DixPix Photographs

     

TROPICAL CENTRAL AMERICA

 
     
  PASSION FLOWER AND SPURGE FAMILIES  

 

Euphorbiaceae, the Spurge Family and Passifloraceae, the Passion Flower Family are two of roughly 40 families which make up the complex Malpighiales Order in botany.

Euphorbiaceae contains roughly 7500 species of diverse plants. They are mainly tropical, with unisexual flowers, typically on the same plant.  Most produce a milky or colored sap which is often toxic or even irritating.  The family has given us cassava, castor oil, and the rubber tree, as well as a few notable garden flowers.  With such interesting flora, it is unfortunate that it is named after the dull and lowly spurge.  The latin name is derived from the large Euphorbia genus, with over 2000 species.

 

The famous Poinsettia, Euphorbia pulcherrima, started out in the hills of southern Mexico and Guatemala, and in Latin America is more commonly called Noche Buena.  It is now pantropical as a garden flower with over 100 cultivated varieties. Click to see big picture (481x480 pixels; 117 KB)
A view of a Poinsettia from above, in the Maihuatlan Range of southwestern Mexico.
The flaming red colors for which Poinsettias are famous are actually specialized leaves.  The male and female flowers are small, but interesting on close inspection. Click to see big picture (640x439 pixels; 90 KB)
Euphorbia leucocephala is known as the Snowflake Euphoria, or as Pascuita in its native Central America. It is now widespread in the tropics.  The white structures are leaf bracts. Click to see big picture (632x480 pixels; 127 KB)
Euphorbia heterophylla is also a popular garden flower and ground cover, which has become weedy in southeast Asia.  Garden versions develop red bracts and are known as Wild Poinsettias, but here in their native Mesoamerica, the original stock remains green. Click to see big picture (640x476 pixels; 84 KB)
Euphorbia milii started out its career in Madagascar, but has now been widely planted in tropical gardens and has widely escaped.  It is especially common in parts of the Neotropics. Click to see big picture (547x480 pixels; 66 KB)
This photo of Euphorbia milii shows why it is known as the Crown of Thorns, directly translated as Corona de Espinas in Latin America.  In temperate climates it is a popular houseplant and in the tropics can be used as an effective fence or hedge. Click to see big picture (634x480 pixels; 90 KB)
This is known as the Devil's Backbone in English and as terms such as Zapatillo del Diablo in its native Mexico and Central America.  In latin, Euphorbia tithymaloides.  It is poisonous, but used in various folk remedies and now pantropical in gardens.  Of added interest, it tolerates soils with toxic levels of heavy metals and other poisons. Click to see big picture (424x480 pixels; 73 KB)
With the formal name of Euphorbia antisyphilitica, you know that Candelilla has a story to tell.  In its native Mexico, it was indeed once used to treat venereal diseases.  It is also covered in a wax, which was once collected.  Perhaps of more interest is comparing this to a poinsettia, some measure of the extreme variations within the Euphorbia genus. Click to see big picture (272x480 pixels; 38 KB)
It came from Eurasia and invaded the warmer portions of planet earth.  It cursed the world with Castor Oil; and ricin, a chemical from its pods, is one of the most potent poisons.  Meet Ricinus communis, known in Latin America as El Recino or Higuerilla.  Typical of the spurge family, the male flowers are below, and the female above.  Click to see big picture (565x480 pixels; 119 KB)
And Ricinis communis, the Castor Oil Plant, can also turn some or all parts to a red color.  It is such a distinctive species that there are no others in its genus. Click to see big picture (640x475 pixels; 124 KB)
The infamous Manzanilla de la Muerte (little death apple) or Manchineel, is a very poisonous coastal tree, which is even dangerous to contact.  It is native to the northern Neotropics, and in the Caribbean was used to poison arrows.   Hippomane mancinella in formal company. Click to see big picture (640x454 pixels; 64 KB)
Croton draco is renown for its sap, which is red and employed against fevers, infections and other problems.  The trunk on the right has been cut at all angles to collect this valuable commodity.  The red sap has given the species the name of Dragon's Blood, or Sangre de Drago in Spanish.  It may be found from south Mexico to Panama. Click to see big picture (640x451 pixels; 135 KB)
There are several species that yield Dragon's Blood sap, in South America the best known is likely Croton Lechleri, here at the Jatun Sacha Reserve in Ecuador.
A rarer Dragon's Blood species, Croton floccosus kindly identified at the Botanical Gardens of Quito. This is endemic to the mountains of Ecuador.
This large-leaf bush from southern Mexico looks like it might be a Croton, but no guarantees. Click to see big picture (461x480 pixels; 85 KB)
This is the fruit of Croton guatemalensis, which may be found from southern Mexico through much of Central America, where it is known as Copalchi.  Photo from southwestern Nicaragua.
Croton funckianus hangs out in the mountains of Colombia. Click to see big picture (538x480 pixels; 99 KB)
And so does Croton bogotanus, here shown at the botanical gardens in its namesake Bogota.  It is known as Sangregado, where "gado" is a contraction of ganado (cattle).
Jatropha podagrica is native to Central America and the Caribbean, but is usually found in gardens nowadays.  There are many names, including Buddha Belly and Nettle Spurge.  It is poisonous, but famous for its ability to attract butterflies. Click to see big picture (565x480 pixels; 82 KB)
Dalechampia scandens is a nettle vine which one may be unfortunate enough to bump into throughout the Neotropics.  It also seems to pop up in parts of Africa.  Click to see big picture (584x480 pixels; 95 KB)
The English name for Dalechampia scandens is Spurge Creeper, but here in southeastern Nicaragua it is simply cursed as La Mala Click to see big picture (448x480 pixels; 58 KB)
Mabea occidentalis fruit, with elongated flowers above.  This plant is native from southern Mexico to Bolivia. Click to see big picture (498x480 pixels; 101 KB)
This is the seed pod of Hura crepitans, which will explode forcefully when dry.  Known for some reason as the Sandbox Tree in English, it may be found widely through the Neotropics, with local names such as Jabillo and Ochoo. Click to see big picture (640x420 pixels; 69 KB)
The trunk of Hura crepitans has pointed spines.  The sap is so poisonous that it was used to tip arrows in the Caribbean, and to stun fish.  (The rope-like feature in this photo is a liana.) Click to see big picture (451x480 pixels; 118 KB)
Huanchanus (Caryodendron orinocensis) with a large termite nest, at the Jatun Sacha Gardens, Ecuador. This species ranges widely in northwestern South America.
Under names such as Chenille Plant, Acalypha hispida is pantropical in gardens and has lost its original passport, but is thought to have originated in Oceania.  Red Hot Cat Tails is a common term, while in Central America one hears Moco de Pavo and Rabo de Gato. Click to see big picture (375x480 pixels; 82 KB)
Acalypha langiana, on the other hand, is known as Hierba de Cancer, and is indeed used as a folk remedy to treat cancer as well as wounds in Mexico and Guatemala. Click to see big picture (260x480 pixels; 49 KB)
Acalypha alopecuroidea also claims some anti-cancer properties, as well as anti-inflammatory.  Its most common name is Foxtail Copperleaf, and it ranges from southeast U.S. and the Caribbean to northern South America.
Tragia volubilis is a scrambling plant or small vine which may not look like much, but it packs a punch.  It is known as the Fireman Nettle, and lurks throughout much of the Neotropics.  Cow Itch is another name. Click to see big picture (640x469 pixels; 102 KB)
Manihot esculante originated in the Neotropics, but its starchy root is now the basic diet for over 500 million people around the world under names such as Cassava and Manioc.  In North America it is met as tapioca.  But the roots contain cyanide, and must be processed before eating. Click to see big picture (640x428 pixels; 110 KB)


The Passionflower Family, Passifloraceae, has now been plucked from the botanical order named for the violets, and planted in the Malpighiales. It brings with it about 530 species, but roughly 500 of these are in the Passiflora genus itself, known for tropical vines with complex flowers and fruit which are edible in many cases.   Latin Americans use terms such as Pasionaria, Flor de Pasion and Granadilla for passion flowers and passion fruit.

 

 
Passiflora edulis provides the commercial Passion Fruit, which may be eaten raw or in juices, jams and even liquors.  There are both dark purple and yellow forms.  It is native to the southeast Neotropics, but is now planted everywhere in warm climates. The most common Latin American name is Maracuya. Click to see big picture (640x412 pixels; 99 KB)
Passiflora foetida is called the Stinking Passion Flower, although the smell only arises from damaged foliage.  The fruit, known as Santo Papa (ie. The Pope), is edible, as are the young leaves.  The flowers are variable, and usually more colorful than this example.  Neotropical, now pantropical. Click to see big picture (640x423 pixels; 101 KB)
The Scarlet Passion Flower, Passiflora coccinea, is sure to attract attention, whether in a jungle or a garden.  Originally from the Amazon and other parts of South America, it is now widespread, and often mistaken for P. vitifolia. Click to see big picture (564x480 pixels; 95 KB)
Passiflora caerulea hales from the southern tropics, but is widely planted world-wide due to the complex beauty of its flowers.  In fact it is often called the Common Passion Flower, and adapts better to temperate climates that most passiflora species.  Pasionaria azul is a common local term. Click to see big picture (574x480 pixels; 95 KB)
The fruit of Passiflora caerulea are edible, but sort of ho-hum.  They are usually used to make juice.  Click to see big picture (569x480 pixels; 156 KB)
In English it's the Banana Passion FlowerPassiflora mollissima is now pantropical from a South American base, where it is called Curuba.  Its vine has been known to smother trees, and it is at home high in the Andes. Click to see big picture (439x480 pixels; 97 KB)
Passiflora sexflora is referred to as Goosefoot, when it is referred to at all.  The common name is derived from the three-prong leaves, and it may be found in the northwestern parts of the neotropics. Click to see big picture (640x426 pixels; 113 KB)
A clearer look at the unusual leaves of Passiflora sexflora, while a bee takes on the flower. Click to see big picture (442x480 pixels; 78 KB)
Passiflora quadrangularis produces the largest of the passion fruits, but the local name Badea suggests that they lack much taste.  Giant Granadilla is another common name.  It is widespread from the northwest Neotropics. Click to see big picture (585x480 pixels; 88 KB)
The Crimson Passion Flower, Passiflora vitifolia, brightens tropical forests from Nicaragua to Ecuador, and is planted well beyond, more for these beautiful flowers than for its fruit. Click to see big picture (342x480 pixels; 79 KB)
It is unusual to find truly two-pronged leaves.  I believe that this vine in western Panama is the rare and local Passiflora sandrae, but feel free to disagree. Click to see big picture (640x437 pixels; 133 KB)
Passiflora alata is Brazilian at heart, but has now been widely, if sparsely planted.  Here in Colombia, the fruit is said to be delicious, but rare. Click to see big picture (637x480 pixels; 100 KB)
The fruit of Passiflora ligularis is known by names such as Sweet Granadilla and widely enjoyed, as the vine is now pantropical from the neotropical highlands.  Photo from near Baeza, Ecuador.
Known as the Central American Passion Flower, Passiflora membranaceae comes flanked by large red bracts.  It ranges from southern Mexico to Panama, and the fruit is described as sweet and well flavored. Click to see big picture (631x480 pixels; 110 KB)
Another passion flower of unusual appearance is Passiflora cumbalensis.  This is a vine of the high mountains, from Venezuela to Peru.  The species has already been divided into somewhere between three and seven varieties, and is alternatively classified as P. roseorum Click to see big picture (586x480 pixels; 114 KB)
A closer look at the flower of Passiflora cumbalensis.  Its elongated fruit is referred to as Curuba Bogotana. Click to see big picture (452x480 pixels; 80 KB)
The fruit of Passiflora mixta is also edible, and it is both native and cultivated in the highlands from Venezuela to Bolivia.  Here in Ecuador it is known as Sacha Taxo.
Passiflora mixta comes in a range of colors.  Although this flower east of Quito is wild, this species, like many of its genus, is planted for both the lovely flowers and the edible fruit.
The Turneraceae was once a proud family dominated by the Turnera genus.   Alas, the ogres of phylogeny have now imprisoned it in the Passifloraceae-- and they don't even look like passion flowers.  
For some reason Turnera ulmifolia is known as Yellow Alder.  Working as a garden flower with weedy abilities, it is now pantropical from its origin in Mexico and the West Indies.  There are rumors of an antibiotic potential. Click to see big picture (416x480 pixels; 70 KB)
In Nicaragua we catch up with Turnera scabra, a small plant of the northern Neotropics whose flowers are said to last but one day.  Hierba Conejo (rabbit herb) is what they call it here. Click to see big picture (640x393 pixels; 137 KB)
The attractive flowers of Turnera subulata bloom from here in Panama down through much of tropical South America.  It goes by the name of White Alder, but how alders got connected with this genus is beyond me. Click to see big picture (640x430 pixels; 84 KB)