DixPix Photographs

     

TROPICAL CENTRAL AMERICA

 
     
  Flora- The MAGNOLIID ORDERS  

 

The Magnoliids (or Magnoliidae) is not part of the traditional (Linnaean) naming hierarchy.  It unites a group of Botanical Orders with similarities in their DNA.  Orders of interest here are the Magnoliales, the Laurales and the Piperales

Under the banner of Magnoliales, the most important family in the area is the Custard Apple Family, Annonaceae.  About 900 of the roughly 2500 recorded species are found in the Neotropics.  Many of the fruit are formed by the fusion of the products of a cluster of flowers, technically known as a syncarp.  By any name, some are delicious and popular.

We start with another citizen of the Order, however, the Nutmeg Family, Myristicaceae, which is better known for its spicy Asian cousins.

 

The most interesting thing about the Virola genus of the Myristicaceae is their seeds.  Here the hard casing of one is opened showing the central seed and a red coating known as an 'aril'.  It is the aril the yields the nutmeg spice in the Asian Myristica genus. Click to see big picture (621x480 pixels; 93 KB)
A closer view of the seed with the aril still in place.  This is likely Virola Koschnyi, found from Nicaragua to Panama and one of the genus known as Bogamani.  The arils of some Virola species are hallucinogenic and used in shamanic rites in the western Amazon. Click to see big picture (582x480 pixels; 65 KB)
One of the best known tropical fruit of the Annonaceae Family goes by names such as Guanabana and SoursopAnnona muricata is native to the Caribbean and Central America, but is now widely planted.  It is slightly sour, but eaten raw or as a juice. Click to see big picture (640x453 pixels; 107 KB)
Annona muricata at the Matthaei Botanical Gardens.  These are buds which will open.  There are rumors that the species has anti-cancer properties. Click to see big picture (329x480 pixels; 69 KB)
Cananga oderata goes by the name of Ylang-ylang, sometimes written ilang-ilang.  It started out in southeast Asia, but an exceptional fragrance has been its ticket around the tropics.  An oil is extracted for use in aromatherapy.  Click to see big picture (500x480 pixels; 104 KB)
There are many species of Guatteria hanging out in Central America, with their unusual flowers.  This one, with short leaf stocks and zigzag stems is likely G. amplifolia, at home from southern Mexico to Colombia.  It is known by names such as Yayito and Malagueto to the locals.  Click to see big picture (640x454 pixels; 114 KB)

The namesake of the Laurales Order is the Lauraceae  or Laurel Family.  Most plants called laurels are not from this grouping, an exception being bay laurel.  From out of its 4000 or so species, the family is best known for giving us Cinnamon from Asia and the Avocado in the Americas.

 
Persia americana is a gift of Mexico, where it is known as Aguacate, apparently from a native word for testicles.  Known in English as Avocado, it is more at home in Mediterranean climates than the true tropics, but has been planted all over the warmer parts of planet earth. Click to see big picture (318x480 pixels; 59 KB)

Throughout Central America, micro avocados, mainly from the Ocotea genus, are called Aquacatillos.  They are renown as the main food source for the sacred Resplendent Quetzal birds.  This appears to be Ocotea tenera., which mainly seems to be from Costa Rica.

Click to see big picture (582x480 pixels; 113 KB)
Ocotea dendrodaphne (approx.) is more widely spread, form Mexico to here in Panama.  Do the Quetzals have preferences, they have a lot of choice in species. Click to see big picture (489x480 pixels; 104 KB)
Fruit from the closely related (and less pronounceable) Beilschmiedia genus, likely B. pendula, which crops up from south Mexico to Peru.  Beside aquacatillo, these are knows as Torpedos. Click to see big picture (640x391 pixels; 60 KB)
Litsea (or Tetranthera) glaucescens (or neesiana) seems to be confused on the taxonomic side, but appreciated as a seasoning and for medicinal and religous uses.  Spanish Laurel and Mexican Bay are two English renderings, while locally it is Laurel Sylvestre.  Mainly a Mexican species, but found as far south as Costa Rica. mexican laurel
The Hernandiaceae Family is a dwarf of only four genera.  This zigzag case seems to be of the Sparattanthelium genus.   It is a bit confusing-- there are two flowers on separate stems overlapping.  From northern Nicaragua. Click to see big picture (331x480 pixels; 77 KB)
And from the same area is this psychedelic eruption, courtesy of the Siparunaceae Family, which some would chuck into the Monimiaceae.  Actually it is the fruit of Siparuna thecaphora, that has turned itself inside out. Click to see big picture (640x420 pixels; 90 KB)
Here is a photo of the fruit before and after the inversion.  Local names for this oddity include Limoncillo and Pasmo.   The latter translates as astonishment. The leaves are a major food for the blue skipper butterfly larva. It ranges across much of the Neotropics. Click to see big picture (538x480 pixels; 89 KB)
More typical of the Siparuna is S. tonduziana in the Monteverde cloud forest.  This seems to have been fused into S. auriculata Click to see big picture (353x480 pixels; 64 KB)

Onto the Order of the Piperales, named for Piperaceae, the Pepper Family.  This in turn is dominated by the Piper genus with somewhere between one and two thousand species, and you would really have to be dedicated taxonomist to dig much deeper.  The Peperomia genus is close behind, but it is mainly epiphytes of small stature. 

 
The true pepper plant resides on the other side of the Pacific, but here we have Piper auritum, known in the Neotropics by such names as Piper Anise, Rootbeer Plant and Mexican Pepperleaf Click to see big picture (640x406 pixels; 106 KB)
Piper auritum, with its heat-shaped leaves, is widely used as a spice, although there are rumors it may be carcinogenic.  In Mesoamerica, the leaves are used for hats and for headaches.  It has enough character that it has been planted widely. Click to see big picture (640x461 pixels; 105 KB)
Piper marginatum is also distinguised from the mob of species by its licorice smell.  Known as Anisillo or for some reason as the Marigold Pepper, the species has spread through the Neotropics.  It is likely an anti-fungal agent, and has varied uses in indigenous medicine. Click to see big picture (364x480 pixels; 94 KB)
Introducing Piper peltatum.  Spreading its giant leaves from Guatemala to Peru, this striking plant has various names such as Pakina and Cordoncillo. Those leaves are pressed to many uses, from tick repellents to tablecloths.  Click to see big picture (640x435 pixels; 142 KB)
Distinguishing features of Piper Peltatum include the multiple flower stocks and the attachment of the stem in the middle of the leaf, instead of at an indented margin.  Its folk medicine uses vary from inflammation to malaria. Click to see big picture (640x373 pixels; 93 KB)
As the name Piper arboreum suggests, this is a large plant.   Its local name in the Neotropics is Gusanillo, referring to a worm.  The name's origin might be the typical flower stalk or the fact that it is used against parasites, not to mention fungal infections. Click to see big picture (563x480 pixels; 119 KB)
Piper reticulatum is known for some reason as Flecha (arrow), and is sidespread in the Neotropics.
A view of the plant and the distinctive leaves of Piper reticulatum.
Piper darienense has a confined range from Costa Rica to northwestern Colombia, and is here in its namesake Darien Province of Panama.  Its leaves have anesthetic properties and are used against toothache, giving it the name of Duelemiboca.  The natives also know it as Kana and use it to immobilize fish.
The is likely Piper colonense in the Panama Canal Zone, judging by the leaf vein pattern and shape.  It ranges from here to Nicaragua.
There seems to be a near infinite number of Piper species, best left to the few specialists in this field.  An example of the rabble without clearly distinguishing characteristics, one from Panama, the other Nicaragua. Click to see big picture (640x396 pixels; 121 KB)
And then there are the Peperomia genus.  Mostly retiring by nature, and very often epiphytes.  Not much grist for a photo study.  Here is one with a three-nerve leaf.  Click to see big picture (509x480 pixels; 102 KB)
Peperomia striata is also known as Piper striatum, and here at the Wildsumaco Reserve in Ecuador it is looking distinctively confused. 
From about 3500 meters altitude above Papallacta Hotsprings in the Andes of Ecuador, this is likely Peperomia hartwegiana, also known as P. kunthiana and locally as Tigresillo del Monte.
A nameless Peperomia, growning from a steep bank in the El Dorador Reserve of northeastern Colombia.
And one more Peperomia from the Caribbean coast of Panama.  Now that cheap digital is replacing film photography, perhaps more of these cringing things will be recorded, but as for identification, lots of luck. Click to see big picture (527x480 pixels; 116 KB)
Yerba Mansa (Anemopsis californica) is an aquatic herb with a long list of traditional medical uses.  It is from the Lizard's Tail Family, Saururaceae, which has only three genera.  Its native range is from the southern US to central Mexico, but it has been planted well beyond. Click to see big picture (640x461 pixels; 96 KB)

Aristolochiaceae is known as the Birthwort or Dutchman's Pipe Family.  With its bizarre flowers, it hardly seems at home in the Piperales, and indeed it has historically been tried in various other Orders. There are seven genera and about 400 species, several of which produce aristolochic acid, a carcinogen.

 
Sometimes called the Calico Flower, Aristolochia littoralis is native from southern Mexico to Costa Rica.  The "littoralis" usually refers to coastal species, but this vine is hanging out at the KEW gardens in London. Click to see big picture (539x480 pixels; 105 KB)
From another garden in Costa Rica, this is said to be Aristolochia gigantea, rumored to be Brazilian by birthright.  This side view shows where the term Dutchman's Pipe originated.  The genus are all vines. Click to see big picture (640x432 pixels; 112 KB)
Heartleaf Dutchman's Pipe (Aristolochia cordifolia) seems confined to Panama and Colombia, here on a roadside fence in the Darien Province of Panama. Some consider it the same species as Brazil's A. gigantea.
A closer look at the stange flower of Aristolochia cordifolia.
Some Aristolochia flowers have extended lips.  This one in the highlands of Colombia is likely A. ringens, known as the Gaping Dutchman's Pipe, although its mouth has been temporally shut by a rainstorm.  The "ringens" is latin for 'snarling'. Click to see big picture (543x480 pixels; 92 KB)
The fruit of the weird Aristolochia flowers tend to be fairly normal looking pods.  This is A. ringens again, to be found from Costa Rica to the Amazon. Click to see big picture (344x480 pixels; 48 KB)
But then they open up into strange baskets to disperse their seeds.  This dried example is from Nicaragua would be Aristolochia maxima (or constrica), known as the Florida Duchman's Pipe although native from Mexico to Venezuela. Click to see big picture (504x480 pixels; 91 KB)