Saturday, March 15, 2008

Some Volcan Flora or How To Make A Jungle

It does seem in line with my life that, after starting a blog about living in Potrerillos, the first real entry should be about a town in another valley about an hour and a half from here. Last month, we went to visit a friend of Mary's there--a fellow amateur botanist; Carla and her husband Angel are heliconia enthusiasts and travel some distances in order to collect different species.

What, you say, is a heliconia? I've wasted the prime spot at the beginning of this post to show you an example.

Let me make it clear--I'm not interested in differentiating between two species of the same plant that look identical to me. I leave that joy to others. In fact, I'm not that interested in identifying just about any plant, except by its local name. Maybe. Depending on what I have to do that day. To me, it is a royal waste of time, a monumental bore but then such efforts keep Mary happy and me free to play computer solitaire. I figure it's enough to know the difference between a head of lettuce and, say, a poisonous toadstool. All else is superfluous.

So that's the only botanical information you're going to get. Since this was the first time I'd ever seen this particular heliconia, I feel I have the right to name it according to the LaGow Classification System of Indifference; I now call it Heliconia whatever. Look at that flower--there are hundreds of species, it seems to me, that look exactly or nearly exactly like that. We have a few, thanks to Angel and Carla. As far as I'm concerned, their major virtue is that they naturalize rapidly, and I'm all for covering the space outside of the fence with something that reduces mowing, ups the privacy index, and is beautiful to boot.

But Angel and Carla have other plants. Maybe if I do learn what they are, I'll edit this post to include them.

However, I do know Vitoria amazonica--the Amazon water lily. Angel and Carla have put in ponds, and I was both astonished and delighted to see the giant pads floating on the surface as we drove up to the house. These are not as big as the ones I saw in Brasil on the "Amazon" River, but then nothing is as big as it is in Brasil.

Yet another flower from Carla and Angel's finca.

What Carla and Angel have done with their 5.5 acres is remarkable. Originally, it was pretty bare of trees. The area is heavily agricultural--not only farming but dairy operations as well. The land was probably used for pasture. Given how fast things grow here, it's just a question of time as to when the jungle will reclaim any piece of ground. But Angel and Carla managed that process, which is what I found impressive. They went into the surrounding jungle and collected saplings, shrubs, etc and planted them on their land, leaving plenty of room for heliconias and other plants that they wished to introduce. Their land borders a year-round stream, from which they get water for irrigation--the heliconias demand it during the dry season. Their property looks much bigger than it really is, thanks to the paths they've constructed around and through the plantings. 7 years later, it looks as if it's always been there. Angel talks about working with the jungle, improving it. I came away as ignorant as ever about species identification, but with plenty of food for thought about what to do with our place.

The situations, however, are not identical. They don't have the eroded, rocky "soil" we do. We have a much harder task, but not insuperable. Looks like the rains have started a bit early, so I can start working with the section of jungle we have, and improving it.

1 comment:

Mary said...

Great description of Carla and Angel's place, but an even more accurate description of your attitude toward plant ID!