Monday, April 25, 2011


Well, here they are. A handful of what I saw, just a taste of the amazing botanical diversity of Nicaragua.

Jicaro (Crescentia cujeta) has a strange flower pollenated by bats, it actually looks like a bat. It produces large hard round fruits that contain numerous protein rich seeds that are made into a drink. This one is growing in Arboretum Nacional Juan Bautista Salas Estrada in Managua.

The national arboretum a center for education in the capital grows many useful plants of Nicaragua. Common Bamboo (Bambus vulgaris), though not native is grown extensively for construction material. It ain't bad looking either.

We went to Chocoyero Canyon National Reserve outside of Managua mostly to see the flocks of green parakeets, toucans and yellow headed amazon parrots, but we had a lot of botanical surprises along the way. Like this Philodendron goeldii.

The very large buds on a vine I never found the name of.

Along with the creepy knowledge that vampire bats inhabit this canyon, luckily we visited after dawn, was this floral oddity, a Dutchman's pipe of some sort ( Aristolochia sp. ).

Our destination was Paradise and that was Little Corn Island on the Caribbean side of the country.This little island inhabited for a long time was forested with plants from around the world. Mostly fruit producing like bananas (Musa acuminata). The whole island felt more like a garden than a jungle, though jungley it was.

It rained daily while we were there. Plenty of mushrooms erupted from logs, piles of manure and the ground. We didn't eat any. But I had to get a picture of this odd fuzzy one. The photo is a little fuzzy, too.

Breadfruit (Artocarpus altilis) another tree brought to the island by man made up a large portion of the jungle canopy.

Hoja de estrella, or root beer plant, (Piper auritum) is native to the island though I only encountered it in gardens. The leaves smell like root beer and the locals make a tea from the leaves to aid digestion; they are also used to flavor meats and tamales, though modern research says it could lead to liver cancer.

Mangoes (Mangifera indica) were the dominant tree on the center of the island, coconut palms dominated the beaches. Both are from South East Asia, though they look right at home. While we were there the mangos put out their new spring growth, which was a beautiful bronzy plum pink.

Ah, my beloved pineapple (Ananas comosus). There is noting like this bromeliad. It is said to be native to Brazil, but to date there are no wild populations found. It has been cultivated so long and has settled in on Little corn Island so that it seemed quite natural to see them popping out of a clearing in the jungle in glorious technicolor.

Syngonium angustatum grew prolifically on the island, climbing palms, mangoes and anything else it could get a hold of. It grows throughout Central America. The red fruit are eye catching but inedible.

This sweet little fern covered the volcanic rock on the north side of the island. Wherever I travel ferns are the one thing that make me feel at home.

I wonder if these islanders realized that they painted their house the color of the Senna alata buds. Or did the color just seep subliminally into their design scheme?

Where the palms hadn't gotten a foothold, bay cedar (Suriana maritima) grew in thickets on the beach. For a tough little shrub that takes salt spray, harsh winds and high light it has a rather fine and delicate appearance.

Yuca (Manihot esculenta) is a starchy staple in the tropics. It only makes it to northern tables after being processed into tapioca. The beautiful growth habit and red petioles are not to be ignored either.

After leaving Little Corn Island we spent a few days in western Nicaragua in the city of Granada which gave us the opportunity to vist the the cloud forests of Volcan Mombacho. Begonias tumbled out of every rock, climbed every trunk and bloomed with abandon. Every year back home I kill a few. I still don't get begonias, though I love them.

The starry fruit of Clusea sp. in Michael's big hand.

It was unfortunately not orchid season. Still we did see a few. And a lot of Epidendrum radicans. It covered a large open meadow high up on the volcano. It was so windy that day I asked our guide Eddie to hold it still while I took the picture.

Though ferns usually make me feel at home the unearthly size of these young tree ferns lets me know I am far from home. Eddie and Michael look on.

The cloud forest if a matrix of varying textures. The large oak like leaves are tobaco de monte(Telanthophora grandiflora), not a tobacco relative at all but a miniature sunflower.

The leaves of Capriote (Miconia laevigata).

Back in Granada there was no lack of plants though most were sequestered in inner court yards. Here the shadow of a royal palm (Roystonea regia), a native of Cuba, commonly found ass street trees.

The inner court yards of the beautifulMi Museo, Granada's archelogical museum, were beautifully planted and a tranquil cool place to escape the city in the afternoon.

The inner court yard and open air restaurant of La Islita, where we stayed. How nice to here the screech of parrots and cacophony of grackles during breakfast.

Just behind our hotel the tourist zone ended. This over grown orchard, I'm not sure what kind of fruit trees these were though next door they grew cashews, was a great spot for bird watching in the early morning.

The symmetrical use of royal palms in the inner courtyard of Convento y Museo San Francisco amplified the contemplative beauty of the place and induced a sense of grandeur though the space was quite small. A tip to all gardeners:keep it simple.

And to all travelers: visit Nicaragua.