Podocarpus National Park, covering 1,400 square kilometers or more than 900 square miles, in southern Ecuador, has spectacular plant and animal diversity -- more than 600 species of birds and 4,000 species of plants, 40 percent of which are endemic. So biologically rich, the park is called “the botanical garden of the Americas.” Hiking here is one of life's great pleasures if you are nature nut like me.
|Butterfly on Miconia leaf.|
Philodendrons, ferns, bromeliads, orchids, flowering shrubs slather the understory, twine and crawl up trees and delight you if you can even name the genus, much less the species.
Heliconia orthotricha burnishes its vermillion bracts edged in green against ferns of a thousand patterns. Philodendron sodori, silver-white patches marking its rippled, heart-shaped leaves, grows in profusion, often tickled at its feet by the green and white species Caladium bicolor. Peperomias, begonias, selaginella and moss of every description fill in the blanks. Oil
|Hot lips, Psychotria
palms emerge from the canopy as giant fountains of fronds.
A cascada thunders so mightily that it can be heard half a kilometer away.
|A cool cascade.|
On a different scale, a carnivorous Utricularia holds out flowers as beautiful as orchids, but each only about a quarter inch in length.
We had great fun posing with flowers of Psychotria poeppigiana held between our teeth, its two curled bracts serving as phony red lips; chasing butterflies to photograph, and finding make-believe vistas so we could catch our breath. Learning to identify orchids and aroids here is learning in one of the planet's best classrooms.
|Swallowtail puddling to sip
An astonishing number of flowers sparkle from the sides of a dirt road here is southern Ecuador. Bromeliads, gesneriads, palms and heliconias along with birds and butterflies.
A huge orange flower of a liana called Guarnia dangled from its stem. Inside hairy orange bracts are tubular yellow corollas, making the whole cluster stand out among the foliage. Called a jungle cucumber, the flowers are pollinated by heliconias butterflies.
|Fuchsia and butterfly|
Charming yellow-green bell-shaped flowers of an Iochroma shyly nod toward earth. Tubular flowers on Cavendeshia are red -- signaling to hummingbirds as does a red Kohleria, with kissing anthers characteristic of gesneriads. A butterfly with orange bars that matches a bold fuchsia favored us with a visit.
Long, tear-drop-shaped woven nests of the yellow and black oropendulas are engineered to hang below tree canopies, allowing bird-safe ingress and egress.
Mauritius flexulosa, the achu palm, has enormous clusters of edible seeds beneath its palmate fronds, and is one of the most useful palms in the country.
Crossing the Andes, we find Puya clava-herculis in bloom at the highest elevations, their aquamarine flowers the same color as those of the jade vine. Now the hunt to find and photograph orchids becomes the obsession of the day -- but Marie and Steve Nock, who are our travel companions, are searching for aroids as well.
Sobralia rosea lifts large lavender and rose flowers everywhere we look. A terrestrial Habenaria species shows off little white flowers surrounding an upright stalk, growing from the roadside. Rodriguezia chisei is so perfectly placed in a small tree that it could have come straight from an orchid show.
Mossy wet habitat of Phragmipedium besseae
Marie and Steve are not disappointed, either. A thunderous waterfall has Anthurium effusilobium waggling in the mist to one side while Philodendron acutifolia sways among grassy bamboos.
But the pot of gold at the end of our orchid rainbow is Phragmipedium besseae, discovered in Peru by Sarasota's Libby Besse and so named in her honor. It is velvety orange with yellow surrounding it small pointed pouch. The discovery enthralled the orchid world and revived great interest in slipper orchids.
Ivan spots a glint of orange some 20 feet up a slippery hillside. Getting to a place to more clearly see and photograph it means grasping slender trees and bamboos, finding footing in tree roots slick with wet moss and inevitably doing a little hands-and-knees crawl. She grows at an elevation of 3,000 feet on the sides of rocks that are constantly wet and sprayed by slender waterfalls. One group of four together is the photo prize of the expedition.
A little farther on, we find Phragmipedium besseae growing among Phragmipedium reticulatum, a larger and very beautiful slipper that is green and yellow. Ivan believes that the two will naturally hybridized one day.
Descending even more we visit a village of Shaur people, whose ancestors once believed shrunken heads could help women successfully through labor. An Italian missionary, Father Andreetta, came from Italy and established a free school for them and began to study and collect orchids. Ivan and his brother Pepe learned to cultivate orchids from him when they lived nearby.
Fog followed us from the coastal city of Guayaquil to some 8,000 or 9,000 feet into the Andes. On a tour to see orchids and aroids in their natural habitats in Ecuador, we could make out enormous anthuriums in the mist, a few bright orange Erythrina flowers, along with bright yellow epidendrums, but not much else. In Cajas National Park, however, the clouds were below us and the paramo stretched across the mountains as a lovely deep green skin.
Just as we approached this ecosystem, we drove through stands of red-barked Polylepsis trees that grow higher than any others. Layers of thin red, orange and black bark, not unlike melaleuca bark but thinner, covered the small trees with their compound thick leaves. Bunch grasses and waterfalls, deep valleys with rushing streams were glorious, even without the sun.
Going higher, we found a family of llamas munching on anything green. The patriarch was a huge, dark brown guy with a black face. His females and juveniles were wonderful mixes of brown, white and gray.
Then to the top, more than 12,000 feet. Clumps of cushion plants and tiny windflowers. Among the most enchanting were orange and yellow Gentianella hirculus which resemble hot air balloons only half an inch tall. It was a subtle and engaging landscape that made us stoop to see the details.
Encinitas, CA. -- The feather duster palm, Rhopalostylis sapida, has the southernmost range of any
|New Zealand native.|
palm, meandering to the South Island of New Zealand. It's swollen and distinctive crown shaft bulges beneath upright stiff fronds. It is a prize here at the San Diego Botanic Garden.
On 37 beautifully kept acres, the garden is in full bloom this spring. Coral trees and a daisy tree, kangaroo paws and Matilija poppies, bottlebrush trees and California poppies blend their brilliant colors with palms, cycads, succulents and bamboo. For a visiting Floridian, it is a new world of shapes and shades, of desert and original maritime chaparral, as well as succulents, iris and roses arranged in tapestries of great charm.
|Puya alpestris, Chilean bromeliad.|
Some plants that caught my eye: a delicate, elegant pine-leaf bottlebrush, Callistemon pinifolius, from New South Wales; jewel-toned flowers of a Chilean bromeliad, Puya alpestris, that shine in teal and turquoise while flashing orange stamens; yellow bearded iris against blue-gray agaves and yellow roses; vegetable gardens planted in surprising containers (sugar cane sprouting from a giant sugar bowl and all the ingredients for salsa growing in an oversized salsa bowl), and hummingbirds aplenty.
Topographically the garden rises and falls over a hilly landscape. Great emphasis is placed on capturing the imagination of children with a tree house, an alphabet garden, interactive play areas where dinosaur eggs can be found and seeds planted. Succulents are displayed with great imagination, and pair well with cycads and roses.
|Succulents create the dress
and hat of this lady.
Donated to San Diego County by Ruth Larabee in 1957, the garden’s original name was Quail Botanical Gardens. Gil Voss, beginning in 1974, renovated the garden. Voss started the herbarium, plant records and mapped the garden. He co-founded the American Bamboo Society before retiring from the botanic garden in 1989.
The SDBG has an annual chocolate festival, gala, endangered species celebration, bromeliad show, and a lady bug day. An emphasis throughout the plantings is water conservation. There also is a demonstration of landscaping for fire prevention.
|Flowers of the bromeliad Alcantarea imperialis finally opening.|