TRINIDAD & TOBAGO. Dr. Larry Noblick sits and carefully cleans precious palm seeds collected during the day's fieldwork. We'll continue our own version of this botanical 5000K marathon as we continue processing specimens and seeds late into the night - this is typically how we spend our evenings after each day of fieldwork.
So far, we have searched for, collected, and processed over six thousand seeds!
Searching for Trinidad's rarest palm
TRINIDAD & TOBAGO. After bidding Juan a warm farewell this morning, as he set off to carry out a final meeting and prepare our precious plant cargo for departure back to Miami, we made our way several hours south into a forestry site. We were intent on following up on information from our colleagues at the National Herbarium of Trinidad and Tobago regarding the island's rarest palm, Astrocaryum aculeatum - also known as the "banga" or "boogaloo" palm.
As a scientist, I must admit that I hold a bit of disdain for solely referring to the common names of plants as these names can often be confusing or facilitate inaccurate understandings of plants. However, there are some instances when the use of common names is helpful- and I'll even confess that it is a bit fun at times... especially when those plants have common names like "boogaloo." Seriously, though, such names are helpful when asking local people about where particular plants might be found. We knew that we were in the right vicinity, and so after inquiring about where the boogaloo grew in that area, we ventured down a shaded path far back into the forest and towards a stream that we were told to head towards.
Sure enough, it wasn't long before we spotted some juvenile Astrocaryum aculeatum. The young palms are painfully obvious - literally! They are covered by long sharp spines. Nonetheless, we were very happy to find these young rare palms (sure sign that the mother palms were indeed in the area) and I couldn't resist taking a comical picture "hugging" the spiny plant!
Further searching permitted us to locate fertile adults, such as the majestic one pictured above. The inflorescence of this palm is unique in that it is held erect; and the fruits may be likened to miniature works of art, as they are covered with tiny emblems of stars - hence the Latin name, Astrocaryum (Astro = star).
TRINIDAD & TOBAGO. Greetings from Trinidad! The last few days have been completely encompassed by fieldwork and processing of our plant specimens. I hope you enjoy perusing a few images from the field...
Ms. Abdo and Mr. Rivera of Fairchild take a momentary break beneath a gigantic tree found along a mountain ridge top in the northern range of the island.
A stately Mauritia palm is one of only two in its genus. This ancient palm reaches its northernmost native extent in Trinidad, and extends into South America. This particular individual was found in the lowlands of Trinidad adjacent to a seasonally flooded savannah.
Trinidad… since our arrival in Port of Spain on this neotropical island we’ve been fortunate to have been afforded pleasant weather, exceptional colleagues, fertile verdure, and Caribbean color at every turn.
It is a grand pleasure to undertake this joint expedition between Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden and Montgomery Botanical Center (MBC) in close collaboration with our long-term collaborators and colleagues from the University of the West Indies (UWI) National Herbarium. The National Herbarium of Trinidad & Tobago is home to true experts in the regional flora, and is well-regarded by the Caribbean botanical community as an impressive center for botanical studies and authoritative information on the flora of Trinidad and Tobago.
Barely three days have passed since we took our first steps into Trinidad’s natural areas, and yet our plant press and field notebooks already hold interesting specimens and notes. The core team, consisting of myself and Mr. Juan Rivera of Fairchild and Dr. Larry Noblick of MBC, met with success mere hours into the trip. Dr. Noblick, a renowned expert on palm biology based at MBC, successfully found good specimens of a Bactris palm that both of our institutions were keen to locate. Juan and I identified several charismatic Rubiaceae species at two different localities. Staff from UWI not only expertly identified indigenous Trinidadian plant taxa, but made us feel right at home every step of the way. (This morning before fieldwork, they even indulged us with an introduction to some local gastronomic delights called “doubles” – the chick pea and habanero spice of the “doubles” really got us energized!)
Spending time together during the expedition, one is reminded of the importance of collaborations such as this is. Not only are such occasions truly productive and supportive of the respective missions of all of our institutions, but the synergistic results really do outweigh the sum of the parts.
And so, I end with words borrowed from the Trinidadian national anthem: side by side we stand. Indeed, the thought of working side by side in Trinidad’s rugged and diverse northern range- our planned field locale for tomorrow- brings me great anticipation and excitement for what is to come.
- text and photos by Melissa E. Abdo