advertisement

Trees

It's often a good thing to be able to identify specific trees within a forest.

Ceiba -- (Ceiba pentandra) -- Also known as the kapok tree, ceiba trees are typically emergent (their large umbrella-shape canopies emerge above the forest canopy), making the species among the tallest trees in the tropical forest. Reaching as high as 60m (197 ft.), their thick columnar trunks often have large buttresses. Ceiba trees may flower as little as once every 5 years, especially in wetter forests. Prime Viewing: Countrywide.

Guanacaste -- (Enterolobium cyclocarpum) -- The guanacaste tree is one of the largest trees found in Central America, and is called corotu in Panama. It can reach a total elevation of over 39m (130 ft.); its straight trunk composes 9 to 12m (30-40 ft.) of the height (the trunk's diameter measures more than 1.8m/6 ft.). Prime Viewing: Countrywide.

Strangler Fig -- (Ficus aurea) -- This parasitic tree gets its name from the fact that it envelops and eventually strangles its host tree. The matapalo, or strangler fig, begins as an epiphyte, whose seeds are deposited high in a tree's canopy by bats, birds, or monkeys. The young strangler then sends long roots down to the earth. The sap is used to relieve burns. Prime Viewing: Primary and secondary forests countrywide.

Cecropia -- (Cecropia obtusifolia) -- Several cecropia (trumpet tree) species are found in Panama. Most are characterized by large, handlike clusters of broad leaves, and a hollow, bamboolike trunk. They are "gap specialists," fast-growing opportunists that can fill in a gap caused by a tree fall or landslide. Their trunks are usually home to Aztec ants. Prime Viewing: Primary and secondary forests, rivers, and roadsides, countrywide.

Gumbo Limbo -- (Bursera simaruba) -- The bark of the gumbo limbo is its most distinguishing feature: A paper-thin red outer layer, when peeled off the tree, reveals a bright green bark. In Panama the tree is called carate, and the peeling bark is a defense against invasive vegetation like the strangler fig. The bark is used as a remedy for gum disease; gumbo-limbo-bark tea allegedly alleviates hypertension. Another remarkable property is the tree's ability to root from its cut branches, which when planted right end up, develop roots and leaves, forming a new tree within a few years. Prime Viewing: Primary and secondary forests, countrywide.

Flowers & Other Plants

Panama's biodiversity is exemplified by its 10,000 species of plants.

Heliconia -- (Heliconia collinsiana) -- Heliconias are closely related to bananas and birds-of-paradise, and their beautiful, crab claw-shaped pink flowers are commonly used as ornamental decoration. Prime Viewing: Low to middle elevations countrywide, usually found along streams and lakes.

Hotlips -- (Psychotria poeppigiana) -- Related to coffee, hotlips is a forest flower that boasts thick red "lips" that resemble the Rolling Stones logo. The small white flowers (found inside the red "lips") attract a variety of butterflies and hummingbirds. Prime Viewing: In the undergrowth of dense forests countrywide.

Poor Man's Umbrella -- (Gunnera insignis) -- The poor man's umbrella, a broad-leafed rainforest ground plant, is a member of the rhubarb family. The massive leaves are often used, as the colloquial name suggests, for protection during rainstorms. Prime Viewing: Low- to middle-elevation moist forests countrywide. Commonly seen in the Chiriquí Highlands.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.