PANAMA

Sterculia apetala -Panama Tree

Annona spraguei

Annona spraguei is endemic to Panama and endangered in the wild. I have collected seed from wild stands in Soberania National Park, outside of Panama City in Central America.

The fruit is about the size of a fist, with a sweet edible pulp and numerous seeds. The fruit looks like a smaller version of Biriba (Rollinia deliciosa) only smaller with thinner, longer protuberances. 

Bombacaceae, Pachira (Bombacopsis) glabra, Saba nut, American chestnut

Originating in Mexico, Guiana, and  northern Brazil, Pachira glabra is similar looking and closely related to Pachira aquatica, the Malabar chestnut. Despite its origins in America, I took most of the photos above in Gabon where it appears to be valued as a foodcrop.

I have about fifteen trees growing from seed I collected from a few trees I found planted along the street in a middle class neighborhood in San Jose, Costa Rica. In addition to this tree there were tropical olives (Simarouba glauca), citrus and macadamia nuts planted as street trees in the same neighborhood.

It is a small evergreen tree 4-6 m tall. The fruits are semi-woody capsules which stay green even when ripe. A pod contains many edible seeds which can be consumed raw or toasted/roasted/boiled. Considered to be one of the more notable underappreciated tropical food crops.

Like many of the Bombacaceae species P. Glabra has a very fat trunk to store water. Just after germination the girth of the trunk becomes noticeable, almost disproportional to the rest of the tree.

In Brazil the Saba nut is a fruit tree, cultivated as an ornamental in south-eastern areas of the country.  It is not very frequent in its natural habitat, the pluvial Atlantic forests from Pernambuco to Rio de Janeiro and the flood plain forests of Para and Maranhao.

Dioscoraceae, Dioscorea mexicana

I found this peculiar vine growing on isla Cebaco, off the Pacific coast of Panama. It looks very closely related to Dioscorea elephantipes, but thank you to a reader I think it may be Dioscorea mexicana. As you can see in the photos, it has this very odd knobby, woody, stump. The vine, which you can see better in the second photo, can be seen growing out of the right hand side of the stump. These odd protrusions are reminiscent of a dinosaur. Unfortunately I didn't get photos of the leaves. I did, however, collect a few nodes of the vine itself (in addition to the stump) and am expecting it to sprout back soon, as it appears to be a fairly resilient plant. . weird-vine1weird-vine2

Psidium Cattleianum - Strawberry Guava

Native to Brazil, Cattley Guava was brought to China by the Portuguese. From China it was introduced into Europe where it is known as Strawberry Guava, it can also be found cultivated in the Mediterranean, Hawaii, Florida, California, Mexico and throughout Central America. P. cattleianum is a very attractive shrub, however it can grow up to eight m in height. The leaves are dark brown and somewhat glossy, the bark is shiny and peeling. The fruit are 3-4 cm in diameter, considered by many to be the best species of guava. There are red and yellow varieties.

The Strawberry guava is rich in vitamin C and contains 4.5% sugar, 6% fiber and 1.1% protein.

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Euphorbiaceae, Phyllanthus niruri (amarus), Stonebreaker, Chanca Piedra

This is one of many plants found growing wild all around Panama City which are of particular interest to me. Many people assume that plants such as these are useless "weeds" based purely on the fact that they are prolific and do not rely on human cultivation in order to propagate. As it turns out (and not surprisingly), many of these plants have a wide range of medicinal properties and were probably much more commonly used in the past for such attributes. Stonebreaker is a small, low growing herb that volunteers itself at the base of potted plants in my nurseries, and basically in any other area where soil has been disturbed or remains bare. The plant is called Stonebreaker because it is used to remove kidney stones and gall stones. Additionally it is used against viruses, bacteria, fever, and as a diuretic. It is also used as a pain reliever and to treat stomachache, constipation, diabetes, dysentery, flu, venereal problems, jaundice, malaria, and tumors.