Day 6: La Selva
by Joe Jackson -- February 28th, 2010
For the first time since the start of our trip, we had to pull out the rain gear. The rain came and went sporadically during the course of the day, but it wasn’t enough to stop or dampen our spirits or any of the day’s activities. We began the day with another fantastic walk for bird watching. However, the walk wasn’t very long. Before breakfast, we met in front of the Comedor, walked maybe 10 yards and then stopped with our morning guide to see much of the richness in bird species that La Selva has to offer. Just about every bird species we had seen to date and more could be seen from this very spot. One of the birds that we saw turned out to be the country’s national bird, the Clay Colored Thrush formally called the Clay Colored Robin. Our guide informed us that this wide ranging and rather unassuming bird in structure and color had been chosen for this distinction just for those very reasons. Its subtle characteristics, it is felt may render the bird less enticing and may help protect the species from predation and capture.
After breakfast, we met with Orlando Vargas Ramirez who was to lead us on a walk through the old forest plant community and discuss the differences between primary and secondary growth in tropical ecosystems. Orlando happens to be a great authority on both flora and fauna at La Selva. This fact became abundantly clear as we begun our walk. Before we were able to travel one hundred yards, he had already mixed in trees, shrubs, mammals, amphibians and arthropods in his conversation. We were treated with his eloquent mastering of combining historical facts with local flavor as he identified and discussed a variety of plants as we moved about the grounds. From Orlando’s wealth of knowledge, we learned about Cecropia eltata, or the Trumpet Tree, Theobroma cacao, or the “food of Gods” as the genus name denotes, Artocarpus altilis, Breadfruit Tree and Cassia grandis and the Pink Shower Tree just to name a few.
Orlando also provided us with a lesson on hemiepiphytes. These plants are initially epiphytes, which are plants that live anchored to a host plant. Then as they become rooted in the soil at a later stage, they are classified as hemiepiphytes. We concluded our time with Orlando with a visit to the Herbarium. This wonderful space housed an enormous collection of plant samples taken at La Selva with some specimens exceeding a hundred years old. From this visit, we learned that a tremendous amount of research and data on the plant life at La Selva can be readily access by “googling”, Digital Flora of La Selva.
In the afternoon, we visited a Dole Food Company banana farm. There we were met by a most gracious and accommodating host named Carlos. He gave the group some great history on banana growing in Costa Rica and he was very forthcoming with sharing operational practices and procedures used there at the farm. Carlos, who we found out, had attended Texas Tech for a period even persuaded Jen, Gerry and Mike to participant in a banana harvesting demonstration which required the use of a machete. Fortunately, rational thinking prevailed and Carlos thanked our willing participants and replaced them with more skilled personnel. I’m sure this was for safety reasons alone.
We concluded our Day 6 with a class room presentation by a doctorate candidate titled, “Why do Trees Grow Slower as They Get Older? – Carbon Limitations in Trees”. He presented a thought provoking hypothesis on the photosynthetic processes of aging trees.
This was another informative, fulfilling and exciting day for the DEL members here in Costa Rica.