Salinas de Guaranda, a wonderful community in the Andes.

The town of Salinas de Guaranda viewed from the saltworks hillside.

The town of Salinas de Guaranda viewed from the saltworks hillside.

Year after year, Salinas has been and continues to be home to the values of community and solidarity, where people come before money, the poor come before the rich, the weak before the strong, the sick before the healthy, and the small before the big.”  From the tourism brochure “Salinas de Guaranda, Pueblo de Economía Solidaria”.

The church at Salinas.

The church at Salinas.

The village of Salinas is located about 30 km north of Guaranda, at 3550 m (11,650 feet) elevation in the western range of the Ecuadorian Andes mountains. Salinas is a wonderful place, because of the great spirit of community and the multifaceted creativity and productivity of the many cooperative businesses found there.

View of Salinas from the hilltop above town. Note saltworks just beyond the town.

View of Salinas from the hilltop above town. Note saltworks just beyond the town.

“Salinas” means a place with salt (sal). The town of Salinas has produced salt from its mountain-side deposits for many hundreds, likely thousands of years.

The ancient saltworks with pools used to concentrate salt in water running over the geological salt deposits in hillside.

The ancient saltworks with pools used to concentrate salt in water running over the geological salt deposits in hillside.

A salt collecting pool at the ancient salt works of Salinas de Guaranda.

A salt collecting pool at the ancient salt works of Salinas de Guaranda.

Today, there are some 100 small businesses flourishing in Salinas, manufacturing and exporting locally made chocolates, cheeses, woven clothes, hard sausages, fruit preserves, dried mushrooms, and many other items. The town is a great place to visit, to buy local products, to walk around at the edge of the páramo (Andean high alpine vegetation), to eat at a restaurant or pizzeria, and to see first-hand what great & continuing results come from the sustained practice of “Economic Solidarity”.

Enjoying lunch at one of two pizza restaurants in Salinas de Guaranda.

Enjoying lunch at one of two pizza restaurants in Salinas de Guaranda.

In this post I’ll try to let the pictures tell the story. I give some links at the end for further information on this wonderful place.

The excellent chocolate made in Salinas is available in many types and packages, and exported to Europe.

The excellent chocolate made in Salinas is available in many types and packages, and exported to Europe.

There’s a brand used for many Salinas products: El Salinerito (literally, “the little person from Salinas”). These products are sold across Ecuador and exported in volume to many European countries.

The sign at the Salinas chocolate and candy factory.

The sign at the Salinas chocolate and candy factory.

The Salinerito chocolates really are exceptionally good – perhaps the best chocolate anywhere! The chocolate beans are a special type, and the chocolate I’ve had tastes so fresh and good.

The sales counter at the chocolate factory.

The sales counter at the chocolate factory.

At the chocolate factory there’s also a cafe, meeting center, and a good exhibit on the history of the salt works and trade routes from ancient times.

Salt package and jars for salt solution at Salinas history exhibit in chocolate factory.

Salt package and jars for salt solution at Salinas history exhibit in chocolate factory.

Bagging chocolates, nougats and other candies at the Chocolate factory.

Bagging chocolates, nougats and other candies at the Chocolate factory.

You can get a coffee, hot chocolate or cake and enjoy a great view from the balcony.

The other most famous and widely distributed Salinas food product is cheese. The Salinas cheese works, like the chocolate factory, were developed with Swiss production techniques.

The cheese factory at Salinas produces many great cheeses sold in Ecuador and abroad.

The cheese factory at Salinas produces many great cheeses sold in Ecuador and abroad.

The cheese is made with milk from cows raised in the surrounding countryside. The milk is brought in daily by various modes of transport.

A llama which transports milk to the Salinas cheese factory.

A llama which transports milk to the Salinas cheese factory.

Horse with milk tanks in Salinas.

Burro with milk tanks in Salinas.

The queseria makes many different kinds of cheese.

Cheese making in Salinas.

Cheese making in Salinas.

Cheese making in Salinas.

Cheese making in Salinas.

Presses are used to compact the curds and squeeze out the whey.

The cheese pressing room.

The cheese pressing room.

Some of the cheeses are brined in salt water and then aged.

Soaking the cheeses in brine prior to aging.

Soaking the cheeses in brine prior to aging.

The cheese are aged from a few weeks to many months.

Assorted cheese in aging room in Salinas.

Assorted cheese in aging room in Salinas.

The cheeses are finally rinsed.

Washing the salt from the aged cheeses at Salinas.

Washing the salt from the aged cheeses at Salinas.

Making the Salinerito cheeses.

Making the Salinerito cheeses.

Many other products are made in Salinas. There is a small factory which extracts essential oils from plants such as pines, eucalyptus, mint and chamomile.

Sign outside the essential oils factory in Salinas.

Sign outside the essential oils factory in Salinas.

The essential oils are sold pure and are compounded into shampoos, salves, massage oils and other products.

The shop at the essential oils factory. University students from ETSU (Tennessee) and UEB (Ecuador) tour the factory (2012).

The shop at the essential oils factory. University students from ETSU (Tennessee) and UEB (Ecuador) tour the factory (2012).

This rosemary shampoo is one of the Salinerito products using the plant essences made in Salinas.

"The Salinerito" Rosemary herbal shampoo made in Salinas.

“The Salinerito” Rosemary herbal shampoo made in Salinas.

A very different type of product is made at the Fabrica de Balones: soccer balls.Soccer ball factory sign DSCF1587Soccer ball factory in Salinas de Guaranda.

Soccer ball factory in Salinas de Guaranda.

In this one-room factory located in a rooftop workshop, hundreds of soccer balls are made each week by a few workers.

Salinas tour guide explains soccer ball construction.

Salinas tour guide explains soccer ball construction.

The rubber bladders, purchased from elsewhere, are wrapped in nylon cord.

Soccer ball with nylon cord wrapped around rubber bladder at Salinas factory.

Soccer ball with nylon cord wrapped around rubber bladder at Salinas factory.

The balls are then covered with strong nylon patches, stamped from sheets of this synthetic leather type material.

Soccer ball cover material cut from sheets.

Soccer ball cover material cut from sheets.

The final products include a normal type soccer ball and a low-bounce, heavy ball made for the small concrete courts commonly found in playgrounds in Ecuador.Soccer balls Salesianos IMG_0736

Soccer balls “Salesianos” made in Salinas de Guaranda.

The Andean people have a tradition of fine weaving and knitting. In Salinas there is a factory where the wools from sheep, alpaca and llama are spun into knitting wools. The factory uses a century-old machine from a Massachusetts, USA mill town.

Wool spinning factory in Salinas.

Wool spinning factory in Salinas.

Here these various wools are spun and dyed.

Dying wool at the Hilanderia - the wool spinning mill - in Salinas.

Dying wool at the Hilanderia – the wool spinning mill – in Salinas.

Here are the dyed wools. In Salinas they use many natural dyes extracted from Andean plants, as well as synthetic dyes.

Dyed wools at Salinas spinning mill.

Dyed wools at Salinas spinning mill.

A children’s mural at the wool factory in Salinas shows the story.

Mural at the wool shop in Salinas.

Mural at the wool shop in Salinas.

The wools are put to good use in the knitting cooperative. Many styles of sweaters, vests, scarves, ponchos, gloves and hats are hand-made by the Salinas knitters. These are sold in Italy, Switzerland and other European countries, as well as in Salinas.

The knit goods shop and factory-workshop in Salinas.

The knit goods shop and factory-workshop in Salinas.

The knit goods include sweaters of alpaca, a wool known for its warmth and lightness.

Inside the knitting workshop and store in Salinas.

Inside the knitting workshop and store in Salinas.

Two of the Salinas knitters are pictured here with an avid knitter from Germany who is enjoying the friendliness and industry of this town.

Salinas woolens workshop knitters and JaneAnn Mosteller at Salinas knitting shop.

Salinas woolens workshop knitters and JaneAnn Mosteller at Salinas knitting shop.

The town of Salinas is very welcoming to visitors. There are guided tours, assorted restaurants, delis, and pizzerias, all sorts of micro-factories, and great friendliness and community. There’s a very nice hotel one block from the plaza, with heated rooms for 60 guests, with private baths, parking, and saunas and massages available.

Hotel El Refugio, in Salinas.

Hotel El Refugio, in Salinas.

Across from the hotel, there’s a hostal, which offers shared kitchen and a medicinal plants garden on the grounds.

The Hostal Samilagua in Salinas de Guaranda.

The Hostal Samilagua in Salinas de Guaranda.

What makes Salinas such a nice place is in part the deliberate care given to people, and the priority given to projects that help everybody. There is so much positive activity right in town, yet one would never guess all the diverse projects happening throughout the wider Salinas region. The policy of Economic Solidarity guides the cooperative commerce and community businesses of Salinas. For more on this, see the web site on the Economic Solidarity organization. It’s in Spanish, but a translate link is provided. I’ve translated their introduction (“presentacion”) below, because it’s so powerful a statement of the belief that underlies the spiritual and economic strength of Salinas de Guaranda.

“Most social problems result from forcing people to adapt to social structures and objectives, instead of adapting social structures and objectives to people.

The economy has become an end in itself, instead of being a means to secure a quality of life for the entire society.

Competition imposes a speed, and a price system, while it claims to be seeking to obtain a state of well being.

What is this state of well being, for whom, and to what purpose?

Let’s think seriously and question why 250 persons have as much wealth as the rest of the world put together.

Our challenge is to create economic structures for solidarity, not for exclusivity, and not for speculative gain, where the people, living in harmony, are the objective – the end, and not the means – to achieve dignity for all people.

We want to encounter you, in light of the ideas and the existing structure of solidarity which are a reality, and with the clear message that this is feasible, that for many years now, thousands of people have been participating in making this possible.

Here we offer this space and this proposition to all groups – social, economic, political and individual – as a place for meeting, for reflection, for participation, for commitment and for communication.

Here’s a link for articles on Salinas de Guaranda at the Economic Solidarity web site.

Kids of Salinas, at the steps leading to the salt works.

Kids of Salinas, at the steps leading to the salt works.

Now back to the picture tour of Salinas. They make great hard salamis at the Embutadora.

The hard sausages (salami) factory in Salinas.

The hard sausages (salami) factory in Salinas.

This is an agricultural region, and the meats are produced locally.

Sausage factory kitchen in Salinas de Guaranda, Bolívar, Ecuador.

Sausage factory kitchen in Salinas de Guaranda, Bolívar, Ecuador.

Some of the sausages are salt-preserved and aged for months in the basement aging room.

Sausage factory aging room, Salinas.

Sausage factory aging room, Salinas.

Salted sausages aging room IMG_3609

Hard salamis salted and hanging in the aging room at Salinas de Guaranda.

There are many outdoor projects in the community of Salinas de Guaranda, including pine plantations in the steep mountain slopes, which produce quality wood for furniture making to Cuenca and other cities. In these pine groves there are mushrooms cultivated. The mushrooms are dried and marketed domestically and abroad.

Dried mushrooms ("hongos secos") harvested from beneath the pine trees in the mountains around Salinas de Guaranda.

Dried mushrooms (“hongos secos”) harvested from beneath the pine trees in the mountains around Salinas de Guaranda.

So many small factories! A jams-jellies-marmelade factory makes great blueberry, blackberry and strawberry preserves from berries picked in the Salinas community. The also make some unusual jellies, like one from jicama grown in the warmer parts of the parochia. A soy products shop next door produces gluten-free breads and cookies. Excellent herbal teas are produced from plants grown in the community. Dehydrated fruits are produced and marketed. The 100 small businesses in the Salinas community include transportation, credit union, tourism and manufacturing as well as the many food products factories. All are run cooperatively along the principles of Economic Solidarity. Information about Salinas and its businesses is available at the Salinas de Guaranda “El Salinerito” web site, here.

A new mural along the Cemetary wall at the upper edge of Salinas.

A new mural being painted along the cemetery wall at the upper edge of Salinas.

For tourism Salinas offers many attractions beyond the factories and shops. There are day trips offered to the neighboring communities in the Salinas area, which include villages at sub-tropical elevations down to about 800 meters, which have quite different vegetation and food crops. Horseback riding and mountain biking trips are also available, and rock climbing too. The surrounding area includes waterfalls, caves, and hiking trails that pre-date the Inca settlement of the region. The páramo plants in protected wildlife areas are nearby – these plants are amazing, beautiful, strange.  The tourism page of El Salinerito’s web site is here.

A llama grazing at the edge of the Salinas saltworks.

A llama grazing at the edge of the Salinas saltworks.

The successes of the Salinas community over the past 40 years are rooted in genuine care for people and endless creative effort and hopeful vision. The individual who has embodied this enthusiasm, ingenuity, and careful effort is a priest of the Salesian order, Father Antonio Polo. Padre Antonio came to Salinas in 1971 from his native Italy, and has been involved in projects great and small since then, always working with humor, compassion, intelligence, patience and great spirit. We’re all fortunate to get to work alongside people who really care about people and are able to get good things done that help everyone!

In the church in Salinas de Guaranda.

In the church in Salinas de Guaranda. “Faith makes possible what by natural reason is not.” – Saint Theresa Jesús..

It’s well worth your time to visit Salinas de Guaranda when you get a chance!

Inside the church in Salinas de Guaranda.

Inside the church in Salinas de Guaranda.

Here are some more photos from Salinas, just because pictures are fun. The photos in this post are by JaneAnn Mosteller and Tim McDowell. Please use them only for non-profit purposes and provide photo credit to those persons.

Salinas puppies.

Salinas puppies.

Walking on the hill above Salinas.

Walking on the hill above Salinas.

A hens-and-chicks (Crassulaceae) plant on a Salinas balcony.

A hens-and-chicks (Crassulaceae) plant on a Salinas balcony.

A Salinas dog dressed for the chilly weather.

A Salinas dog dressed for the chilly weather.

Lavatera (Malva family) flowers in Salinas. This is one of two cultivated species of mallows that flourish here despite the elevation.

Lavatera (Malva family) flowers in Salinas. This is one of two cultivated species of mallows that flourish here despite the elevation.

Moument to the Virgin Mary of the Salt Water above the Salinas saltworks.

Moument to the Virgin Mary of the Salt Water above the Salinas saltworks.

Plaque at the monument to the virgin at the Salinas salt works.

Plaque at the monument to the virgin at the Salinas salt works.

Students from East Tennessee State University, USA, and the Bolívar State University, Ecuador, at the saltworks in Salinas, June 2010.

Students from East Tennessee State University, USA, and the Bolívar State University, Ecuador, at the saltworks in Salinas, June 2010.

Blue bugs on Buddleja bush along steps to saltworks at Salinas.

Blue bugs on Buddleja bush along steps to saltworks at Salinas.

Salinas billboard at crossroads near Guaranda.

Salinas billboard at crossroads near Guaranda.

The central plaza at Salinas de Guaranda, June 2010.

The central plaza at Salinas de Guaranda, June 2010.

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Flowers for Mothers’ Day – some showy flower photos

Mothers’ Day is celebrated around the world today. Here’s a selection of showy flower photographs which I’ve taken in Ecuador. They’re from various locations in Ecuador – just an assortment of natural beauty for everybody on Moms’ Day! Flowers are the mothers and fathers of the flowering plants!

Blakea w bug Las Orquideas 2011 DSCF1413
Melastomataceae, maybe Blakea, at Jardin Botanico Las Orquideas, Tena, Copyright T. McDowell, 2013.
Bomarea banos 2010 DSCF1888

Bomarea (Alstromeriaceae) vine in flower near Baños, Ecuador, 2010. copyright T. McDowell 2013

Bomarea glaucescens (Alstromeriaceae) in páramo reserve above Salinas de Guaranda, Bolívar, Ecuador, May 2013. copyright T. McDowell, 2013.

Bomarea glaucescens (Alstromeriaceae) in páramo reserve above Salinas de Guaranda, Bolívar, Ecuador, May 2013. copyright T. McDowell, 2013.

Bouganvillia flower orange guay 2011 DSCF2244

Bougainvillea x buttiana flowers with orange bracts. Guayaquil Historical Park, 2011. copyright T. McDowell 2013

Bouganvillia flower purple Guay 2011 DSCF2243

Yellow Bougainvillea flowers within purple bracts, Guayaquil Historical Park, 2011. copyright T. McDowell 2013

Bouganvillia flowers 2 colors 2012 IMG_1117

Bougainvillea x buttiana flowers, yellow and cream, at Guayaquil Historical Park, 2011. copyright T. McDowell 2013

Bromeliad quito bot gdn infl flower DSCF0241

Bromeliad (pineapple family, Bromeliaceae) at Guayaquil Botanical Garden – red bracts enclosing yellow flower bud and brown-purple flower. copyright T. McDowell 2013

Brugmansia flower salinas 2010 DSCF1122

Brugmansia sanguinea (Solanaceae) in Salinas de Guaranda, 2010. copyright T. McDowell 2013

Brugmansia hybrid Guaranda IMG_3875

Brugmansia x candida (hybrid “floripondio”, Solanaceae), Guaranda, 2013. copyright T. McDowell 2013

Calceolaria Cascha Cotorres

Calceolaria (Scrophulariaceae) flowers, Cascha Totoras, Bolívar, Ecuador, 2008. copyright T. McDowell 2013.

Capanea affinis, San Jose de las Palmas.   copyright T. McDowell 2013

Capanea affinis (Gesneriaceae), in forest at San Jose de las Palmas, Bolívar, Ecuador, 2013. copyright T. McDowell 2013

Cavendishia (Ericaceae) flowers at Omaere Ethnobotanical Garden, Tena Ecuador. copyright T. McDowell 2013

Cavendishia (Ericaceae) flowers at Omaere Ethnobotanical Garden, Tena Ecuador. copyright T. McDowell 2013

Chuquiraga jussieui at Chimborazo 130511 IMG_4331

Chuquiraga jussieui (Asteraceae) at páramo reserve below Chimborazo, May 2013.copyright T. McDowell 2013

Cinchona flower banos IMG_0262

Cinchona (Rubiaceae) flower and bud, along Sendero de los Contrabandistas, near Baños, Ecuador. copyright T. McDowell 2013

Columnea sp red tip leaf plant Omaere 2010 DSCF0583

Columnea (Gesneriaceae) flower, at Omaere Ethnobotanical Garden, Tena. copyright T. McDowell 2013

Cymbidium hybrid orchid quito bot gdn10 DSCF0248

Cymbidium hybrid (Orchidaceae) at National Botanical Garden, Quito, Ecuador 2010. copyright T. McDowell 2013

Cyrtiphyllum macranthes symbol pinchincha orchid quito bot gdn9 DSCF0248

Cyrtiphyllum macranthes (Orchidaceae), the flower of the Province of Pinchincha, Ecuador, at the National Botanic Garden, Quito, Ecuador. copyright T. McDowell 2013

Epidendrum hybrid orchid quito bot gdn4 DSCF0248

Epidendrum hybrid (Orchidaceae) at Nat. Bot. Garden, Quito, Ecuador. copyright T. McDowell 2013

Erythrina flowers banos 2010 DSCF0345

Erythrina (Fabaceae) near Baños, Ecuador, 2010. copyright T. McDowell 2013

Espeletia pycnophylla Frailejones close

Espeletia pycnophylla, “Frailejón” (Asteraceae) at El Angel páramo. copyright T. McDowell 2013

Etlingeria eliator  flower head Balsapamba 2010 DSCF1182

Etlingeria eliator, “Torch Ginger”, inflorescence with showy bracts, at Univ. Estatal de Bolívar Agricultural Station, Balsapamba, 2010. copyright T. McDowell 2013

Euphorbia pulcherrima Guaranda IMG_3861

Euphorbia pulcherrima, “poinsettia” or “flor de Pascua” (Euphorbiaceae), cultivated small tree, Guaranda, Ecuador, 2013. copyright T. McDowell 2013

Fuchsia species flower DSCF1170

A species of Fuchsia (Onagraceae), a diverse genus in Ecuador. copyright T. McDowell 2013

Galinsoga sp banos DSCF1948

Galinsoga (Asteraceae), with curved styles yellow, near Baños, Ecuador. copyright T. McDowell 2013

Gentiana sedifolia Chimborazo 130511 IMG_4377

Gentiana sedifolia (Gentianaceae) at a páramo reserve above Salinas, Bolívar, Ecuador. copyright T. McDowell 2013

Gentianaella sp 130511 Chimborazo IMG_4348

Gentianella species (Gentianaceae) in pámaro reserve above Salinas, Bolívar, Ecuador, in May 2013. copyright T. McDowell 2013

Gesnerid Rio Palenque

Kohleria spicata (Gesneriaceae) at Rio Palenque, Ecuador, 2009. copyright T. McDowell 2013

Gossypium flower Balsapambas 2011 DSCF1845

Gossypium (cotton) flower (Malvaceae) at the Balsapamba Agricultural station of Univ Estatal de Bolívar, Ecuador, 2011. copyright T. McDowell 2013

Gustavia longifolia IMG_0806

Gustavia longifolia (Lecythidaceae) at Balsapamba Agriculture station of Univ. Estatal de Bolívar, Ecuador. copyright T. McDowell 2013

Heliconia 2012 IMG_1100

Heliconia inflorescence, perhaps H. psittacorum (Heliconiaceae), with orange flowers and red bracts. copyright T. McDowell 2013

Heliconia rostrata Guayaquil 2010 DSCF1316

Heliconia rostrata, (Heliconiaceae) with hanging inflorescence, red bracts, and yellow flowers, at Guayaquil Botanical Garden, 2010. copyright T. McDowell 2013

Hibiscus rosa-sinensis Guayaquil 2011 DSCF2203

Hibiscus rosa-sinensis (Malvaceae) cultivated at the Guayaquil Historical Park, Ecuador, 2011. copyright T. McDowell 2013

Ixora coccinea guayaquil 2011 DSCF2172

Red and yellow flowering cultivars of Ixora coccinea (Rubiaceae) at the Guayaquil Historical Park, Ecuador, 2011. copyright T. McDowell 2013

Jaltomato viridiflora SJP 130429 IMG_4218

Jaltomato viridiflora (Solanaceae) at San José de las Palmas forest, Bolívar, Ecuador. copyright T. McDowell 2013

Lamarouxia virgata SJP 130429 IMG_3899

Lamarouxia virgata (Scrophulariaceae) at San José de las Palmas, Bolívar, Ecuador. copyright T. McDowell 2013

Lavatera arborea Salinas 130504 P1020285

Lavatera arborea (Malvaceae), the cultivated tree mallow, at Salinas de Guaranda, Bolívar, Ecuador, 2013. copyright T. McDowell 2013

Caiophora aequatoriana Loasaceae 2010 IMG_0422

Caiophora aequatoriana (Loasaceae) at Cajas National Park, Ecuador, 2010. copyright T. McDowell 2013

Nototriche cf pichinchensis Chimborazo 130511 IMG_4442

Nototriche pichinchensis (or related species) (Malvaceae) at páramo reserve above Salinas, Bolívar, Ecuador, 2013. copyright T. McDowell 2013

Oenothera versicolor SJP 130429 IMG_3968_2

Oenothera versicolor (Onagraceae) at páramo of San José de las Palmas, Bolívar, Ecuador. copyright T. McDowell 2013

Oreocallis grandiflora cascha totoras 2010 DSCF0960

Oreocallis grandiflora (Proteaceae) at Cascha Totoras forest, Bolívar, Ecuador. copyright T. McDowell 2013

Oxallis lotoides Salinas 2010 DSCF1124

Oxalis lotoides (Oxalidaceae) at Salinas de Guaranda, 2010. copyright T. McDowell 2013

Phaedranasa sp banos IMG_0230

Phaedranassa dubia (Liliaceae/Amaryllidaceae) along Sendero de los Contrabandistas below Baños, Ecuador. copyright T. McDowell 2013

Phragmopidium orchid xx Las Orquideas 2010 DSCF0534

Phragmipedium orchid at Jardin Botanico Las Orquideas, Tena, Ecuador, 2010. copyright T. McDowell 2013

Phragmopedium (Orchidaceae) at National Botanical Garden in Quito.  copyright T. McDowell 2013

Phragmipedium (Orchidaceae) at National Botanical Garden in Quito. copyright T. McDowell 2013

Polygala Tena

Polygala (Polygalaceae) flowers in Tena, Ecuador. copyright T. McDowell 2013

Pleurothallis orchid (Orchidaceae) at Jardin Botanico Las Orquideas, Tena, Ecuador. copyright T. McDowell 2013

Pleurothallis orchid (Orchidaceae) at Jardin Botanico Las Orquideas, Tena, Ecuador. copyright T. McDowell 2013

Psychotria poeppigiana DSCF1303

Psychotria poeppigiana (Rubiaceae), “hot lips”, with yellow flowers enclosed in red bracts. Jardin Botanico Las Orquideas, Tena, Ecuador. copyright T. McDowell 2013

Punica granatum Machala 2012 IMG_1406

Punica granatum (Lythraceae), “pomegranate”, “granado”, cultivated at the Univ. Polytecinca de Machala, Ecuador, 2012. copyright T. McDowell 2013

Salvia cf quitensis

Salvia quitensis (Lamiaceae), at Cascha Totoras, Bolívar, Ecuador, 2008. copyright T. McDowell 2013

Siphocampylus giganteus flower Cascha Cotorres

Siphocampylus giganteus (Campanulaceae) flower at Cascha Totoras protected forest, Bolívar, Ecuador, 2008. copyright T. McDowell 2013

Solandra maxima (Solanaceae) "cup of gold" flower, about 8 inches long, at Hostal La Chimenea, Baños, Ecuador.  copyright T. McDowell 2013

Solandra maxima (Solanaceae) “cup of gold” flower, about 8 inches long, at Hostal La Chimenea, Baños, Ecuador. copyright T. McDowell 2013

Stellis (Orchidaceae) flower, less than 1/8 inch long, at Jardin Botanico Las Orquideas, Tena, Ecuador.  copyright T. McDowell 2013

Stellis (Orchidaceae) flower, less than 1/8 inch long, at Jardin Botanico Las Orquideas, Tena, Ecuador. copyright T. McDowell 2013

Tecoma stans Cuenca 2011 IMG_0372

Tecoma stans (Bignoniaceae), “fresno” growing as a street tree in Cuenca, Ecuador, 2011. copyright T. McDowell 2013

Theobroma cacao flowers GUayaquil 2011 DSCF2186

Flowers of the chocolate tree, Theobroma cacao (Sterculariaceae/Malvaceae) cultivated at the Guayaquil Historical Park, Ecuador, 2011. copyright T. McDowell 2013

Thundbergia alata

Thundbergia alata (Acanthaceae), “black-eye Susan”, a cultivated vine from east Africa, common in gardens in Ecuador. copyright T. McDowell 2013

Tradescantia cymbispatha SJP IMG_3739

Tradescantia cymbispatha (Commelinaceae) flowers with fine articulated hairs on filaments of stamen, growing wild at San José de las Palmas forest edges, Bolívar, Ecuador, 2013. copyright T. McDowell 2013

Tillandsia (Bromeliaceae) flowers, a relative of spanish moss in pineapple family.  copyright T. McDowell 2013

Tillandsia (Bromeliaceae) flowers, a relative of spanish moss in pineapple family. copyright T. McDowell 2013

Trichostigma Los Arrayanes

Trichostigma or Salvia (Lamiaceae), at Los Arrayanes de San Gabriel, Carchi, Ecuador. copyright T. McDowell 2013

Turnera flower Guay 2011 DSCF2257

Turnera (Turneraceae) at the Guayaqui Botanic Garden, 2011. copyright T. McDowell 2013

Vaccinium flowers 2 cashca totoras 2008 DSCF0021

Vaccinium (Ericaceae) flowers at Cascha Totoras, 2008. copyright T. McDowell 2013

Valeriana rigida Chimborazo 130511 IMG_4396

Valeriana rigida (Valerianaceae) at páramo reserve above Salinas de Guaranda, Bolívar, Ecuador, May 2013. copyright T. McDowell 2013

Werneria Chimborazo 130511 IMG_4335

Werneria pygmea (Asteraceae) in páramo reserve above Salinas de Guaranda, Ecuador, May 2013. copyright T. McDowell 2013

Happy Mothers’ Day to one and all!

Flower stand near World Heritage site "Cementario Los Cipreses", Tulcan, Carchí, Ecuador.

Flower stand near World Heritage site “Cementario Los Cipreses”, Tulcan, Carchí, Ecuador.

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About a new Spanish-Quichua Plant Names Dictionary

Diccionario de plantas útiles del Ecuador. Quichua - Español, Español - Quichua

Diccionario de plantas útiles del Ecuador. Quichua – Español, Español – Quichua

     Interacting with faculty and students in botany-related fields here in Ecuador, I’m frequently asked to give the scientific name for a plant. Sometimes I’ll know the botanical name, but more often I do not. There are far more plant species in Ecuador (over 20,000) than in Tennessee (under 3,000).

In many cases, someone will have a common name for a plant, and want to know the scientific name (botanical or Latin name). It is really not easy to find the corresponding scientific name (or names) for a plant common name. Several books on the plants of Ecuador include common names, but these books are not easily accessible. Also, they may not include an index to common names, or they may list names to genus only (not to species level).

There are good web sites that list botanical names for the plants of Ecuador, but these lack common name references (or list very few common names). I’ll discuss these in a future post.

A new web site is now available which gives scientific names for common names of Ecuadorian plants. It provides common names, in Spanish and in Quichua, for 1714 plant species – over 3400 common names. For each, it gives the scientific name for the species or multiple species associated with that name. It also provides an audio of the spoken name in Quichua. This is important, because Quichua is primarily a spoken language, so spellings of a given Quichua plant name may vary. In addition to the scientific name and common names in Spanish and Quichua, the on-line dictionary also give the uses for each plant.

entry window This is a tremendous new tool for people who study plants or are interested in plants and wish to know their botanical identifications. Scientific names provide an easy connection to all the information known about a plant – its distribution, taxonomic and evolutionary relationships, uses, actual photos and collection images, and so on.

As you might guess, common names don’t correspond one-to-one with scientific names. A common name may refer to many different species, sometimes related and sometimes not. A single species may have many different common names (even in a single language), and many plant species have no recorded common name. Nevertheless, this dictionary provides never-before available access to over 1700 species by searching on their common names in Spanish and in Quichua. As noted in the book announcement from its publisher, the Catholic University of Ecuador in Quito, it is an unprecedented advance in terms of our understanding of the names of useful Ecuadorian plants.

        I translate the book announcement below:

Omar Vacas Cruz and Hugo Navarrete, researchers at the Herbarium of the Catholic University in Quito, and Consuelo Yánez Cossío, or the MACAC Education Corporation, are authors of the publication “Dictionary of Useful Plants: Quichua-Spanish”, which has been produced with financial support of the Ecuadorian Ministry of Education and the DINEIB. This publication, unprecedented in Ecuador, presents information on the knowledge and traditional practices of the Quichua peoples in their use of plants, and classifies these uses into various categories, such as beekeeping, spices, fuels, building materials, medicines, and toxins, among others. It also provides supporting glossaries and pronunciations (in audio clips) for this national language.

The reference is:

Diccionario de plantas útiles del Ecuador. Quichua – Español, Español – Quichua.  by Omar Vacas Cruz, Hugo Navarrete, and Consuelo Yánez Cossío.  Published by the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador. December 14, 2012.  ISBN: 978-9978-77-189-1

Here’s the link again. Pick Español or Quichua button to enter, then pick the “Diccionario” button to access names list and search window. To hear the spoken Quichua name pick the speaker button on the right top near the written name.

http://www.puce.edu.ec/sitios/ciencias-exactas/diccionario-plantas-utiles/

There’s also information of their methodology and classification scheme for names and for plant uses, and a glossary of terms in Quichua and Spanish.

Dictionary listing for the plant Bixa orellana, common name "Achiote" in Spanish.

Dictionary listing for the plant Bixa orellana, common name “Achiote” in Spanish.

The  screen shot above shows the dictionary page for Bixa orellana, known by its Spanish name “Achiote”. This species provides a red food coloring which is used to give the orange color to cheddar cheese. Below are photos of the open fruit. The coloring comes from the outer coat of the seeds.

Fruit of Bixa orellana, the Achiote tree. The red food coloring from the seed coat colors cheddar cheese.

Fruit of Bixa orellana, the Achiote tree. The red food coloring from the seed coat colors cheddar cheese.

The entry from the “Diccionario de las Plantas Útiles del Ecuador” reads as follows, translated here to English.

________

Spanish Common Name: Achiote.   Quichua Common Name: Manturu.              Scientific Name: Bixa orellana

USES:

Human food: Leaves, fruit and seeds are edible.

Seasoning: Seeds and leaves used as spice and food coloring.

Cultural: Leaves for washing with after childbirth.

Material: Seeds used to paint face and body for ceremonies and festivals.

Medicine: Extract of the leaves and flowers used for cataracts, leaves for kidney pain, bladder, rheumatism and to accelerate delivery, and leaves and seeds used to treat “bad spirits” (“el mal aire”).

________

Here are the flowers and young fruits of Bixa orellana, or Achiote.

Bixa orellana, a tree which makes a red food coloring.

Bixa orellana, a tree which makes a red food coloring.

Have a look at the Dictionary. If you don’t speak Spanish you can at least listen to a few of the names spoke in Quichua!  With a knowledge of Spanish (or Quichua) you can learn about the uses of 1714 species of Ecuadorian plants, and get their scientific names.

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A Morning Visit to the Flowering Páramo of Chimborazo

Last Thursday morning, by very good fortune, I went to see the plants in flower in the páramo, the high elevation, dwarf vegetation environment found in the highest parts of the Andes and in certain peaks of Central America.

Chimborazo viewed from paramo roadside about 20 km east of Guaranda.

Chimborazo viewed from paramo roadside about 20 km east of Guaranda.

We visited the páramo (pronounced “PAH ram oh”) on about 20 km above (east of) Guaranda, or about 15 km below (west of) Chimborazo. Chimborazo is the highest mountain in Ecuador: its snow-capped peaks are 6,268 meters (20,564 ft) above sea level.  Most days the peaks are surrounded with clouds, but this morning was clear and bright.

The view north from the Guaranda-Ambato highway near our first stop, about 20 km east of Guaranda.

The view north from the Guaranda-Ambato highway near our first stop, about 20 km east of Guaranda.

My trip was organized by Diego Gutierrez, a botanist from Spain now working in Ecuador. He had arranged for a vehicle and driver to be provided by our hosts, the Agriculture College at the Bolivar State University (UEB). Our driver William brought us from Guaranda up the winding, two lane highway that connects Guaranda with Ambato and Riobamba.

Spanish botanist Dr. Diego Gutierrez in the grass páramo near Chimborazo

Spanish botanist Dr. Diego Gutierrez in the grass páramo near Chimborazo

Site 1.

We pulled over slightly below the high plains, at patch of semi-level ground along the road. Our elevation was around 3800 m. The ground was a broken surface of hard sandy soil and nearly flat clumps of vegetation. A few flowers were obvious, especially the bright yellow dandelion-like heads of Hypochaeris sessilifolia. They grow in the typical form of páramo plants: low cushion-like or pillow-like clumps. Their leaves are also typical of the plants from these heights: very reduced in size, and the small blades are rather thick. Both of these traits are common adaptations to dry environments.

The daisy family flowers of Hypochaeris sessiliflora.

The daisy family flowers of Hypochaeris sessiliflora.

Another bright yellow inflorescence (flower cluster or head) belonged to Bidens andicola, a páramo species in the genus of “Spanish needles”, so named for the narrow black seeds with barbed hooks which it produces.

The species Bidens andicola, common in the páramo.

The species Bidens andicola, common in the páramo.

Another prominent flower was a relative of the mouse-eared chick-weed, a Cerastium species. In the family of carnations (Caryophyllaceae), this species has fuzzy gray-green leaves and five-petaled white flowers with fine lines (nectar guides for the pollinators). The fruit is a capsule which opens from the top to release its seeds.

Flowers of Cerastium mollissimum, a relative of the mouse-eared chickweeds

Flowers of Cerastium mollissimum, a relative of the mouse-eared chickweeds

Blue flowers were also abundant. The most showy blue flowers were those of Gentiana sedifolia, a gentian native to the high mountains from Costa Rica to Bolivia.  The round flowers are about 1 1/2 inches (>3 cm) across. The gentian family (Gentianaceae) includes some of the most showy flowers in the páramo flora.

Gentiana sedifolia, a blue gentian common in the páramo.

Gentiana sedifolia, a blue gentian common in the páramo.

Other blue flowers aren’t so obvious, but are just as abundant. An bean family plant bears the pea-shaped flowers typical of the bean family. This species, Astragalus geminiflorus, has tiny, pinnately compound leaves (leaves with multiple leaflets arranged along a central axis, like parts of a feather) that are amazingly small: with about a dozen leaflets per side the leaves are only about an inch long. They are gray-green, covered with whitish hairs, another common adaptation of xeric (dry area) plants. Their little bean-fruits are also covered with grayish hairs, and though relatively large, are only about 1/4″ long.

Astragalus geminiflorus, a milk-vetch species of the páramo.

Astragalus geminiflorus, a milk-vetch species of the páramo.

Diego is particularly fond of the legumes (bean family plants), and calls for me to see another tiny representative of this global, and often woody, plant family. The tiny lupine (Lupinus microphyllus) is aptly named: “microphyllus” means “minute leaves”.Lupinus microphyllus IMG_3404

The lupines have palmately compound leaves (leaves with multiple leaflets radiating from a central point, a bit like fingers on a hand), but the leaflets of this lupine are so small (about 1/4 inch or less) that one might need a 10x hand lens to really see how they’re arranged. The lupine flower is very similar to other pea flowers, which all belong to the bean sub-family Papillionoideae (papillion: butterfly, due to the butterfly wing-like side petals of these flowers).

The small fruits of the páramo lupine Lupinus microphyllus are to the left of the flower.

The small fruits of the páramo lupine Lupinus microphyllus are to the left of the flower.

Knowing some of the major plant families (groups of related genera, usually with common morphological traits) helps to add meaning and interest to this sort of flower-hunting. The flowers of Pernettya prostrata are almost identical to flowers of our blueberry plant – white urn-shaped corollas with small petal-lobes surrounding a downward-facing opening. These blueberry-type flowers are designed for buzz-pollination: visiting bees buzz beneath the flower and their wing vibrations eject the pollen onto their backs, to carry to the next flower. The leaves of this Pernettya, like other páramo plants, are tiny and thick.

The blueberry relative Pernettya prostrata in flower at the páramo of Chimborazo

The blueberry relative Pernettya prostrata in flower at the páramo of Chimborazo

Another well-known northern plant family is the Rosaceae, named for Rosa, the genus of roses. Included in the Rosaceae are the apples (Malus), pears (Pyrus), cherries, peaches, plums and apricots (Prunus), blackberries and raspberries (Rubus), and strawberries (Fragaria). Here in the páramo one Rosaceae is abundant and in flower, but its flowers are inconspicuous to our eyes. They’re a light green-yellow color, and lack petals. The leaves are rather round and folded with zig-zag edges, like an oriental fan. This genus, Lachimella, includes some 80 species, ranging from southern California to Chile, and 34 of these grow in the páramos from Costa Rica to Peru. There appear to be two different Lachimella species growing on the rocky ground here, differing in leaf lobe-depth, inflorescence shape and flower number, however its also possible that they belong to one highly variable species. One of these species is likely Lachimella orbiculata, a common ground cover in high open areas.Lachemilla orbiculata IMG_3377

Another member of the rose family Rosaceae was in fruit, its flowers matured and passed. This miniature plant, like its neighbors, was only a few inches high, and its pinnate leaves only about an inch long. Its fruits were covered with hooked hairs or barbs, a means of dispersal on the fur of animals one assumes. This plant, Acaena elongata, belongs to a genus of about 100 species, mostly Southern hemisphere in distribution, especially New Zealand, Australia and South America. Like Lachimella, its flowers lack petals.

Acaena elongata, a rose family species, with burred fruit.

Acaena elongata, a rose family species, with burred fruit.

I climbed down a drainage ditch that led below the rim of the upper pull-over area, and found another much of a muchness of floral diversity. The yellow “little slipper flowers” (“zapatillas”) of a Calceolaria species stand out with their pouch-like petals. Their flowers provide the pollinator-bees with oils instead of sugary-nectar, a welcome reward at these chilly high elevation environments. This genus is species-rich: 260 species from Mexico to the tip of South America (Tierro del Fuego), with 65 páramo species. Perhaps this one is Calceolaria rosmarinifolia.

A species of Calceolaria, known as "zapatillas" or "little slippers".

A species of Calceolaria, known as “zapatillas” or “little slippers”.

Growing on rocks below the drop-off is a beautiful red and yellow flower with a long, bell-shaped corolla: Gentianella cernua. Red flowers often attract hummingbirds, while yellow flowers are typically bee-pollinated. I wonder who pollinates these! As the genus name suggests, this flower belongs to the gentian family.

The flowers of Gentianella cernua near Chimborazo.

The flowers of Gentianella cernua near Chimborazo.

Opened flower of Gentianella cernua.

Opened flower of Gentianella cernua.

The Gentian family (Gentianaceae) is also represented here by Halenia weddelliana, a common páramo species, but a most bizarre flower. Halenia flowers are yellow-green and have four long nectar spurs extending from their petals. The flowers hang downwards, and the pointy spurs point up. The name of this plant in Quichua is Turugacacho, which translated means “bull’s horns”. The common name in Spanish is the same: cacho de venado. All this complex floral morphology suggests a specialized pollinator: I wonder what insect we can thank for this service.

The green-yellow flowers of Halenia weddelliana, a common páramo species,

The green-yellow flowers of Halenia weddelliana, a common páramo species,

Another red blossoming plant here is the Indian Paintbrush, which grows amid the rocks and grass. Its genus, Castellija includes some 200 species, mostly in western North America, with a handful of species from the eastern US, from north Asia, and from Central and South America. The páramo hosts three Castellija species. Their bright red surfaces aren’t petals – they’re bracts, or modified leaves surrounding the inconspicuous flowers. They perform the same function as colorful petals- to attract pollinators. Castellija species are hemiparasitic (half parasites): they’re both photosynthetic (their green, chlorophyllous leaves make sugar) and parasitic (their roots tap into the roots of other plants to take nutrients.

Castellija inflorescence in páramo grass near Chimborazo.

Castellija inflorescence in páramo grass near Chimborazo.

Site 2.

We climbed the few meters back to the roadside area, photographed a few more species, and then crossed the highway to have a look at the grassy páramo on the hill opposite our pullover. We entered the hilly terrain where an old dirt road had eroded deeply into the soft dirt. Páramo grass, Calamogrostis intermedia, covered the hilly ground with its clumped, needle-like brown-green blades. Parts of this area had been burned about three years ago, and there was evidence of grazing near the roadway. From a distance one wouldn’t guess that the spaces between the páramo grass were bright with the colorful blossoms of low-growing páramo plants.

Páramo grass, Calamagrostis intermedia, the dominant ground cover near Chimborazo.

Páramo grass, Calamagrostis intermedia, the dominant ground cover near Chimborazo.

The páramo plants here showed the classic growth structure for this habitat: mound-shaped pillows growing in low clumps, with their tiny leaves held tight to the surface, the flowers just above the leafy cushion. Their stems grow deep beneath the surface, branching underground where they slow grow atop the wind-blown soil. One of the cushion-plants flowering there was Azorella tridentata, a carrot family (Apiaceae) species with three-pronged leaves and tiny white flowers.

Azorella tridentata, a carrot family (Apiaceae) species with three-pronged leaves.

Azorella tridentata, a carrot family (Apiaceae) species with three-pronged leaves.

Another big pillow-plant, belong to the sunflower family (Asteraceae), is Baccharis caespitosa (“caespitose” means “growing in small clumps or tufts”).  Baccharis, like all Asteraceae, bears its flowers in heads (tight clusters with surrounding scale-leaves). The flowers of Baccharis are all small tube-flowers; the daisy-like ray flowers are absent from this genus. Baccharis species are numerous in the páramo, but most are trees and shrubs. Two Baccharis species occur along the coast of North Carolina. The páramo has about 52 Baccharis species; South America has about 400.Baccharis caespitosa IMG_3391

The pillow-shaped habit of many paramo plants shown here for Baccharis caespitosa. Note long roots which collect water and anchor plant in drifting substrate.

The pillow-shaped habit of many paramo plants shown here for Baccharis caespitosa. Note long roots which collect water and anchor plant in drifting substrate.

Werneria nubigena is another member of the sunflower family. This small plant has thick strap-like leaves growing in two rows, the white and yellow daisy-like head of flowers (inflorescence) held close to the ground between the low-spreading leaves.Werneria nubigena IMG_3349

The Asteraceae (sunflower family) is one of the most diverse and distinctive parts of the páramo flora. The small plant Loricaria thuyoides looks almost fern-like, but is a member of the Asteraceae. The tiny overlapping scale-like leaves help this plant survive the cold and wind of the páramo. Even without flowers, this species is distinctive.

Loricaria thuyoides belongs to the sunflower family, though its growth form is unusual

Loricaria thuyoides belongs to the sunflower family, though its growth form is unusual

A valerian species presents its clusters of white flowers on a long stem to get above the bunched grasses. This species may be Valeriana microphylla.

Flowers of valerian, Valeriana microphylla or a related species.

Flowers of valerian, Valeriana microphylla or a related species.

Genera familiar from the southeast US (or Tennessee mountain) flora are also present: a geranium (perhaps Geranium multipartitum)

Here the Geranium species has leaves similar to the common species in Tennessee.

Here the Geranium species has leaves similar to the common species in Tennessee.

Geranium flowers on tiny páramo plants.

Geranium flowers on tiny páramo plants.

and a buttercup (perhaps Ranunculus praemorsus) flower between the mounds of páramo grass.

Buttercup flower, Ranunculus species, in páramo grass.

Buttercup flower, Ranunculus species, in páramo grass.

Ferns are also quite present in places not covered by the grass, as along the trench-like banks of the deep-worn animal paths. A fern with entire (un-lobed, un-divided) leaves is Elaphoglossum.

Undivided leaves of the fern Elaphoglossum.

Undivided leaves of the fern Elaphoglossum.

Its fertile leaves are covered with spores on their bottom side. Another fern encountered in the fertile condition has spores in clusters (sori) on the leaf underside. This one may be a Thelypteris, another genus with species in the Tennessee mountains.

A fern, likely a Thelypteris, in paramo.

A fern, likely a Thelypteris, in paramo.

Sporangia (spore cases) clustered into "dots" (sori) on the leaf underside, perhaps a Thelypteris species, at páramo.

Sporangia (spore cases) clustered into “dots” (sori) on the leaf underside, perhaps a Thelypteris species, at páramo.

One plant that had us guessing (what is it?) for a while was Eryngium humile, a member of the carrot family. This páramo species, from a widespread genus also represented in Tennessee, grows in a low clump – called a basal rosette – with a circle of small, stiff leaves surrounding a central flower cluster. This basal rosette growth form occurs in páramo species of many different families, and thus exemplifies convergent evolution for this growth form.

The carrot-family species Eringium humile at páramo.

The carrot-family species Eringium humile at páramo.

The mature inflorescence of Eringium humile, Apiaceae.

The mature inflorescence of Eringium humile, Apiaceae.

Site 3

We returned to the truck and proceeded up a couple kilometers up the highway to the rather flat plain which sits below the towering slopes of Chimborazo. There the vegetation was more intermittent, the ground more wind-swept and eroded. Even so, the clumps of plants amid the desert-like dusty volcanic soil.

The eroded high páramo, worn by wind, water, grazing and human disturbance.

The eroded high páramo, worn by wind, water, grazing and human disturbance.

The small grass clump has long roots which are saving a little sand castle beneath it from erosion.

The small grass clump has long roots which are saving a little sand castle beneath it from erosion.

I was really impressed to see the pale purple flowers of a member of the mallow family (Malvaceae), because I associate this family with warm habitats, not the cold wind-blown páramo. The flower was unmistakable: members of this family, which includes okra, cotton and hibiscus, have a very distinctive tube, formed of the stalks of the stamens (the male reproductive parts), bearing the anthers on a column which surrounds the style (the stalk of the ovary, the female reproductive part). This flower type is a familiar motif on Hawaiian shirts. This species is Nototriche hartwegii. It normally occurs at or over 4000 m elevation (13,200 feet).

Nototriche hartwegii, a member of the cotton-mallow family Malvaceae, at the high páramo of Chimborazo.

Nototriche hartwegii, a member of the cotton-mallow family Malvaceae, at the high páramo of Chimborazo.

Close by was a large Chiquiraga plant, with its distinctive tops of orange-red bracts (modified leaves). This high-páramo plant, Chuquiraga jussieui, is used medicinally in teas as a diuretic and kidney anti-inflammatory. It’s another unusual member of the sunflower family, Asteraceae. The leaves are stiff and prickly. The flowers are bright yellow, but are smaller than the overlapping red bracts. The genus includes 20 species from the Andes of Columbia, Ecuador and Peru, and grows to elevations of 4750 m (15,700 feet).

The small shrub Chiquiraga, with red bracts and firm, spine-tipped leaves.

The small shrub Chiquiraga, with red bracts and firm, spine-tipped leaves.

Chuquiraga jussieui is used medicinally in teas as a diuretic and kidney anti-inflammatory.

Chuquiraga jussieui is used medicinally in teas as a diuretic and kidney anti-inflammatory.

Another very strange cushion plant is Eudema rubigena. I was surprised to find a member of the mustard family (Brassicaceae) growing here, but the flowers, with four petals (“crucifer” or cross-bearing) is a key trait for this largely temperate plant family. Eudema is yet another cushion-plant, its low build and thick leaves in a basal rosette protecting the stem from páramo’s wind, drifting soil, cold and high light.

Cushion-plant growth form of Eudema rubigena, a member of the mustard family (Brassicaceae).

Cushion-plant growth form of Eudema rubigena, a member of the mustard family (Brassicaceae).

Eudema rubigena IMG_3518

Before leaving – we had a lunch meeting in Salinas de Guaranda – we stopped by the statue of Baron Alexander von Humboldt (1759-1859).  In 1802 and 1803 Von Humboldt traveled in Ecuador, from Guayaquil on the coast to the snowy peaks of Chimborazo. The field of biogeography, which examines the distributions of species, is founded on his publications, including his book  “The Geography of Plants”, which is based on his botanical travels in Ecuador and around the world. The von Humboldt statue stands in front of a small museum, closed at the time of our visit.

The museum and statue commemorating Alexander von Humboldt, who botanized here in 1802.

The museum and statue commemorating Alexander von Humboldt, who botanized here in 1802.

[see detailed information on von Humboldt at wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexander_von_Humboldt]

The statue of explorer, botanist, and geographer Alexander von Humboldt, with Tim McDowell and Diego Gutierrez.

The statue of explorer, botanist, and geographer Alexander von Humboldt, with Tim McDowell and Diego Gutierrez.

Upon leaving the von Humboldt statue, we drove 1-2 kilometers towards Ambato and the Via Flores (the Flower Road). The old cobblestone roadway is visible along the newly repaved asphalt of the new two-lane highway.

The old stone road, the Via Flores, buuilt on pre-Inca trails from the coast to highlands.

The old stone road, the Via Flores, buuilt on pre-Inca trails from the coast to highlands.

It follows the ancient Inca and pre-Inca road which connected Guayaquil and the coastal cities with Ambato and the cities of the inter-Andean valley, including Riobamba and Quito. This ancient road ran through Guaranda on its way across the western cordillera of the Andes. Along the road we passed a flock of vicuñas. Thousands of hectares surrounding Chimborazo are protected as a wildlife sanctuary.

Vicuña in páramo below Chimborazo.

Vicuña in páramo below Chimborazo.

In just two hours of sunny-bright morning we’ve seen over 30 species in flower. Most are small plants, a few inches or under a foot high. They represent diverse plant families. Ferns, mosses, lichens and mushrooms were also present. What a pleasant, continuing surprise to see, photograph and puzzle out the identity of these bizarre and beautiful species. I feel most fortunate to have had the chance to visit the Chimborazo páramo in blossom time! I recommend the trip to anyone who may get the opportunity. Many thanks to all who’ve helped make my trip possible.

More vicuñas along the Guarana-Ambato highway below Chimborazo.

More vicuñas along the Guarana-Ambato highway below Chimborazo.

A super web resource for information on the plants of the páramo is provided the Missouri Botanical Garden botanist Dr. Carmen Ulloa Ulloa and associates.

http://www.mobot.org/MOBOT/Research/paramo_flora.shtml

See the excellent links for greater detail on the paramo vegetation, especially an introduction to the páramo by New York Botanica Garden botanist Dr. James L. Luteyn.

http://www.mobot.org/MOBOT/research/paramo_ecosystem/introduction.shtml

A well illustrated description of the páramo at Cajas Nationa Park near Cuenca is provided by MBG Drs. Ulloa and Peter Jørgensen, with both english and spanish text.

http://www.mobot.org/MOBOT/research/paramo/welcome.flash.asp

For a great resource available on-line, but actually the pdf files of a great book,  see the amazingly well written (in Spanish) and superbly illustrated volume by Erwin Patzelt titled “Flora del Ecuador”. It’s found on-line in a series of pdf files at:

http://www.patzelt-ecuador.de/html/flora1.htm

The chapter on the paramo vegetation is in file 2, especially pages 24-56, at:

http://www.patzelt-ecuador.de/Patzelt_Flora_del_Ecuador-2-Tierra_nevada_y_tierra_helada.pdf

Some of the botanical names have changed since this 1995 book was published.

A similarly book by Patzelt on the “Fauna del Ecuador” is also on-line in pdf:

http://www.patzelt-ecuador.de/

Another useful on-line source is a study of one páramo in Columbia.  This is the reference:

Madriñán, S. & F. Zapata. 2001. Flora Ilustrada del Páramo de Chingaza, Colombia. Laboratorio de Botánica & Sistemática, Universidad de los Andes, Bogotá [http://chingaza.uniandes.edu.co/FIC/].

It includes many photos for plant species, found on the web pages linked to here:

http://chingaza.uniandes.edu.co/FIC/index.html

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New Years Eve in Guaranda, Ecuador, and the Año Viejo effigies.

Toro AN and woman w Pajaro Azul IMG_2856

A woman opens a botlle (water? Pajaro Azul liquor?) at the street party in front of the Transit Police headquarters. The big bull in background is a fancy, head-nodding Año Viejo.

    New Years Eve celebrations in Ecuador involve many festive activities unfamiliar to those from the United States or non-Latin countries. They certainly do all the partying, dancing, drinking, music and food which mark New Years celebrations in the US, but they have some other elaborate activities too. Of these, the most colorful and artistic are the making, displaying and midnight burning of paper-mache effigies or dolls, called “Año Viejo”s (“Old Year”s).

AN market Plaza Roja IMG_2819

Año Viejos – colorful paper mache effigies – for sale on the main plaza in Guaranda.

    The Año Viejo dolls/effigies represent all kinds of figures associated with the past year. Especially frequent are cartoon characters from TV or movies (e.g. Bart Simpson, Ice Age animals), sports figures (often celebrated), politicians (often ridiculed), and other recognizable figures, such as policemen or soldiers.

Shop with Año Viejos and masks in Guaranda December 29, 2012

Shop with Año Viejos and masks in Guaranda December 29, 2012

    Favorite cartoon characters from animated movies and TV shows are very big as Año Viejos.

Bart Simpson Año Viejo.

Bart Simpson Año Viejo.

    Micky and Minnie Mouse figure large in these large figure Año Viejos.

Big Micky and Minnie Mouse Año Viejos

Big Micky and Minnie Mouse Año Viejos

    Dogs are everywhere in Guaranda, even in the Año Viejos:

Pluto Año Viejo among cartoon characters.

Pluto Año Viejo among cartoon characters.

    Captain America and Fred Flintstone along with perhaps a Guaranda Transit Policeman.

Captain America, Fred Flintstone and perhaps a Guaranda Transit Policeman Año Viejos

Captain America, Fred Flintstone and perhaps a Guaranda Transit Policeman Año Viejos

    Doraemon, Bart Simpson and Spiderman are all popular characters this year.

Año Viejos - paper mache effigies - in Guaranda, Ecuador. Doraemon, Bart Simpson, Spiderman & co.

Año Viejos – paper mache effigies – in Guaranda, Ecuador. Doraemon, Bart Simpson, Spiderman & co.

      I allowed myself to be photographed with the famous Muppet Miss Piggy.

Miss Piggy and me, Guaranda Dec. 29, 2012

Miss Piggy and me, Guaranda Dec. 29, 2012

     Año Viejos come in all sizes. Some are small.

Año Viejo dolls and small figures.

Año Viejo dolls and small figures.

Everyone celebrates New Year and the Año Viejos are an essential part of the holiday.

Bringing home a Bart Simpson Año Viejo in Guaranda, Dec. 29, 2012.

Bringing home a Bart Simpson Año Viejo in Guaranda, Dec. 29, 2012.

Some Año Viejos represent things, like airplanes or helicopters, instead of people or cartoon figures. The Guaranda Fire Department made a large Año Viejo of a helicopter.

The Guaranda Fire Department, with their Año Viejos, long view.

The Guaranda Fire Department, with their Año Viejos, long view.

The Fire Department's Año Viejos included a helicopter.

The Fire Department’s Año Viejos included a helicopter.

       The Año Viejos are made by individuals and groups from a workplace or neighborhood, and are also sold at shops and stands in the plaza (in Guaranda, along Plaza Roja).

Making a large Año Viejo effigy-doll. This one will be the disgraced political figure Pedro Delgado.

Making a large Año Viejo effigy-doll. This one will be the disgraced political figure Pedro Delgado.

    Sometimes historical figures are represented with carefully sculpted Año Viejos. Here a Guaranda artist is creating huge heads of (I believe) Ecuador’s General and President Eloy Alfaro Delgado (circa 1900) and the Inca Indian warrior Guaranga Kamayuk who battled the Spanish invasion (circa 1570).

Making large Año Viejo heads of President Eloy Alfaro and Inca warrior Guaranga

Making large Año Viejo heads of President Eloy Alfaro and Inca warrior Guaranga

    Also sold are masks, often of an old man or woman, also of cartoon figures or politicians.

Masks for sale along Plaza Roja in Guaranda Dec. 30, 2012

Masks for sale along Plaza Roja in Guaranda Dec. 30, 2012

    Kids wear masks just like at our Halloween time.

Kids with masks and onlooker kids at a shop in Guaranda Dec 2012

Kids wearing masks and onlooker kids at a shop in Guaranda Dec 2012

    Some masks are pretty sophisticated, such as these, which borrow from Edward Munch.

Masks of Munch's "The Scream" for sale along Plaza Roja Dec 29, 2012

Masks of Munch’s “The Scream” for sale along Plaza Roja Dec 29, 2012

    Colorful wigs and sometimes even fake boobs are also popular items at these stands.

Wigs and masks for sale, Plaza Roja, Guaranda, Dec. 2012

Wigs and masks for sale, Plaza Roja, Guaranda, Dec. 2012

   The wigs and fake boobs are part of the costume for another distinctive New Years Eve activity. Men and boys dress as women, and posing as “widows” (“viudas”), they stop traffic along side streets and demand coins from the drivers. The viudas are really dressed up – they might actually look like a woman or girl, or they might give a comic caricature of a woman. Men dressed up as women are a part of many Ecuadorian holiday festivities, including New Years and Carnival. This is done playfully and doesn’t give offense. There doesn’t happen to be reciprocal role-playing – there’s no tradition of women dressing as men in these games.

Viudas ("widows") are guys dressed as women for New Years Eve

Viudas (“widows”) are guys dressed as women for New Years Eve

    On New Years Eve these viudas dance on the streets and also play a begging game with passing cars.  They hold a cord across the street and press on the car until the driver hands over a few small coins. They may then share a small drink of canela, a sweet cinnamon-flavored shot of dilute alcohol.

Viudas asking for coins along a side street in Guaranda Dec. 31, 2012.

Viudas asking for coins along a side street in Guaranda Dec. 31, 2012.

    It’s common for kids to do the toll-gate street-blocking game beginning in the afternoon of New Years Eve. Drivers should carry a supply of small coins to get through these little road-blocks. In town the kids use a string or small cord to stop traffic. On the through roads they put rocks in the road to stop traffic. It’s all part of the game, one day a year.

Año Viejo display with overarching palm leaves.

Año Viejo display with overarching palm leaves.

    The Año Viejos (effigies/dolls) are displayed in front of the house or business, or driven around town tied to a car or truck. The door-way displays may be framed with a portal arc of leafy branches, making a small stage-setting. Bright colored lights and music are added to the display. The leaves and branches will be burned at midnight along with the Año Viejos.

     Around New Years Eve one often sees Año Viejos displayed on vehicles.

Año Viejo of Ice Age movie figure on top of car, Guaranda 2012

Año Viejo of Ice Age movie figure on top of car, Guaranda 2012

Chipmunk Año Viejo roof ornament.

Chipmunk Año Viejo roof ornament.

Smurf Año Viejo as truck hood ornament viewed from my apartment in Guaranda.

Smurf Año Viejo as truck hood ornament viewed from my apartment in Guaranda.

    In Guaranda this year one of the most popular Año Viejo figures was Don Burro – Mr. Donkey.

making Don Buro AN IMG_2792    This political themed Año Viejo refers to a widely covered news story from mid-November, when some young people in Guayaquil tried to register a donkey as a candidate for National Assembly (the Ecuadorian Congress) for the upcoming election this February. They called their candidate “Don Burro”, or Mister Donkey. Election officials refused to allow the donkey candidate, which led to calls for a write-in campaign, much to the amusement of the public at large. For a news story about this in Spanish (El Universo, Guayaquil) click here. For a news story about this in English (EcuadorTimes.net) click here.  There were many Don Burro Año Viejos in Guaranda this year.

painting Don Buro AN IMG_2838

Painting a Don Burro Año Viejo. An unidentified political cronie stands along side.

The biggest Don Burro Año Viejo was over 25 feet high!

Huge Don Buro along Plaza Roja in Guaranda Dec. 31, 2012.

Huge Don Burro along Plaza Roja in Guaranda Dec. 31, 2012.

At midnight, the Año Viejos are toppled, sometimes beaten, and burned. Below the tall Don Burro Año Viejo has just been pulled down.

At midnight the tall Don Buro was pulled down, and then burned.

At midnight the tall Don Burro was pulled down, and then burned.

    Political satire was also manifest in a large Año Viejo of Pedro Delgado, who resigned his position as President of Ecuador’s Central Bank just before Christmas after it was revealed that he had used a fake university diploma to enter an MBA program in Costa Rica. Delgado’s appointment was controversial because he’s a cousin of President Rafael Correa, who himself holds a Ph.D. in economics from University of Illinois. Correa has had running battles (with lawsuits and criminal cases, raising issues of press freedom) with major figures in the banking and the news sectors in Ecuador, and the Delgado scandal has been an embarrassment to the President, who has now denounced Delgado’s dishonest behavior. A brief report on the Delgado resignation from the Wall Street Journal is here.  An interesting analysis of this situation by a US professor of economics and former US bank regulator is here.

Here the largest of the Delgado Año Viejos is being painted.

Painting Pedro Delgado Año Viejo in Guaranda on New Year's Eve.

Painting Pedro Delgado Año Viejo in Guaranda on New Years Eve.

Here is the team working on this and other Año Viejos. One of them is running for National Assembly.

An Año Viejo making team at work along Plaza Roja, Guaranda.

An Año Viejo making team at work along Plaza Roja, Guaranda.

The same Año Viejo is on display in its final form along Plaza Roja in Guaranda in the hours before midnight Dec. 31.

Pedro Delgado AN on display IMG_2929

The political scandal involving Ecuador’s Bank President is portrayed in an Año Viejo in Guaranda on New Years Eve.

    Aside from political parodies, a popular Año Viejo subject for this year has been the soccer team Barcelona and their hero Narciso Mina. Mina is a 30 year old striker for the Barcelona Sporting Club of Guayaquil, the most popular team in the most popular sport in this sports-happy nation. This year BSC won its first Ecuadorian championship since 1997. Key to the winning season was the record 31 goals scored by Mina.

Narciso Mina, star striker for Barcelona SC, a popular Año Viejo.

Narciso Mina, star striker for Barcelona SC, a popular Año Viejo.

Here are Año Viejos of Mina and President Correa.

President Correa and soccer star Mina, popular in Guaranda at New Years Eve 2012.

President Correa and soccer star Mina, popular in Guaranda at New Years Eve 2012.

The Barcelona SC team captain is Matías Oyola, #18. Here he’s displayed on an SUV complete with soccer ball.

Año Viejo of soccer star and BSC team captain Matías Oyola.

Año Viejo of soccer star and BSC team captain Matías Oyola.

This multi-Año Viejo display on Plaza Roja shows the whole team in Año Viejos.

Barcelona soccer team ANs on display IMG_2931

The fireworks and parties were going on all through the town, with neighborhoods and blocks partying around their own displays and loudspeaker-amplified music. We headed home around 12:30, as the fireworks subsided and Años Viejos burned to ashes.

An Año Viejo burning on the sidewalk in Guaranda on New Years Eve, Dec. 31, 2012.

An Año Viejo with burning fireworks on the sidewalk in Guaranda on New Years Eve, Dec. 31, 2012.

The next morning, New Years Day, was one of the quietest mornings I’ve seen during my time in Guaranda. Feliz Año Nuevo to one and all!

Note: photos in this post are by Theresa McGarry and Tim McDowell. Please borrow these only for non-profit use with photo credit given. Thanks and Happy 2013!

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Some tropical fruits and their flowers

Fruits of Theobroma cacao, the source of chocolate, in Machala, Ecuador. Chocolate is derived from the seeds.

My eleventh grade math teacher, Mrs. Lois Croft, once told me that I owed it to myself to try the fruits of the tropics sometime. She’d had a remarkable life, including surviving a time in POW camp in the Philippines during WWII, and dancing with Martha Graham. Her comments encouraged me to get to the tropics, and my travels eventually led me to botany work in the Caribbean, and Central and South America. I’ll pass along Mrs. Croft’s advice – get yourself to the tropics sometime and try the tropical fruits.

Roadside fruit stand near Santo Domingo, Ecuador, along highway to Esmeraldas.

Here’s a mixed fruit photo collection, with some of the fruit species’ flowers included. Below are the flowers of the chocolate tree, Theobroma cacao. Note the flowers, which become the fruits, grow on the trunk and main branches of the cacao tree (not at the branch tips, as do apples or oranges). Do you see the young fruit here?

Flowers of the chocolate tree, Theobroma cacao.

To get cocoa seeds, the ripe cacao are picked and opened. Fresh, the seeds are covered with a delicious outer white fleshy coat, which is good to eat. For chocolate production, the seeds are dried, as shown below.

Cacao seeds drying on sidewalk in Echeandia, Bolivar Province, Ecuador.

In case you’re new to topic of basic plant reproduction, here’s the quick rundown: most plants (except mosses, ferns, conifers and a few other curious groups) reproduce sexually by making flowers which bear their male (pollen) and female (ovules) reproductive parts. The fertilization happens when a pollen grain’s cells combine with the cells in an ovule to make a new individual offspring. This happens inside the ovary of the flower, which is actually the base of the pistil, the more substantial innermost “whorl” of the flower. The pollen, of course, comes from the anther, the male part of the flower. The other floral parts – the petals (often colorful to attract pollinating animals) and the sepals (the typically green flaps covering the floral bud) – help with protection and pollination. The big idea: flowers, once pollinated, become fruits. Ovules, once fertilized, develop into seeds. In short, the pistil of the flower develops into the fruit, and the ovules within the pistil base (ovary) develop into seeds.

Coffee fruits or berries, on the small tree Coffea arabica.

Above is the coffee shrub, Coffea arabica. The “coffee beans” are the seeds. Two seeds develop within each fruit (or berry). Like chocolate, there is a complex process involved to get the product we use (chocolate, coffee) from the actual fruit. Unlike chocolate (domesticated in middle America), coffee is native to west Africa. Coffee is in the plant family Rubiaceae, which also includes gardenias, quinine (the original anti-malarial medicine), and many other medicinal and ornamental plants, mostly tropical in distribution.

Flowers on the coffee shrub (Coffea arabica).

Fruits and the seeds produced therein provide most of the plant food and beverages consumed by humans. Vegetable oils come from seeds (or the fruit tissue in the case of olive oil), grains are 1-seeded fruits from the grass family, and don’t we all love to eat fruit?!

Plantains (platanos) are a type of banana, belonging to the genus Musa. These plantain are growing in Balsapamba, Ecuador.

Above is pictured the fruiting and flowering stalk of a plantain plant. Plantains and bananas belong to the genus Musa, a group of monocots related to gingers and bird-of-paradise flower groups. Note that in bananas and plantains, the bud, with a red scale covering, is below, at the tip of the stalk, while the open, white flowers are midway, and the green banana-like fruits are above, all on the one stalk. I have a banana plant growing in my yard in Tennessee, but our summer is much too short to get flowers, much less fruits, on my banana plant.

Bananas are the biggest cash crop in Ecuador. These plantations, in El Oro Province (near Machala) go on for miles.

Bananas are the chief export crop for Ecuador (and second only to petroleum in dollar value). Ecuador supplies (in many years) the greatest part of the bananas consumed in the United States. Consider buying organic bananas – they’re better for the workers, the environment, and (I’d guess) for the consumer.

Pineapples (Ananas comosus) in Machala, Ec.

Pineapple is unusual in its fruit structure. The edible part is the stalk, which is thick, fleshy, sweet and juicy. The flowers and seeds form in the “eyes”, which we remove with the skin when cleaning the pineapple. Cultivated pineapples are sterile hybrids which rarely make seeds, and are reproduced asexually by cuttings.

An organically grown pineapple in the gardens at Jatun Sacha, a biological reserve in the Ecuadorian Amazon near Tena.

Actually, one needn’t travel to the tropics to taste good pineapples (and coffee or chocolate is usually roasted or processed in US or Europe). But papaya, like many fruits, doesn’t travel as well, so try this fruit when you get where they grow.

Carica papaya tree with fruit, growing in Quevedo, Ecuador.

The papaya tree is dioecious (die-ee-shus), meaning it produces male flowers on one tree and female flowers (and fruits) on a separate tree.

Flowers of Carica papaya, the papaya tree. These appear to be the male, or pollen bearing flowers.

Botanists now regard Carica papaya as the only species in the genus Carica, but until recent revisions there were 20-25 species included in the genus Carica.  One papaya relative grown in Ecuador for its fruit (used in juices) is the Babaco (formerly called Carica pentagonia, now determined to be a hybrid (cross) between two species of the genus Vasconcellea, (babaco: Vasconcellea × heilbornii).  Tropical fruits are sometimes best enjoyed in juices (“jugos”).

Babaco fruits being loaded for market in hills above Baños, Ecuador.

Another great fruit for juices is the passionfruit, the fruit of various species of the genus Passiflora. In Tennessee, the wild species of Passiflora (Passiflora incarnata) is called “maypops”. Passionfruit species provide the distinctive flavor in the juice-blend “Hawaiian Punch”, and the flavoring is extracted is sold as Grenadine. Various passionfruit species are grown in Ecuador, and the genus includes hundreds of wild species.

Fruits of maracuya, (Passiflora edulis) growing in Machala, Ecuador.

Above are the fruits of the species Passiflora edulis (“edulis” = edible). Below are the flowers.

Flowers of Passiflora edulis in Machala, Ecuador

Here’s a different species of edible Passionfruit, Passiflora quandrangularis.

Badea fruits (Passiflora quadrangularis) growing from vines on trellis in Machala, Ecuador.

Some fruits are eaten as a jelly (“mermalada”) or paste, as well as out of hand. A popular, sweet fruit from tropical America is the guava, or guayaba (Psidium guajava).

Guayaba fruit (Psidium guajava) on tree in Machala, Ecuador

In Cuba guava paste is a favorite, and Jamaica’s Bob Marley has a great song called “Guava jelly”. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LCoAP43lujk&feature=related&gt;

Guava fruit, open. (Psidium guajava).

Below are flowers of guava (Psidium guajava). They have 5 petals and many stamens, as is typical for the plant family Myrtaceae (myrtles) to which it belongs.

Flowers of the guava tree (Psidium guajava) growing near Baños, Ecuador.

Here’s a great tropical fruit from the India-SE Asia region: Averrhoa carambola, called carambola in Ecuador and sometimes sold as “starfruit” in the U.S. The fruits available in the U.S. generally taste nothing like the fresh fruits off the tree or available in tropical markets. Carambola includes many cultivated varieties (like apples, for example) and some are particularly juicy and sweet, without the oxalic acid sourness of green-picked fruits.

Sweet, juicy carambola fruits cultivated in test plots at Universidad Polytecnica de Machala.

Here are the flowers of the carambola tree. This tree, and many of the photographs shown here, were taken in the experimental gardens of the Machala Polytechnic University, which is directed by Lic. Sara Castillo, Professor of Agriculture at UPM. Many thanks to Lic. Castillo for providing tours of her experimental fruit gardens for the students from ETSU-Johnson City TN and UEB, Guaranda Bolivar EC.

Flowers of Averrhoa carambola in the trial gardens at Univ. Polytech. Machala, Ecuador.

There’s so much to tell about these plants – I’m skipping most of the best details here, like how medicinal (lower cholesterol, anti-diabetes) this plant is, or how passionflower was named for the Passion of Christ, or how many different types of bananas, more delicious than the typical variety, are grown in the tropics. But this post is already long! So use your Wikipedia, or consult books (a great one for edible plants is “Food Plants of the World”  by Ben-Erik van Wyk). My sampling here is opportunistic, based largely on what photos I have. Regarding photos, these are all my own photographs. You’re welcome to share them for non-commercial use, but don’t use these or any of my photos commercially without my written permission, thank you. If you use them non-commercially please acknowledge Tim McDowell as the photographer, and let me know if you would please, thanks.

The fruit of the Cashew tree (Anacardium occidentale) in Machala, Ecuador.

The cashew fruit is amazing to look at, and surprising to taste. The bright red ripe fleshy part is the fruit stalk (the receptacle, in botanical terms). The fruit, containing the seed, attaches below the red stalk. The fleshy stalk is juicy and delicious – to me, it tasted like a cross between fresh apples and roast beef! The juice is sometimes sold in cans, but like most canned fruits and vegetables, it lacks the taste of the fresh product.

The swollen red receptacle (flower & fruit stalk) of Anacardium occidentale, the cashew tree.

Amazing facts about Anacardium abound. The family – Anacardiaceae – includes mango, cashew, pistachio and poison ivy! Many skin irritants made by plants of this family, and also the exudate used in lacquer. The name Anacardium may refer to the heart-shaped (cardium) receptacle, and the species ending “occidentale” to the western hemisphere, or occident. Yet cashews are a favorite food of India!

I’ll end this post with a species named Solanum quitoense, common name “naranjilla”, or “little orange”. It’s not at all closely related to oranges, though its fruit provides one of the most used juices in Ecuador. Its biological kin belong to the very large genus Solanum, which includes over 1500 species. Among the species of Solanum are the tomato, the potato, and the eggplant, as well as many regionally important food plants worldwide. But the genus is also rich in poisonous plants and compounds, and includes the “deadly nightshade” among its nearly two thousand species.

Naranjilla, (Solanum quitoense) growing in the gardens at Jatun Sacha’s reserve along Rio Napo, Tena, Ecuador.

The specific epithet, or species ending “quitoense” of course refers to Quito, Ecuador. The naranjilla is native to the lower reaches of the Andes region of NW South America and adjacent Central America. Its juice has a delicious citrusy flavor. Come to the tropics sometime and try it!

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First collecting trips of the project.

The forest viewed amid cultivated fields, San José de las Palmas.

            My research project is a floristic study of a protected forest in the community of San José de las Palmas (SJP), some 35 km to the southwest of Guaranda, in Bolívar Province. The forest is located in the western range of the Andes, in a region where practically all of the natural forest has long since been converted to maize fields and pastures. To reach the forest one walks nearly 1/2 mile from the end of the narrow dirt road, up slopes closer to vertical than to 45°, as if in the steep upper deck of a large stadium, but with rows of maize (“choclo”) instead of seats. The fields or pasture sections meet the overgrown shrubs, vines, and clambering bamboo grass, behind which stand the forest trees.

Steep slopes in maize cultivation.

            I was accompanied on my first day out by Dani Vedetoto, a research assistant working with crop field trials at Universidad Estatal de Bolívar (UEB). On my next outing Javier Castillo, an Agriculture/Forestry student in his final year, was my field partner.

            The Agropecuaria (Agriculture and Veterinary Medicine) program provided a vehicle and driver for these day trips. My field supplies included a plant press (two 12×18″ plywood boards and a pair of nylon straps), a stack of newspapers (to press plants in), clippers, notebook, camera, GPS, and plastic bags, plus raingear and some lunch. My object is to collect samples of any vascular plant species in flower or fruit growing in the forest or native to the surrounding areas. Fertile specimens (with flowers or fruits in addition to stems and leaves) are vital for identifying plants to the level of species, so my collecting will focus on fertile specimens. I’ll also collect sterile specimens (branches and leaves) from tree species if an expert (i.e. a forester or community member) can identify the plant in the field.

            The first day out we collected over thirty different species in fertile condition, a good number of “numbers” (but it’s easy when everything is a “new” species to collect). Actually, we make three copies (“duplicates”) of each collection: one stays in the Province of Bolívar, one for deposit in a herbarium in Quito, and a third for identification by taxonomic specialists for each group, if species identification is problematical. Specimens may be brought back in plastic bags and pressed in the evening, but pressing them between sheets of newspaper in the field minutes after they’re cut yields a better specimen. Field notes are written when the specimen in cut or soon after, and are supplemented with digital photos and GPS coordinates.

Dani Vedetoto, UEB, with plant press along trail.

           The fun parts of this work are searching for and finding flowering and fruiting plants, hiking in the fields and forests, and learning the plants as one collects, presses, dries and later completes the identification of each species. I’ll show here a few of the 50+ plants we collected on days 1 and 2, and provide a little story or background information to make it more interesting.

Bomarea:

A Bomarea vine in flower on day 1.

           Bomarea is a genus of some 100 species of twining vines with showy red, orange or yellow flowers. Their leaves are twisted at the petiole (leaf stalk) so that the bottom blade surface faces up (“resupinate”). Their distribution is essentially Andean, extending north to the mountains of Central America and Mexico and south through Chile. About 37 Bomarea species occur in Ecuador. The genus Bomarea belongs to the plant family Alstroemeriaceae, named for Alstroemeria, a showy flower often sold in florists and supermarkets in the US. Two species of Bomarea are common in the SJP area, found climbing on shrubs and trees where they reach sunlight. The underground storage “roots” or tubers of Bomarea are edible.

A Bomarea vine collected on day 2.

Palicourea

A blue-flowered, purple-stalked Palicourea growing the the forest.

           The genus Palicourea includes some 250 species of shrubs and small trees of the neotropics (new world or American tropics), and belongs to the plant family Rubiaceae (the family of coffee, quinine and Gardenia). Palicourea species have showy inflorescences (flower clusters) with both the flower petals and the flower stalks themselves brightly colored in shades of red, yellow, blue and purple. Hummingbirds are attracted to these bright colors, and to the abundant nectar borne in the odorless flowers. The blue-black fruits are bird dispersed. Different species of Palicourea frequently occur in the same localities. Indeed, in our first collecting day we encountered two species within a stone’s throw (had the forest been less dense!).

           For a brief description of the genus Palicourea see the Missouri Botanical Garden project page by Dr. Charlotte Taylor: http://www.mobot.org/MOBOT/Research/taylor/palicourea.shtml

A yellow-stalked Palicourea flower cluster (inflorescence) also day 1.

           To see the amazing colors and variety of Palicourea inflorescences see the Field Museum’s on-line collection “Neotropical Live Plant Photos”:

http://fm2.fieldmuseum.org/plantguides/color_images.asp

Persea

Leaves and flower cluster of Persea (the genus of avocado).

           This small tree had large clusters of little yellowish flowers, mostly unopened, at the ends of thick, large-leaved branches. Trying to guess what it might be, I crushed a leaf, and got a spicy smell – a feature of a large “basal clade” or “primitive group” of woody plants including Magnolias, true Laurels, Cinnamons and Anise shrubs. I said “this is something I should be able to identify with a hand lens”, and then used my own myopic but acute close-up vision to examine the flowers. The key to the family was obvious, if near-microscopic: each of the anthers opened by four flaps, as opposed to the typical linear-slit opening of anthers in most flowering plant species.

Closeup of Persea flower with 4-flapped anther openings (tiny!).

           Knowing, (by the spicy leaves and four-valved anthers), that its family was Lauraceae (the family of the Olympian laurel wreaths and the bay-leaf used in cooking), there were only three possible genera (plural of genus) to consider: Ocotea, Nectandra and Persea. I’ll need to compare to actual specimens to be sure, but I believe this is a Persea species (three species occur in the high Andean forests.)  Persea, a genus of some 150 species in the tropics and subtropics of both hemispheres, includes the avocado, Persea americana.

Rubus

           What could be more common-place than the wild blackberry plant? In East Tennessee it is among the commonest wild bramble-y shrubs, bearing a rich feast of berries in the fall, but forming a thorny thicket painful to walk through (and often host to chiggers, a bug that causes itches worse than mosquitoes). The genus Rubus comprises over 250 species, both old and new world, and includes blackberries, raspberries, and dewberries. In Ecuador the blackberry is called “mora”, and it is among the most common flavors of “jugo” (fruit juices) which are served at every meal.

Rubus, or wild blackberry, or “mora silvestre”.

           What’s in a name? In Spanish the color “morado” refers to the dark purple color of blackberries (“mora”). In English, the “morula” is the stage of the early developing animal embryo beginning at 32 cells, when it’s a solid ball of cells. This is after the Latin for mulberry, Morus, which it resembles. The Latin (or botanical) name for the blackberry genus is Rubus, from the Latin word for red, “ruber”.

           Though their fruits look similar, the blackberry is evolutionarily quite distinct and not very closely related to mulberry. Blackberries belong to the Rose family (Rosaceae), which includes roses, apples, pears, plums, strawberries, raspberries and blackberries (among other groups). Mulberry belongs to the Moraceae, which includes, besides mulberries, the figs and osage orange. At another level – floral morphology – the blackberries and mulberries are totally different. The blackberry fruit grows from a single flower (with many pistils, the female parts), whereas the mulberry fruit develops from a cluster of many flowers, with each “bleb” of a mulberry developing from one tiny flower in the cluster. Obviously, both fruit types function similarly: to tempt birds to disperse the tiny seeds contained with the sweet, juicy fruit. Another important job well done by the flowering plants!

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