Saturday, December 29, 2012

Overwhelmed by plantlife in Amazonia

Amazonia is overwhelming. We went five hours by boat (a modified dug-out canoe) north of Rurrenabaque in Bolivia - the knowledge that this is only a tiny fleck of journey on the map emphasizes the sheer vastness of the region. We stayed several nights at Chalalan,
a project run by a local indigenous community, with personal guides for steamy treks into the rainforest.
One of the great things about the place is the lake, piranha-infested, but safe to swim in. Few things more wonderful than sinking into bathtub-warm water surrounded by luscious tropical vegetation. The other good thing is some elevation - Amazonia is actually the largest area of near-to-dead-flat in the world and here you are at the very edge, so there are some good views over the top of it.

 Rainforest is disorientating. It is apparently chaotic, and almost everything is the identical shade of dark green. And there are virtually no flowers. An occasional genus can be recognized, or family, but much is just endless variations on rather nondescript leaves. This is actually secondary rainforest (in recovery from selective logging in the 1990s) so there is a lot more growth at ground level than you would expect in virgin forest.
 This, I could tell, was a Chamaedorea palm, lots of us have them growing at home in a dark corner, so quite easy to identify. After a while you just resign yourself to not really not knowing what anything is, and look at the bigger patterns instead. Guides have the odd name, but there would actually be very few people out there who could identify most of what we were looking at. Guides can be quite good on medicinal uses, or local names, but they tell us nothing about the plant that we can fit into any conceptual framework.
 I was very taken with a number of climbing fern species - climbing by means of aerial roots on stems. I have never seen this before, quite good potential for indoor living walls I should think.
 This looks like a Marantaceae of some kind, oddly familiar, possibly as a house plant, one of those forest-floor creepers, evolved to live in shade.
 And this a mini-peperomia, a genus quite well exploited for houseplants.
 Who knows what this is? A climber which hugs the stem of the tree it climbs up so tightly, it can't surely breathe!
 One way of dealing with the sense of being overwhelmed is just to look at the layering of plants and the visual appeal. The edge of the lake was a good place to do this, as it is the only place where light gets right down to ground level. It's a way of appreciating the variety of shape and texture of tropical foliage, and how this might be used in designing tropical environments.

There are various conservation projects in Bolivia, but the lack of knowledge of, or interest in the country's incredible biodiversity (18,000 higher plant species) is truly shocking. There is no proper botanical gardens in the entire country and very few botanists. There is next to no knowledge of species distribution across most of the country, so 'hot-spots' are poorly understood. The most exciting areas for plants are the 'jungas', cloud forest habitats where continuous rain and cool temperatures allow plants to flourish in incredible densities. These are the areas which are favoured for growing coca, so are under considerable threat.

My first experience of rainforest was a long time ago, in Brazil. I'm still glad I started there, in the mata atlantica rainforest around Rio. There it is so hilly you can spend a lot of time looking directly into the canopy of relatively short trees, a great way of appreciating the really interesting stuff in these habitats: the epiphytes. The national parks of Tijuca, Itatiaia and Serra dos Orgaos were very accessible and a great place to learn to appreciate these environments.

The next episode in the world's first soap opera for gardeners - Dig, Plant and Bitch, is now up and running. Check it out.: 6 - The (wrong kind of) Garden Party
Nurseryman James Treasby has a repeat visit from a mysterious new customer, gardener Johnny Dalton is in the balmy surroundings of Mere Castle’s south-facing borders recovering from what could have been a disastrous falling-out with his employers. Meanwhile, rival gardeners Petunia and Wayne Martin are planning their own, artistic intervention for the start of their open gardens season while continuing to deal with the fall-out from their previous gardener. Johnny’s troubles are not over though, as his dealings with several of the village’s less salubrious characters are about to be exposed, as the completion of the Japanese Garden restoration is celebrated with an impromptu party.


Anthony said...

Great photos!

James Golden said...

Quite a trip you're doing! Look forward to seeing what comes from it (in future work).

orchids said...

Fantastic photos shared!! Amazonia is really overwhelming..visiting this post got to know about different types of plants..i love to see such stuffs!

Tom said...

Congratulations Noel Kingsbury! Thank you so much for taking the time to share this exciting information.

Jerry Whidby said...

Looks like Rhaphidophora cryptantha climbing up the tree trunk. I love the look of shingle plants. They look amazing climbing up a wall.