Saturday, May 31, 2008

Pajurá de Óbidos, continued

The readers of my blog, Tropical Biodiversity - The Amazon, will remember that I was concerned about whether a pajurá de Óbidos (Pouteria speciosa) seed would germinate. It was the second of two seeds I received from a collector of rare fruit trees. The first seed had germinated long ago but the one in question didn't seem to be making it. Then I discovered that I had placed the seed upside down. Real smart! Turning it over, it began to show signs of splitting a few days later. Then came some green as it germinated! A few days ago Cleuson placed the seedling into the ground and as you can see in the lower image, it's doing quite well. Seed in the upper image.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Taperebá fruit

The day that I walked that muddy trail over to Lira Maia's soybean field, I discovered a taperebá tree (Spondias sp.) with the largest fruit of this kind ever. Most trees (Spondias lutea) produce fruit about half this size. I thought I was about to feast on the fruit, but as I sank my teeth into it, I discovered that there wasn't much pulp. Most of it was seed. The same for the smaller fruits too. By the way, we can buy taperebá pulp year around in Santarém. It's one of the favorite pulps for making juices. The fresh fruit is an excellent appetizer with the local rum.

Spittle bug, continued

Some more "spit" on another plant. The other one two images back is lemon grass, which seems to be one of their favorite.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Spittle bug, continued

Yes, here is the spittle bug, or at least one of the thousands of species. I'm sure it didn't appreciate my having broken up its cozy home. Here's another link to the spittle bug, if you would like more information.

Spittle bug

Not being a bug expert, it took me a long time to discover what these patches of foam were all about. My first thought was to remember certain frogs at Bosque Santa Lucia that whip up a viscous foam for protecting their eggs. But the volume of foam in this case, as in the image, is quite small in comparison with the toad frogs. Ah so, maybe tree frogs? My first tipoff was from a friend in Michigan, who calmly told me maybe a bug was involved. After opening up the foam, I discovered that Rachael was quite correct. There was a bug, or larva of one, inside. But what bug? It was almost two years later that I discovered the name of the little devil. It was a spittle bug! Per the link reference, there's not one but thousands of species of the spittle bugs. I don't know how many exist at the Bosque, but it seems that I've seen several different ones. But I can't be sure because they go through lots of different stages of development before they reach maturity. Coming up, image of the bug.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Orchid bee, continued

I don't mean to overload my readers with the orchid bee, but I keep digging up more relevant information. By talking with Cleuson, my caretaker at Bosque Santa Lucia, I discovered the indigenous name of the bee is mangangá. The spelling of the name took some time because he used "c"s instead of "g"s. Once I had the name of the big beauty, it was easy to Google it. I must say, there weren't a lot of references. Most of them were related to persons with that nickname. Regardless, the name is mangangá with several variations of nomenclature, including mamangaba, besouro-mangangá, marimbondo-mangangá and abelhão. It's reported as not being an aggressive bee, but when it does sting, it really hurts. Cleuson also reports that he's seen this bee on the passion fruit flowers in his dad's backyard.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Orchid bee

A call from my friend and orchid collector, Claudio Serique, reminded me that this particular insect plays a major role in the pollination of some orchids. I hadn't forgotten this fact but I was still perplexed over what to call the insect that I had photographed visiting the orchid blooms in the above image. My first reaction was to call it a "big bee", but then I changed my mind. Somehow the concept of a bee didn't fit. Then I heard the the word "beetle" being used by a local person at Bosque Santa Lucia. I was still confused, so when in doubt, go to the experts in entomology. I started with Latin American Insects and Entomology by Charles L. Hogue, which was given to me by Robert Stein, retired professor of biology in Buffalo, New York. I did a lot of flipping through the big book until I came to the section on bees. Sure enough, to my surprise, there it was, an "orchid bee". Having the correct name, it was then easy to search the internet for more references, and there are many. This one helped a lot to sort out the genera and species of orchid bees. Here's a more esoteric reference originating from a blogger, who is a specialist in perfumes. It's worth noting that most orchid bees are much smaller than the one in my image. Our friend is referred to as "bumblebee-like", which makes me realize that's what I was trying to say when I described it as a "big bee".

Monday, May 26, 2008

Fungi, Continued

Interesting the white filament material on the larger fungus. It reminds me of shredded coconut, like that used on cake icing. Could I offer you a slice? Also note the drip tip leaf between the two fungi. Quite common in the tropical regions, where there's a lot of rain. It's theorized that such engineering allows for fast runoff of water, thus better conserving nutrients in the leaf structure.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Hibiscus, continued

This is an all-red hibiscus too, but it's one of the gigantic types. The butterfly is having mid-morning breakfast because it takes awhile for this flower to warm up and dry out enough to open.


Now here's an oddity. This hibiscus plant has been producing rose colored blooms for the last 4-5 years, but last week surprised everyone with an all red one. I'm sure that some gardener will come up with an answer for this aberration. We do have some of the all red blooming types of hibiscus, but none are real close to this one. No, no grafts. Visitors include insects, hummingbirds and butterflies.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Urucurana leaves

An offshoot of an urucurana tree that was cut last year when we installed the electrical power line coming into the Bosque reception center. "Urucurana" is an indigenous word meaning the "false urucu". Those of you who have been to the Amazon will remember that urucu is the famed "lipstick" plant, Bixia orellana. Bixa in Latin means "red". The species, orellana, is named after Francisco Orellana, who was the first European to come down the Amazon River in 1541-1542.

Urucurana seedpods

In the very humid and at times wet Amazon, everybody and everything gets fungi. Believe me, it can happen to you too, if you don't get plenty of sunshine. I found these urucurana seedpods (Sloanea sp.) on the footbridge I built to get across an ancient creek that today is very much in the shade. I've shown these pods before on this tropical biodiversity blog, but in the green and dry forms. Coming up, a picture of the leaves of the tree.


"Oh no, another beetle", I can hear someone say. Well of course, we have to take advantage of the natural resources we have here in the Amazon. This little beauty landed on my shirt, but evidently didn't like my deodorant, so it flew down to the ground. The diversity of insects is so great, there's always something new. I've never seen this one.

Friday, May 23, 2008

The smell of orchids, continued

And here's another shot of our orchid loving friend as it zeros in on the sweet smell of perfume. There seemed to have been plenty of it because it dated the flowers nearly all day long. This is a Catasetum galertum orchid, I believe. See if you can discover the uninvited guest eating away at the leaves of the orchid. I found at least six of them, but after they had eaten up some of the plant.

The smell of orchids

I used to refer to this insect as "one more big bee", but thinking about it again, I don't think it's a bee at all. There's an indigenous name the local people use, but I don't remember it. People here describe the insect as "brava", which means that it's a mean son-of-a-gun. If that's true, I lucked out because I took many pictures of it hoping that I might get at least one decent image. It really appreciates the sweet smell of a catasetum orchid, that's for sure.

Lira Maia

My friend and neighbor at Bosque Santa Lúcia is Joaquim Lira Maia. As my readers may have deduced from previous posts, he's my neighbor because his land borders on the northern part of the Bosque. He's my friend because I've known him and his family since arriving in Santarém in 1979. They're from Cipoal, which is located on BR-163, the federal highway that connects Santarém to Cuiabá in the State of Mato Grosso. When I arrived that year, Maia was finishing up his university studies in Belém at the School of Agronomy. I got to know his family because I was working in public health and Cipoal had been selected as one of the first communities to participate in the "barefoot doctors" program, more appropriately called "atendente de saúde pública". The community selected Maia's sister, Fátima, as the person to be trained. She wasn't more than a kid at that time, finishing up her high school studies in Santarém because there wasn't one in Cipoal. The commute wasn't an easy task because not one inch of the highway was paved. It was Maia's other sister, Mariquinha, who told me about a farm down a road on the other side of the highway that was up for sale. I checked it out one day, liked what I saw and we bought it, to be paid for over the next six months. That was the beginning of what is Bosque Santa Lúcia today. Maia's parents and his many siblings lived a few hundred meters off the highway in in a small mud and wattle house. They were agriculture people in the best sense of the word. Everyone worked the land in a slash and burn fashion, including Maia. His nickname was "jato", which means jet. So called because he suffered a childhood paralysis that left him with a one leg that dragged behind the other. But that didn't slow him down. He moved about like a jet. He was also bestowed with high intelligence and a gift for speech, which eventually got him in politics. I don't remember all the offices he's held over the years, but I know that he was secretary of agriculture for this state of Pará, at least one term. He was also congressman for this state, maybe two terms. He was elected mayor of Santarém and the municipality for two terms and he's now a national congressman from Pará. As you can see from the attached picture, he's still a young man. As a rural extension agent said at a community meeting I attended in Cipoal, "no small stuff for a kid, who was out in the field hoeing corn and beans not long ago." I consider Lira Maia a friend too because I used to spend a lot of time with his mother and father when I first came to Santarém. They both smoked homemade pipes and I had been a pipe smoker for many years. We traded pipes, we traded tobacco and drank a lot of homegrown coffee in that little house with mud walls and a dirt floor. I never got to know Maia the way I got to know the rest of the family, but to this day we're invited to occasional family type affairs. He's always treated us with friendship and respect. It is an overstatement to say that politicians have their fans and enemies ... and certainly Maia is no different. There are people who hate him and what he stands for in his stance for development of the Amazon. He was the key figure in bringing soy and mechanized agriculture to the region. There people who will never forgive him for that deed. The world of politics seems to mandate that you kick the shit out of your opponents in any way you can. The higher up on the totem pole, the more you get kicked. Law of the jungle! I'm basically an environmentalist, but I believe in a rational management of development. In an interview with a BBC reporter from Vietnam a few days ago, I talked about that in great length. In another post, I'll present those views. Right now I'd like to get back to my tropical biodiversity of flora and fauna at Bosque Santa Lucia.

Thursday, May 22, 2008


Cargill is the multinational grains company that set up shop in a 20 million dollar port facility here in Santarem a few years ago. My neighbor at Bosque Santa Lucia, Lira Maia, was mayor of Santarem at that time. I don't know the details of how it all came about, but Cargill ended up with a very premium piece of land and port area in whatever bureaucratic transaction occurred. The environmentalists obviously see red when it's discussed. A pivoting judicial question that never gets settled is whether or not proper environmental impact studies were conducted. Many non-politically committed people also see red because they are rightfully in love with their city and the Amazon. One only needs to look at their music, verse and writings about this place to understand that they were pissed when they woke up one day to see a monstrous grain elevator crawling out into the Tapajos River, "f....... the sky", as someone put it. The roof of the depot building sported the name of the company, "Cargill". The letters were so big, they could be seen from anywhere, whether it be air, land or river. The battle was on ... and continues. A high level judge closes the place down from time to time; another higher level judge overturns the decision; the company continues activities; Greenpeace finds a golden icon in their effort to denounce deforestation of the Amazon; the company removes its name from the depot roof; and more recently the company agrees to adhere to check and balances of deforestation for planting soy to be monitored by the Nature Conservancy. The attached image is a picture I took of the Cargill grain elevators during a rain storm. More coming ...

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Colors of Soybeans, continued

I took this picture of some soybean pods just before I got sprayed with a very strong insecticide. I figure that I'm now free of lice, ticks, fleas and all those things. I should have taken my dog, Lucca, with me. Just think, she missed a free treatment! I don't remember the regular month for harvesting soybeans, but I suspect it will be towards the end of June. The festivity is normally about the time the dry season sets in. I honestly don't know where Maia sells his harvest, but I would guess at Cargill. Coming up next.

Colors of Soybeans, continued

I figured that I should get the heck out of this soybean field as fast as possible in order to avoid what smelled like the worse kind of poison. Maybe I could have made it, but I met up with another employee of the farm, who had just cut his foot with his machete as he cleaned the ground around the young trees referred to in the previous post. He was using his teeshirt as an improvised bandage to reduce the bleeding but he commented that he had cut a vein. He was hobbling off home, which wasn't too far away. He didn't make any attempt to hail down his colleague on the tractor, which I thought strange. By the time I got going again, the tractor driver had made a complete circle of the very large field and he was bearing down on me. Well, too late now, so I took a couple of pictures and faced the music. If the driver was worried about my well being, or that of his fellow worker, it didn't show. A few minutes later I got back to the road smelling like the poison concentrate sold in those plastic bottles with the obvious crossed bones on the label. I couldn't help from remembering when this farm belong to a common slash and burn farmer, Sr. Arthur. He and his family worked the land with an ax, several hoes and machetes. Yes, they burned, but it was a small piece at a time. Cut, dry, burn, plant, keep undergrowth down with a hoe, harvest and move on to another area on the homestead the next year. When they got back to that first plot of land several years later, it was already secondary forest and they could begin the whole cycle over again. I laughed to think that now this tractor can cover the same area of land in just a few minutes. Sr. Arthur eventually moved off to the city because he had serious high blood pressure problems. His wife, being an excellent seamstress, earned the living for the family and they were able to educate most of their kids. Sr. Arthur offered his land to me at a very cheap price. It would have increased the size of the forest at the Bosque considerably, but Aurea figured that we already had too much land for which to care, so we let it ride. More coming in the next post.

Colors of Soybeans

As I started walking up my neighbor's service road to get back to the Bosque reception center, I heard the motor and clanging of a tractor coming in my direction. I had stopped to take a picture of some African mahoganies trees when the driver showed up pulling a huge tank of some liquid to spray on the field of soybeans. He jumped of the tractor and within seconds lowered the long arms of the spraying apparatus. He seemed surprised and not too happy to see me there taking pictures. I introduced myself as a neighbor and explained that I was checking out the trail system that had been invaded by desperate drivers looking for the easiest access to the highway. He replied that they were having the same problem, which was an understatement. As fast as he had gotten off the tractor, he was back on it and the spraying started. You can see it in the attached image, in the far distance. I take it that the liquid being applied to the soybean plants was that of insecticide. I was going to get a good whiff of it in a few minutes. Next.

Bacaba palms

Per my previous post, my neighbor to the north asked permission to plant select trees and palms on the demarcation lines between our lands. He built a service road next to the plantings, on his own land. Next to the dirt road is an immense field of soybeans that goes all the way back to the highway, nearly 3 kilometers away. This service road was getting to be very popular with drivers because the main road has been virtually closed because of that huge mud hole I have talked about on more than one occasion, the one I call Lake Maria. A few weeks ago, Maia, my neighbor, closed off this service road because it was getting to be a muddy mess with the extra traffic and there were some lovely figures, who were making new routes through the soybean fields. Motorcycle owners saw fit to break down part of the barrier to continue their detour to the highway. This continues to this day and my own gates to one piece of our forest have been broken down for the same purpose. I walked this "trail" yesterday. It's used by ox and cart, motorcycles and even pickup trucks. The track is so muddy, it was difficult walking the approximately one kilometer. I didn't want to repeat the ordeal, so I walked out on Maia's service road. In the image you can see bacaba palms (Oenocarpus distichus), one that produces a fruit much like açaí. The juice made from the pulp of the fruit contains more oils than açaí, but it's one of the favorite palms in this region.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Colors of Brazil Nut leaves

My neighbor, Lira Maia, seems to have a green thumb. Everything he plants does quite well, including Brazil nut trees (Bertholletia excelsa). He asked me if he could plant trees and palms on the demarcation lines between our lands a few years ago. I thought nothing would come of it but they're all doing very well. Much better than the ones I planted, that's for sure. I guess some manpower helps. I never had the labor for keeping mine clean.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Army ants, continued

"Like termites, ants are everywhere in the Amazon. In my opinion, fire ants are the most difficult to deal with because they like to take up residence around man. They are tiny, but make up the difference in numbers and aggressiveness. I have read of entire villages having to move to get a way from them. Army ants are the most interesting because of their carnivorous and nomadic ways. One of my most exciting finds at Bosque Santa Lúcia was a colony of army ants bivouacking under the roof of our roundhouse. It is normal for them to find temporary housing for the night, but this particular stop lasted for several days, while the queen laid her eggs. Curious as to what was happening inside the ball of ants (they actually maintain the rigidity of the sphere by grasping on to one anther), I inserted a machete into it one day. To my surprise, eggs poured out of the live nest as though it were a container of milk. Within a few hours the ants picked up all the displaced eggs and returned them to the nest. Just to end the story, I was back at the roundhouse a few days later to find the ants gone. The only sign of the rendezvous was a pile of what appeared to be empty rice hulls on the floor—the left over eggshells." From my book, Santarém - Riverboat Town

Army ants on the move

It's always exciting to find army ants on the trail system at Bosque Santa Lucia. They just keep coming ... and going. There may be up to 200,000-300,000 of them moving about in their search for food, which means anything that moves. They are carnivorous, so don't make yourself available for any personal consultation. Joking about your being carved up for dinner, but they are carnivorous. And they bite and sting! It's hard to believe, but the workers are blind. The army ant is also known for its nomadic ways. They don't have a permanent nesting place, preferring to bivouac from night to night.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Peace lily

Peace lilies seem to have the ability to deal with many different light situations, from full light to semi darkness. I took this picture earlier this week. It was actually a sunny day out in the open, but rather dark in the secondary forest, where the lily is located. And it was blooming!

Caterpillars on the move, continued

This handsome caterpillar and its colleagues are having a real party on our alamanda plants (Alamanda cathartica) at the Bosque. I never saw them feeding on these particular vines before and I certainly don't remember this character. I wish I had paid attention to what it was doing instead of trying to get a picture. Could it be that it was chewing on that stem? I think so.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Collared anteater, continued

After leaving the collared anteater to what I considered to be its last breath, I went on to the reception center, where I told Cleuson, the caretaker, about the animal. What he said surprised me because I discovered that the anteater hadn't been hit by a vehicle. It had been attacked by three dogs the day before! Cleuson happened to come by on his bicycle at the time to see the anteater fighting for its life. He said that he tried to get the dogs off the wild animal but the anteater had managed to hook one of his claws inside one of the dog's mouth and wouldn't let go. Then too the other two dogs were attacking, so Cleuson decided not to get into the middle of a potentially dangerous situation for him. I should have asked for more details, but I wasn't interested in hearing everything there was to know. I've said it before and I'll say it again, wild animals don't have a chance of survival after man has set foot in its territory. It's a question of time before they all disappear from the area. Terror stories of what happened to them are abound. Sloth with their babies on their backs being burned alive as the forest is readied for mechanized agriculture; crested caracaras and vultures feeding carrion of snakes and other animals after the burning; birds poisoned by insecticides and herbicides; hunters killing everything that moves; and dogs forming their own hunting parties. So it goes, the law of the jungle, so to speak. On the way out, I didn't look very closely to see if the collared anteater had moved from where I left it. If it were there, I didn't see it. I can fantasize that it survived! In order not to face Maria's Lake again, I took a side road that up until recently has been nothing more than a path for walkers and bikers. It is now used by numerous drivers, who like myself, are desperate to get back and forth to their properties. It's become a muddy mess and I nearly got stuck twice. I couldn't help noticing that there were demarcation stakes placed every 8-10 meters on the edge of the secondary forest. Lots for sale! There are now about 25 million of us human beings in the Amazon now. How much of the Amazon forest and its wildlife will be left in the years to come?

Collared Anteater +

I decided to get to the Bosque today, anyway I could get there. The dirt road going out has been so bad, I feared getting swallowed up by Lake Maria (or Maria's Hole, for those wanting to be more derogatory), the enormous mud hole the size of a football field blocking access. Needing to get some cement out to Cleuson for continuation of sidewalk building around the reception center, I nudged my small Fiat into the muddy water and went for it. It turned out to be much deeper than I had expected, so fearing that the motor would go under water, I stepped on the gas pedal and succeeded to surf to the other side. The car was mud from top to bottom but at least I didn't drown out the motor, which would have been a disaster. The rest of the 3 kilometers to the Bosque weren't interstate quality, but after Lake Maria episode, it was a piece of cake. Right after entering the Bosque limits, I saw this poor collared anteater (Tamandua tetradactyla) laid out in the road. "Probably hit by a vehicle", I thought to myself. I got out of the car to have a look and to my surprise, the animal wasn't dead. I could see a slight movement of it stomach, as it breathed. I took it the grassy area off the road by carrying it by its strong prehensile tail. I figured the anteater was much too far gone for me to have to worry about it swiping me with one its sharp claws. After putting it down in the grass, it raised its head maybe an inch off the ground and tried to get up. Then its head returned to earth and there were no more movements, except for the slight breathing. I left it to its fate and went on to the Bosque. What really happened to the anteater, coming up next.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Map of Bosque Santa Lúcia location

After sending this Google Earth map to a friend in Michigan, I realized that it would be worthwhile sharing with the readers of this Tropical Biodiversity blog. I've posted hundreds of images and texts on the blog, but I'm not sure I ever told anyone where the Bosque is located. Start with the City of Santarém at the top of the map. It borders with the Tapajós River and in some places with the Amazon River. Both come together in front of the city. To get to the Bosque come down the Santarém-Cuiabá Highway, BR-163 to Cipoal, which is 15 kilometers south. Then turn left on the dirt road (now blocked by Maria Lake, an enormous mud hole) to the Bosque, which is only 3 kilometers away. For those adventurous souls wanting to jump in their 4-wheel vehicles to go the Bosque right now, don't. Drop me an e-mail to make an appointment for a tour. The address is: amazonto - at -gmail - you know what. I'm told that this funny language will keep the spiders from spreading your address to spam dealers. I'm not worried, we got plenty of spiders at the Bosque.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Gil Serique's book

I'm remiss in not having announced the publication of Gil Serique's book on birds in the Amazon. At last a guidebook for the more common birds of the region ... and written by a local birder and photographer. As a fellow guide and owner of Bosque Santa Lúcia, I know that most visitors coming to this part of the word think they can find bird identification books locally. That's not true, at least until now. It's indeed a pleasure to see this quality product being made available for birders and also for the general public, all hungry for information on the Amazonian environment. I love the introduction to this publication, written by Alan Dean Foster (author of Star Trek, Star Wars, Alien): "Master guide and naturalist Gil Serique doesn't just live in the Amazon ... he lives the Amazon every day of his life. From its teeming, vibrant cities to the tiny villages that hug its tree-shrouded tributaries, from the line of hyperactive ants hunting for food to the jaguar silently prowling the moon-kissed shadows while raucous macaws chorus overhead, no one knows the secrets of the great river and its surrounding countryside better than Gil Serique." Visit Gil's website at

Tree resin

Nature's own acrylic, a glob of hardened resin from one of the breu trees. There a lot of resin producing trees at Bosque Santa Lucia, but this sample came from a collector, who commercializes the product for caulking canoes and boats. The genus is Protium, but I don't know the species. There are some breu trees which produce resin of the color seen in the attached image. There are others which produce black resin.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Neighbor's cashew tree

Looking out our bedroom window, you'd never know that we live in the second largest city in this State of Pará. There are still lots of trees around to soften our eyeballs against light and an increasing amount of traffic coming up Travessa Turiano Meira. Most of the trees are fruit trees of one kind or another, like this very old cashew tree two lots down from our house. To be a cashew tree, it's gigantic! It must be more than 20 meters high and spreads out from one side of the yard to the other. Interestingly enough, the fruits are relatively small ones, compared to the large and colorful commercialized cashews seen throughout the country. I assume this must be some variant of the savanna cashew, which is native to this region along the Tapajós River. The owners of the lot also have a small farm on the Amazon floodplain, so they alternate between the two. It's a big family with many kids and grandkids, so it's good that they can spread out.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Long-horned beetle

After doing some preliminary searches, I came to the conclusion that the insect you see in the images is a long-horned beetle. It's possible that it's the Titanic longhorn, which would make it one of the largest beetles in South America. Cleuson spotted it in the forest yesterday as he rode his bicycle to the Bosque. Knowing that we had the Amizade Volunteers coming for a tour, he captured the insect for a showing at the reception center. Everybody got pictures of the giant. When we returned from out walk, it had left the center, hopefully for the woods.

Dung beetle

This dung beetle is showing off his Olympic style by moving a ball of dung over the forest floor at record speed. Notice that it pushes with the rear legs. I was anxious to spend some time seeing and photographing this event, but I was with a group of Amizade Volunteers on one of the Bosque trails. I quickly took a couple of pictures so that others could do the same. There's no need in my reinventing the wheel by talking about the dung beetle. Just click on the above link for almost everything you ever wanted to know about the topic. I look forward to spending more time with them in the future, and to get a better picture of the beetle. In case you're wondering where the dung came from, it's probably that of a howler monkey.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Louro preto tree

I can be accused of cutting down trees too! I found it necessary to cut a few of them to build the Bosque Santa Lúcia reception center a few years ago and more recently to clear way for the construction of the water box tower. Then, too, I needed some space for a few special trees not found on the trail system. I can't remorse the fact because I've been able to maintain nearly 300 acres of forest since we bought the land in 1981. In that time I've seen a lot of neighboring forests fall and God only knows how much of the Amazon forest has been devastated in the same time span. I started with a secondary forest because the primary forest had been cut more than a hundred years ago, followed by slash and burn agriculture. The place is still secondary forest and will continue to be such for a long, long time, should it be lucky enough to survive the onslaught of the spreading city and suburbanites. Primary forests, like the Tapajós National Forest, are made up of trees hundreds of years old. Some boast an old age of a thousand years! Image: a cut louro preto tree (Ocotea sp.). The family is Lauraceae. Note the very dark heartwood, compared to the sapwood around it.

Clearing land

At the very beginning of the rainy season, we noticed a few people with a chainsaw coming in and out of a small road that runs through the Bosque. Then a truck with sawed up logs. I figured that they weren't cutting anything on the Bosque property, but I wanted to see where. It turned out to be on a rather large piece of property bordering one side of our forest land. The land belongs to a person we know, who lives three kilometers away on the highway. He had made a deal with some other people from the same community to provide labor for the clearing of some 12-15 acres for the purpose of planting corn, beans and rice. Likewise, the workers will tend the crops in return for part of the harvest. The wood was sold to a person who makes charcoal, thus the truck we saw coming and going. Image: some of the secondary forest ready to be hauled off to the charcoal ovens.

Friday, May 09, 2008

My mahogany trees, continued

And here's our parasitic friend, erva de passarinho (bird's herb), having dinner at the expense of a tree next to the Bosque reception center. Note the root system of the plant on the branch of the tree. The genus is Phoradendron and it sports many species. As it matures, it produces fruit that is a favorite for many birds, including the social flycatchers, which nest in the Pau Brasil trees next to the center. They guarantee that every tree around the building gets a present of feces with the seeds of the plant.

My mahogany trees, continued

Sorry, I guess it's time to return to that mahogany tree that the birds killed. What you see in the image isn't a big log. It's one of those mahogany trees I planted in 2001, across from the main entrance to Bosque Santa Lucia. I cut it because it had been killed by a parasitic plant that the birds spread around via their feces. The fruit of the plant is one of their favorite foods and I can truthfully say that there's hardly a tree around the open areas of the Bosque not infested with it. The seeds lock into the bark of trees and anything else it hits like a rivet. In no time at all a good looking parasitic vine is sucking up the nutrients of the host and smothering and shading out the host at the same time. The trick is keep pulling the vines off before they begin do damage. In the case of the mahogany, we let it stay on too long. This was the first mahogany tree, and the last, to be cut. What really surprised me was the quality of the wood for such a small tree. Most species at this age would be present only sapwood, not heartwood. I'm not a forestry engineer, but it seems to me that there is a lot of usable lumber in this log of only 8 inches or so. I've read about mahogany trees being harvested at only 15-20 years of age. Now I believe it. Next, the parasitic plant.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

My mahogany trees, continued

This image provides a better view of the encroaching forest over the young trees planted along the road. The power line poles were being put up at this time and you can see some space between them and the reforestation project. Later a regional CELPA supervisor ordered that all the poles be placed further back from the road and that the clearing be increased to 15 meters. That pretty much ended my reforestation project on that side of the road. The young tree you see in the middle of the image, the one with long leafy stems, is cedar (Cedrela ordorata). This species turned out to be one of the better adapted trees. A few of these were left under the power line.

My mahogany trees, continued

This image will give you an idea as to the work and expense of planting and maintaining the mahoganies and other species planted along the road going into Bosque Santa Lúcia. The picture was taken right after the cleaning up operation of cutting back grass, brush, vines, etc The mahoganies are spaced at about ten meters from the edge of the road. A picture was in order because it was seldom that I could afford to have this done. The most difficult part of the job is on the other side of the young trees, i.e., the encroaching forest. As you can see, the higher trees and vines are growing out in the direction of the road looking for more light. Next image.

My mahogany trees, continued

This area cut by CELPA is right across the road from the main entrance to the Bosque. The undergrowth here is relatively clean because it was being prepared for another entrance and parking area. In the image you can see three mucajá palms (Acrocomia aculeata) and one taperebá (Spondias lutea) on the ground. Only three meters back of these fallen trees, right under the power line, are four young mahogany trees, which were left standing. I guess in part because the power line crew recognized them as being planted and in part because they posed no danger, for the time being.

My mahogany trees, continued

One of the hardest areas hit by the construction of the power line was at the old school and church site, which reverted to the Bosque after the community moved both down to the village some 2 kilometers away. I had planted a lot of new trees in this area, most of which got the ax and chainsaw, including this large mango tree already starting to fall (image). I have yet to return there to see what can be salvaged, or replanted. In all fairness to CELPA, the construction teams left some of my newly planted trees along the 2 kilometers of road cleared for the line. The problem is that these survivors are either under the line, or next to it. It's a question of time before they have to be cut. But before that happens, I want to top them out so they don't reach the height of electrical cables. I may end up with some bonsais, but that's better than cutting them. More coming.

My mahogany trees, continued

The first 50 mahogany trees (Swietenia macrophylla) I planted was back in 2001, a donation of seedlings by Dr. Paulo Sérgio Pimentel, a local physician and the administrator of SUDAM, Sr. Barrosa. I mean to tell you that it's not easy to plant fifty trees when they're being planted in an area that's already in trees - of one seize or other. By 2001, I had already learned that it was a lost cause to plant new trees along the Bosque trail system, or in the forest. Seedlings need sun, and lots of it. I lost hundreds of seedlings trying the impossible. So in the case of the mahogany seedlings, I got "smart" by clearing some 10 meters alongside the dirt road running through the Bosque. Perfect for the situation. Over the next four years I planted a total of approximately 250 mahoganies. The cost of keeping them relatively clean of brush was more than I could afford, but at least they were planted and with time they would find their place in the world. In the meanwhile I received another rather large donation of seedlings from Drs. Carlos and Marilha Godinho, which were also planted along the road. Again, there were times when the poor things were almost suffocated by the forest moving in on them. To make a long story short, I lost most of these trees because of the construction of a power line that brought electricity into the communities along the road. As reported earlier, CELPA required a whopping 15 meters of clearing in order to protect the line from falling trees. And clearly, they needed it. In more recent times a tree was blown over by a high wind, which destroyed 7 concrete poles and left the three cables on the ground. Maybe I could have delayed the construction of the power line because the Bosque is a "green" area, but I would have been on considered an obstruction to progress by the local populations, who have fought for decades to get electricity. The attached image shows one of the first mahogany trees to be planted in 2001. More coming, including an explanation of the "killer birds".

My mahogany trees

When we bought the Bosque Santa Lúcia property back in 1981, not one mahogany tree was to be found on the property, or anywhere else around the area. Out of the thousands of species of trees in the Amazon, mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla) seems to have been the most sought after lumber by Brazilians and the international community. So much so that it's an endangered species today. What remains of the mahogany population today in Brazil is protected by the federal government under an agreement with the CITES Convention. Obviously there are loopholes in the management of the decree, but at least it will prevent every single last tree from being cut down for making expensive furniture in Europe and North America. The attached image is of a young mahogany tree at that was killed by birds at the Bosque. Killer birds? Yes, I'll explain in an upcoming post.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Fruit from an epiphyte

I wonder why some hungry bird hasn't eaten these beautiful berries on an epiphyte located next to the Bosque Santa Lucia reception center. They've been hanging there for many weeks, but nobody touches them. Hum ...

Red dracena

Midmorning light filters through a red dracena at home. I remember planting it last year. It wasn't exactly a cutting. Someone, maybe me, had broken off a stalk from somewhere else and I simply stuck it in the ground next to the driveway. I'm surprised that it took root and also happy, given that it turned out to be a beautiful plant.