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Strangler Fig and Solitaire

Sunday, April 20, 2014

It's so thrilling to me to walk in a forest with which I'm completely unfamiliar. To know not what birds, animals, insects and plants I'll encounter. To look for the familiar things in an exotic place. In Costa Rica, many of the plants I saw were old friends from horticulture. This dainty little begonia growing in a chink in a strangler fig looks a lot like some of the beefsteak begonias I used to grow. 

Certainly an arum of some kind. Wouldn't want to chew that leaf! Oh, the gorgeous interplay of yellow and green in its veins!

A little phalanx of women fell behind the rest of the group and into the patterns and textures of leaves. We oohed and aahed and shot photos and forgot all about birds and hiking. This is one thing I loved about our group. We were mostly generalists, able to appreciate anything and everything. Well-matched.

A passionflower tendril. Oh, the tensile strength in that coil.

Kim got us all looking up into the rainy sky through a tree fern. That is a fern the size of a tree, growing unchanged since the days of the dinosaur. A wondrous thing. 

But it got better. For Bosque de Paz has a stunning collection of miniature orchids under cultivation in a small grove near the lodge. This photo is life-size. I think its a Masdevallia. 

I thought that, were I the size of a cricket, I could much better appreciate their minuscule yet perfect blossoms. I was enchanted to see familiar orchid bloom shapes, shrunk down beyond belief. Had to turn my binoculars around to see the structure and hazard a guess at the genus. I wondered what pollinates such tiny wonders. Ants? Gnats? 

We came upon a strangler fig, a vine which sprouts from a bird-dropped seed on a limb of the host tree. It sends down aerial roots, and sends out vines in every direction, which meet and fuse and eventually envelop the host tree entirely. If you didn't know better, you'd think it was an honest tree. But it got there by supporting itself on another tree, which has now long died, shaded out, and rotted out from under the strangler fig. Yeesh.

Jim sends his camera in to have a look. I followed, and actually crawled inside the cavity to see if anything was left of the host tree.

Nada. Clean as a whistle it was, not a speck of sawdust or punky wood to say what the host tree had even been. Kind of eerie, looking up the hollow trunk of the strangler, to a point of daylight high high above. It was like being inside the digestive tract of a large plant monster, Jonah in the strangler fig.

We stopped to listen to the haunting song of the black-faced solitaire, a thrush that sings like a rusty gate swinging and squeaking, pure notes sliding up and down the scale, the perfect adagio when punctuated by the patter of rain.

I kept my lens on the bird and was delighted to see it land on a palm inflorescence, gone to fruit. The aril perfectly matched its bill and legs. I don't think that's an accident, somehow.

Here I am, it said, and here is my larder, and here is my song. Listen and see. Stay with me.

Listen to the spine-tingling "rusty swingset" song of the solitaire here. 


One of my favorite things about the tropics is the diversity of plants - size (tiny to gigantic), patterns, the multitude of shades of green, and textures - layers and layers of all of this. I am typically the one at the back of the pack doing just what you describe. Until I remember the bit about poisonous snakes.

Julie, I see at least 6 faces in the photo of the inside of the strangler fig. Do you see them too?

You had me at rusty swingset. I don't even need to click on that link. Love the descriptors, as always!


Posted by KH Macomber April 21, 2014 at 11:47 AM
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