Boogaloo, where are you?

Friday, October 15, 2010

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).