posts. A mere click on the label of choice will bring all the publications on that particular topic together for fast reference. I'm also hopeful that these additional labels will bring more readers to my blog. I'm thankful that I have a few faithful readers but I have to confess that not many people have "discovered" Tropical Biodiversity. There are millions and millions of blogs on the records today and I dare say that most of us can't find our own blogs without the complete link addresses. Image: A world of water as two of the largest rivers in the world come together right in front of Santarém. In the background is the Amazon River flowing into the Tapajós, which borders the Santarém waterfront. I took this picture in July of this year from the hillside park called Praça Mirante.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Bug on bird droppings

I discovered this insect on a leaf that was partially covered by what appears to be bird droppings. What got my attention was the fact that it was presumably eating this material. It took a lot of work because the droppings were totally dried up from the summer sun and dust. The insect wasn't at all bothered with me taking pictures. It seemed to be scratching the feces off with what I thought was one of its front legs. As I watched it more closely, I came to the conclusion that it was probably the proboscis, assuming it has one. Notice the large hole in the leaf. I wonder if our friend was responsible for that deed? Maybe not because from what I could see, it was only scrapping off the droppings. If you want a better look, click on the image.

Kinkajou (Potos flavus)

I'm told that is is a kinkajou (Potos flavus) skull. I've never seen a kinkajou in my life, so I can't guarantee it. My doubt is based on the teeth. I can't imagine an nocturnal animal that lives in the trees eating fruit and insects needing all those long sharp teeth. They have prehensile tails, like many monkeys. You might get the impression from looking at the skull that the animal is quite large, but it only weighs between 2-3 kilos. I don't remember how I came by the skull, but I think it was acquired at some Indian village in Peru. I ran into an interesting article on kinkajous at the following link: http://blue-n-gold.com/halfdan/osito.htm

I guess I'll have to eat hat because the author of the reference states that kinkajous are classified as carnivorous and that they do have very sharp teeth!

Friday, October 05, 2007

Unexpected rain

You may have perceived from reading recent posts that October is normally a hot and very dusty month here in the Tapajós River region. November can be the same, so we bite the bullet and try to go about life as though we live in a rain forest environment. Sometimes we are surprised by an unexpected rain! And that's what happened today. At exactly 05:00, I heard distant thunder and a light drizzle of rain began to fall. I hoped for the best, meaning that I thought we might get enough rain to wash off the dust from my palm trees at the Bosque. At 06:00, time to get up to fix breakfast. Still raining at that drizzle pace and I'm fantasizing that some of that water might actually soak into the soil. Come 10:00, the drizzle becomes a real rain; not a downpour, but a heavier rain. Midday it returns to being a drizzle again and then the sky cleared up a bit and the rain stopped. At 20:00, my wife asked me to close all the windows ... and " don't turn on the fan." She's cold! The streets of Santarém are empty. Everybody is cold! Will it rain again tonight? I sure hope so because we got a lot of summer coming up.
Image: Rainy weather over the Tapajós and Amazon Rivers on October 5, 2007

E. Steel, Part IV (American Confederates)

As promised, let me share some of the information on Eliésio Steel's job application, which I discovered just by chance this week when cleaning out a file cabinet containing old outdated receipts and company documents. I'll include only basic data that will hopefully add some historical records to the saga of the approximately one-hundred American Confederate families who immigrated to Santarém in 1867. The application is obviously in Portuguese, the language of Brazil. The translation is mine.

Name: Eliésio Steel do Nascimento
Address: Trav. Portugal, 1.200 - Diamantino - Santarém 68020-150, PA
Date of birth: August 11, 1954
Place of birth: Santarém
Nationality: Brazilian
Marital status: Single
Profession: Professor of English
Name of father: Antenor Luis do Nascimento
Name of mother: Neusa Navarro Steel
High school: Colégio Estadual Prof. Álvaro Adolfo da Silveira - Santarém, 1972-1976
Higher education: Instituto Estadual de Educacão "Carmela Dutra" - Porto Velho, Rondônia; degree in education.
Additional courses: English at Instituto de Idiomas "Yázigi S.C." - Porto Velho
Employment: Professor of English for the State of Rondônia/Department of Education, 1985-1987. Municipality of Porto Velho, Rondônia, Department of Education; professor of English, 1984-1987.

The document was signed by E. Steel here in Santarem on October 23, 1995.

Image: A solid rock vase, created by E. Steel. In use at Bosque Santa Lúcia.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

E. Steel, Part III (American Confederates)

In the latter part of June of this year I reported the death of Eliésio Steel do Nascimento, descendant of George Steel, one of first American Confederates to arrive in Santarém in 1867. In the previous two blog posts, I referred to him as E. Steel because I didn't know how to spell his first name. Besides, I had never called him anything other than Steel over the years. I need not repeat what I wrote earlier, other than to say that we didn't get together very often until recent times when he got into the business of selling plants and vases. He would stop by our house occasionally and we would chat in English and, when I could afford it, I'd buy plants and vases from him. The plant arrangement in the attached image was one of his creations. Steel was actually pedaling it around the streets of Santarem on the back of his bicycle the day I bought it. Since his suicide on June 24, 2007, I felt it important that some record be made of this man, his family, his life and the historical link with the American Confederates. Unfortunately, time slipped away without my doing the research. I did encounter his sister, Edilce, once on the street where we live and we promised one another that we would get together in the near future. Then by chance, I met her sister, who now lives in Venezuela. I also had a call from Adilce's brother, who lives in Manaus; he thanked me for my friendship with Eliésio and for the blog posts I had written about his brother. But these were all fast encounters without opportunities to ask the important questions, like how do you spell Steel's first name? I was beginning to think that some of this history would slip into darkness when I came by Eliésio's job application among some old papers in a metal file cabinet that I was cleaning earlier this week. I couldn't believe my eyes. There was his application typed out on some fading bureaucratic-type paper, signed by him personally with both his signature and initials. I nearly threw it into the trash along with outdated receipts and other documents I no longer needed. I honestly don't remember his giving me this document. The fact that he spoke fluent English was good enough reason to apply for a job at a tour agency. Next post: the contents of the application.

Red-brocket deer (Mazama americana)

There was a time when red-brocket deer were more common around these parts, but like all fauna, they've taken a dive in population. As man moves in, fauna moves out, or disappears completely. Around the Bosque Santa Lucia region, this decline has come about in part because of over-hunting and in part because of the changing environment from slash and burn farming to mechanized agriculture that favors mono-cultures, in this case, soy and rice.

The red-brocket deer is adapted physically to survive the jungle environment. They are quite small, about knee-high, as I remember them, and the horns are simplified in that there are only two and they slant back making it easier to get through brush. A big rack of horns wouldn't make it in the forest of the Amazon.

This skull was given to me by a local taxi driver in Santarem, who visited the Bosque three years ago with two American musicians. He told me that this animal was from the Trombetas River area, northwest of here.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Parapará seed pods

This week we strolled over to the Industrial Arts Fair, which takes place every year at Praça São Sebastiao. As you would expect, there's not a lot of industry in a place so far removed from the rest of Brazil. The Fair is made up of maybe a dozen stands, most of them dealing in furniture made from Amazonian woods. The pieces on display are absolutely beautiful and the prices are right. One stand got my attention more than any other, the one selling arts and crafts made of seeds, flowers and other forest products. There are a number of artists in Santarém dealing in this trade, but the lady at this stand seems to have a special talent for making things look very classy. The item in the attached image may be a jewelery box, or some container for whatever purpose. It's made of wood from palm tree branches and decorated with the seed pods of the parapará tree (Jacaranda copaia). On top of these pods you can see a red tento seed (Ormosia sp). The rope to the left is probably made of the fiber of a bromeliad, one called Curuá (Ananas lucidus).

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Jaguar skull

I'm not in the business of collecting animal skulls but from time to time friends and colleagues pass them on to me. Maybe they're cleaning out their closets at home; and then too, they know that these artifacts fit in with the theme of flora and fauna at Bosque Santa Lucia. The skull in the attached image is that of a young jaguar. It was given to me by a fellow guide on the Negro River, north of Manaus. I didn't ask too many questions, but my guess is that it was killed for food. I know that happens in this region because I've heard it from the "horse's mouth", the hunters and those who have eaten them. I understand that there are still many jaguars in the primary forest of the Amazon. Unfortunately, they've become very rare around the Santarem region. There was a time when I heard of neighbors at the Bosque commenting on visiting jaguars in suit of their livestock. Now it's been a while since anyone has seen one, as far as I know.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Dust, Part IV

The entrance to Bosque Santa Lúcia is just up ahead to the right and dust is thick on the sides of the road. Notice the Brazil nut tree (Bertholetia excelsa) in the background with a new set of clothes. This is the same tree I showed only a few days ago without one leaf on it. In the foreground are three or four Taperebá (Spondias lutea) trees, all leafless. They will continue naked for a long period of time, probably until we get a good rain. It's interesting how some species put their new clothes on very quickly and others delay in doing so.