DixPix Photographs

     

TROPICAL MESOAMERICA

 
     
  Flora:  THE HEATH FAMILY  

 

Commonly known as the Heath or Heather Family, Ericaceae can muster somewhere between 3000 and 4000 species, depending on which authority is counting.  In addition to heathers, they are known in temperate zones for blueberries, cranberries, azaleas and rhododendrons among other offerings.  Many species are addicted to open areas, and have adapted to regions such as alpine landscapes and bogs, shunned by larger plants.  This hardly sounds like tropical forests, and many of those which call Mesoamerica home keep to the high mountains.  Other species, however, have found a calling as epiphytes.  The New York Botanical gardens have a site devoted to Neotropical Ericaceae at www.nybg.org/bsci/res/lut2/ .

The Vaccinium genus are the blueberries.  The fruit itself translates as Arandano in Spanish, but few in Central America are familiar with them.  Here you find these plants in the high mountains, and enough species have been defined to make identification difficult when you do come across one.  The term Madroño is applied locally to a range of highland heaths.

 

The botanical gardens of the U. C. Berkeley have identified this one as Vaccinium consanguineum.  It is at home above timberline in the mountains of Costa Rica and Panama. Click to see big picture (517x480 pixels; 97 KB)
This looks a lot like the same species, from near the summit of Volcan Baru, Panama's highest mountain.  The term Costa Rican Blueberry is applied in a horticultural context. Click to see big picture (640x436 pixels; 106 KB)
The Andean Blueberry, Vaccinium floribundum, is found in the high paramos of northern South America, where it is known as Mortiño. This is from high on Volcan Ruiz, Colombia. Click to see big picture (436x480 pixels; 129 KB)
Arbutus xalapensis is a tree with reddish, peeling bark, which ranges from the southern U.S. to Costa Rica.  It is known as Texas Madrone in English, and simply as Madroño in Latin America.  Red berries will follow these flowers in the mountains of southern Mexico.
Back to the heights of Volcan Baru for Pernettya prostrata.  This is a widespread species, gracing the mountains from Mexico to Argentina. Click to see big picture (640x475 pixels; 155 KB)
A closer look at the bell flowers of Pernettya prostrata.  With such a large range it has taken on several names, including Mortiño and Macha-macha. Click to see big picture (422x480 pixels; 87 KB)
From Cayambi-coca Park in the Andes of Ecuador, this may just be another form of the variable Pernettya prostrata.  Here it is known as Taglli.
There seems some confusion as to whether the berries of Pernettya prostrata are edible, hallucinogenic, or simply poisonous.  There also seems some confusion as to whether this is the same species as Gaultheria myrsinoides. Click to see big picture (640x373 pixels; 73 KB)
Comarostaphylis arbutoides can grow to the size of a small tree, although it more normally seems to form a large, mountain thicket.  It ranges from southern Mexico to Panama.  Click to see big picture (640x480 pixels; 112 KB)
The fruit of Comarostaphylis arbutoides has an unusual texture.  Some, who care about such things, think that the genus name should be Arctostaphylos.   Anonillo is a local name for this Madroño. Click to see big picture (640x435 pixels; 104 KB)
By whatever name, C. arbutoides has a distinctive, tawny undersides to its leaves.  These shots are from above the town of Dota, Costa Rica. Click to see big picture (640x474 pixels; 155 KB)
Comarostaphylis pyrifolia, according to gardens at UC Berkeley, other prefer C. discolor.  It is said to originate from Chiapis, Mexico. Click to see big picture (639x480 pixels; 146 KB)
From the same gardens and the same origin, this is denoted Comarostaphylis discolor.  There is some indication that it may be the same as pyrifolia, but the nomenclature is downright messy. Click to see big picture (360x480 pixels; 90 KB)
Gaultheria erecta ranges through the mountains from southern Mexico into Peru. On the right from Volcan Baru, Panama; on the left from Cerro de la Muerte, Costa Rica.  The fruit is edible, but in quantity can cause problems, hence the local name of Borrachera. Click to see big picture (640x416 pixels; 131 KB)
Cavendishia allenii displays the large red bracts typical of its genus, and unusual yellow flowers.  It has a restricted range in Panama, here from the San Blas Mountains. Click to see big picture (588x480 pixels; 89 KB)
Cavendishia callista is more widely growing in the northern Neotropics.  Here, near Santa Elena of Costa Rica, it shows its pink bracts and taper-tipped leaves. Click to see big picture (568x480 pixels; 79 KB)
Cavendishia bracteata is perhaps the best known of its genus.  It ranges through the neotropical cordilleras, and is also found in gardens.  There are several cavendishia species here in Costa Rica, however, so one should be careful in assigning names. Click to see big picture (570x480 pixels; 80 KB)
Immature fruit of Cavendishia bracteata, which will eventually turn black. Click to see big picture (640x480 pixels; 122 KB)
Macleania insignis is an epiphytic vine whose flowers may be orange or red.  It is at home from southern Mexico to Costa Rica. Click to see big picture (572x480 pixels; 60 KB)
Ceratostema alatum is restricted to the Andes of Ecuador, which is unfortunate, as it is a striking plant.  Here it blooms in Cayambi-coco park in the mountains east of Quito, where it is known as Pico de Loro.
From Cerro Kennedy of the Santa Marta Mountains in northeastern Colombia, this is Bejaria aestuans, native to the highlands from Mexico to Bolivia, and known as Payama.

 

The following photos are from a group of genera which can only be told apart by technical aspects.  They include Macleania, Psammisia, Thibaudia and Satyria.  Although some species have specific attributes which assist in identification, most are at best approximations.


 
Again from Volcan Baru of Western Panama, this appears to be Macleania rupestris, which is found in the Cordillera from Nicaragua south to Peru.  Chaquilulo is one of its local names. Click to see big picture (640x409 pixels; 134 KB)
Here in Colombia, Macleania rupestris and similar species are known as Uva del Paramo for their fruit. Click to see big picture (593x480 pixels; 109 KB)
Switching to Volcan Mombacho in Nicaragua, this appears to be the liana type species Satyria warszewiczii, one of the more common of its genus and occurring through much of Mesoamerica.  Click to see big picture (640x306 pixels; 132 KB)
Similar, and even closer to what some would call Satyria warszewisczii.  Northern Nicaragua on the left and central Costa Rica on the right.. Click to see big picture (640x441 pixels; 102 KB)
Decked out in light pink, this is likely Thibaudia costaricensis, which is confined to that country and adjacent Panama. Click to see big picture (640x459 pixels; 98 KB)
As the name would suggest, Psammisia ecuadorensis is endemic to the highlands of Ecuador, here at the Wildsumaco Reserve.
A fuller view of Psammisia ecuadorensis shows it to be large for the heath family and with five-vein leaves.
With an unusual orange color, this would be Psammisia guianensis, which is found both in the Amazon basin and in the Andes of northern South America.
From high in the Condor Range on the Peru-Ecuador border, this appears to be Psammisia sp.  Note the speckled flowers. Click to see big picture (476x480 pixels; 102 KB)
From the same area, this would be Disterigma alaternoides.  In the highlands between Panama and Peru, this species puts out these scrambling, wandering branches, which are red when young. Click to see big picture (640x364 pixels; 125 KB)