DixPix Photographs

     

TROPICAL CENTRAL AMERICA

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  Flora:- SAPINDALES ORDER  

 

This botanical Order here includes six different families, in order of presentation the Sapindaceae, Anacardiaceae, Rutaceae, Meliaceae, Simaroubaceae and Burseraceae.  None are major in number of species, but some are of economic importance, mainly due to their fruit.

We will begin with the order's namesake, the Sapindaceae.  Now that the maples have been dumped into this family in a shot-gun marriage, there are better than 1500 species calling this home.  The name comes from the saponins found in the latex of some species, which have traditionally been useful as a form of soap, giving the name of Soapberry Family.

 

Aki Fruit (also spelled Akee) is a gift of Blighia (or Cupania) sapida.  West African by origin, it was brought early to the Caribbean, and now planted throughout the tropics. The fruit is edible, but the seeds are poisonous and used to control parasites.  In Latin America it is sometimes called Sesos Vegital (vegetable brain). Click to see big picture (324x480 pixels; 72 KB)
The bright pods of Paullinia pterocarpa, a liana which turns up from Costa Rica to northern Peru. Click to see big picture (580x480 pixels; 94 KB)
The widespread Dodonaea genus is known as Hopbushes or Hopseeds.  This one from central Mexico.
This odd construction is formed from immature seeds of some member of the Serjania genus.  Each point will break into three winged seeds resembling those of maples, so perhaps soapberry and maple families do belong together. Click to see big picture (640x426 pixels; 105 KB)
   Anacardiaceae is a family of roughly 800 species.  In temperate climates, it is best known for poison ivy and related irritants.  In the tropics it has given us mangos and the cashew nut, and for the latter it is usually referred to as the Cashew Family.  
When ripe, the Cashew Nut (or seed) hangs below a fleshy 'fruit' known in Central America as a Marañon and in English as the Cashew Apple. This is of fibrous texture with a sweet, but astringent taste and usually used to make juice or wine.  The cashew nut comes coated with a toxic liquid and must be roasted to be edible, which is tricky as the fumes are dangerous. Click to see big picture (602x480 pixels; 108 KB)
A closer look at the flower of the cashew tree (Anacardium occidentalis).  This was native to northeastern Brazil (where it is called Caju) and to adjacent areas.  It was transported early to Africa and is now pantropical. Click to see big picture (500x480 pixels; 73 KB)
The famous Mango (Mangifera indica), long a favorite tropical fruit, and increasing appearing in markets elsewhere.  As the 'indica' name would suggests, it originated in India, but spread across tropical Asia in prehistoric times and is now grown throughout the world tropics. Click to see big picture (584x480 pixels; 140 KB)
Flowers of the mango tree are densely crowded on pink stems.  There are now many varieties of mango, as might be expected in view of its widespread cultivation. Click to see big picture (498x480 pixels; 102 KB)
Mauria heterophylla (or M. puberula) is known as the Pepeo Tree, native from Costa Rica to Bolivia.   It  contains an irritant that can burn the skin, but also has some uses in folk medicine.
The fruit of the Pepeo Tree are known as Manguitos (little mangos), but are said to be poisonous.  Botanical Gardens of Bogota.
Hogplum or Wild Plum is edible, with an oily seed.  Throughout its native Neotropics it goes by names such as Jobu, and Spondias Mombin is now  more or less pantropical.
This oddly marked trunk belongs to Astronium graveolens, known as the Ron-ron Tree, or Gateado in Central America  The species is native to most of the Neotropics, but the reddish wood is valuable and it is endangered through much of its range.  A number of tree species have red heartwood, known locally as Palo Sangre. Click to see big picture (200x480 pixels; 61 KB)
  Rutaceae is the Citrus Family, some of whose fruits need little introduction.  There are about 160 genera and roughly ten times that many species, but some taxonomists doubt that the family belongs in the Sapindales.  
The Lemon Tree originated in Asia, but had arrived in the Mediterranean by Roman times, and Columbus brought it to the Caribbean on his second voyage.  There are many varieties under cultivation around the world, and in general citrus fruit fit poorly into the normal scientific classification, which usually denotes the lemon as Citrus x limon.  Nice flower, and perfumed. Click to see big picture (612x480 pixels; 96 KB)
Citrus maxima is also Asian in origin, but has been widely planted and appreciated.  In Latin America it tends to go by the name of Pomelo, with various spellings such as Pommelo and Pumelo.  The common grapefruit is a cross between this and the orange. Click to see big picture (640x448 pixels; 94 KB)
The Pomelo flower deserves a closer look.  It has a sweet fragrance, and the species is employed for decoration. Click to see big picture (640x469 pixels; 68 KB)
The Orange, in turn, is said to be a cross between the pomelo and the mandarin.  It is the most widely planted fruit tree, and in latin terms is written as Citrus x sinensis.  Despite being a hybrid, it can go wild, and this is from such a thicket. Click to see big picture (615x480 pixels; 129 KB)
Choisya ternata is known as Mexican Orange, although it produces no such fruit.  It is mainly found in the southern U.S. and Mexico, but has traveled more widely in garden circles, where the flower is appreciated for its fragrance. Click to see big picture (640x461 pixels; 115 KB)
Zanthoxylum melanostictum is a species that ranges from southern Mexico to Columbia.  This is a genus of trees noted for their unusual trunks, in this case studded with fat thorns. Click to see big picture (640x449 pixels; 113 KB)
And here is another Zanthoxylum with warty bark.  The leaf arrangement in this genus is also unusual.  Here in Costa Rica there is said to be 15 species of Zanthoxylum to confuse things. Click to see big picture (640x439 pixels; 122 KB)
The trunk of Zanthoxylum setulosum comes with many rather thick thorns, although a few have a sharp spike at the end.  One theory is that these large thorns date from a time of mega-fauna when they would have been more appropriate.  Photos from Barro Colorado Island, Panama.
Fruit that spits into four parts, these are known as Guaraguao, of the Guarea genus, Meliaceae Family. Click to see big picture (640x480 pixels; 145 KB)
Meliaceae is the Mahogany Family, and these pods belong to the Mexican Mahogany tree (Swietenia humilis).  Here in southwest Mexico it is known as Caoba del Pacifico, and it may be found as far south as Costa Rica.
Swietenia macrophylla is known as Honduran Mahogany, with valuable wood which has made the tree a threatened species in its range from Mexico to Bolivia.  This old giant is protected in Summit Park of Panama, where it would be known as Coaba de Honduras.
Quassia amara belongs to the small and recently depleted Simaroubaceae Family.  It may be found through much of the Neotropics, although this specimen is toughing it out in London at the KEW.  It has been widely planted in gardens for obvious reasons, and is known as Hombre Grande in Spanish. Click to see big picture (640x411 pixels; 68 KB)
The heartwood of Quassia amara is said to be the most bitter naturally occurring substance, leading to the English name Bitterwood.  It is used against snakebite in some areas.  The bark is employed as an insecticide, and to make the 'bitters' of cocktail fame. Click to see big picture (605x480 pixels; 97 KB)
Cedrela odorata is known as Cedro Amargo or Cedro Americano.  Its fragrant wood is used to make cigar boxes and other items, and the resin is an insect repellant.
A vew of the unusual bark of Cedro odorata, which is a widespread species in the Neotropics, and locally known as Acuja.
  Burseraceae is perhaps best known as the Incense Tree Family, or by the name of two of its classical species, Frankincense and Myrrh.  It is a small family with maybe 540 species, and keeps jumping from one botanical Order to another.   
In Central America, Burseraceae is prominently represented by the Bursera genus itself, noted for peeling, aromatic bark.  This odd leaf pattern is courtesy of Bursera sp., known as the Caraña Tree. Click to see big picture (443x480 pixels; 82 KB)
Caraña Trees themselves tend to look a bit confused, but they may be encountered from southern Mexico to Venezuela. Click to see big picture (360x480 pixels; 104 KB)
This is the fruit of Bursera simaruba, a tree found in diverse habitats through most of the Neotropics.  Gumbo Limbo is one of its common names, with Copperwood from the English side. Click to see big picture (480x480 pixels; 68 KB)
In the Darien of eastern Panama, the skin-like bark of Burser simaruba has led to the local names of Indio Desnudo (naked indian) and Palo Mulato.  The outer bark continuously peels off to keep the surface smooth and prevent some classes of pests.
Elsewhere, the ever-peeling bark of Bursera simaruba has led in the latin tropics to the name of Tourist Tree (Arbol Turista), as it reminds the locals of the way skin peels off sunburned tourists. Click to see big picture (640x439 pixels; 130 KB)
Protium copal, is one of the trees yielding a resin used as incense and known as Copal. This species in found in southern Mexico and Central America. This one is fittingly at the mouth of the Copalita River in southwestern Mexico.
Finally, an attractive tree in a park in Bogota. This is Billia Colombiana, a gift of the Hippocastanaceae family.  It is closely associated with the highlands of Colombia, but is also reported from scattered localities northward to southern Mexico. Billia columbiana