and Traditional Healing in Costa Rica
WT 2003 DePauw University
Plants Observed at the Wilson Botanical Garden
|A great variety of tropical plants were seen at the Wilson Botanical
Gardens (at the Las Cruces Biological Station). A huge benefit
of being at a botanical garden is that one can see many plants, from
many countries, in a small area. At right is a species of Asclepia,
more commonly known as the milkweed family. Our Guaymi curandero,
described many medicinal uses for this plant. In some ways this was
not surprising as the milkweed family is full of cardiac glycosides, a
rather toxic group of molecules.
Shown below are other medicinally interesting plants. From left
This is Brugmansia suaveolens, a member of the Datura family with
mild hallucinogenic properties. It was growing wild in the Rio Jaba
canyon, but we also saw it planted as an ornamental at homes around San
Vito (and I've seen related species used the same way in S. California).
told us that people were taking hot irons to the flowers in the hopes of
getting high off the fumes. It is actually similar to a species here
in Indiana, where the difference between getting mildly high and very sick
A detail of the very large and attractive Brugmansia flower.
The next two pictures are of Banisteriopsis caapi, a liana from
Peru that is one of two major ingredients in a hallucinogenic mixture called
Ayahuasca. Banisteriopsis is the small vine growing on the tree.
The small woody plant closest to the viewer in this picture is "Hombre
Grande" or Quassia amara. We first encountered it as one of
the few medicinal plants available in the general market place in San Isidro
del General. It is found world-wide in tropical regions, and has
many folk medicinal uses. Scientists have studied it in great detail
as well for all sorts of uses such as AIDS treatment.
|The beautiful red passionflower, Passifolia grandiflora, presents
an interesting case of co-evolution of plants and insects. Normally,
it is pollinated by hummingbirds sticking their beaks through the white
"grate" at the center of the flower. They are seeking nectar, but
in the process pollen from the anther (anthers, stigmas and the grate are
clearly visible in the photos at right) attaches to the top of their head*
Later, the stigmas move downward and the next hummingbird transfers pollen
to it, and voila! cross-pollination. Note the bee in the upper lefthand
corner of the lower photo.
* On our last day, a hummingbird flew into a window and died :-( but
we did get to see the pollen cap it was wearing.
It turns out there is a devilish little bee that has discovered the
passionflower's nectar. This species of bee cuts an opening into
the white grate and proceeds to go in and steal nectar (We observed up
to four bees fighting for at turn to go in the entrance hole at one time).
It does get some pollen on it, but it turns out it doesn't often pollinate
another flower. So the bee has stolen both nectar and pollen.
Thanks to our new friend Botanist John Cozza of Florida and New York for
explaining this story to us!
The blue arrow in the first picture below shows a bee exiting the hole
cut into the grate. The second picture belows a bee entering, and
nearby, another pollen-laden bee in flight. Very very cool.
|As our last installment, we offer photos of interesting plants we came
across that don't fit in the categories above.
1st row, left to right:
* tropical plants need to defend themselves against insects and chewing
animals. Spines and hairs are one approach, and chemicals, some of
which become human medicines, are another.
Shampoo (Champu) ginger, every bit as beautiful as it looks
A cycad flower. Cycads are a specialty at the garden.
A legume pod with urticating (stinging) hairs*; the seeds of this species
are known as "ojo de buey" or ox-eye
Two kinds of heliconias, another speciality at the garden.
Two lianas or woody vines (lianas are often medicinally interesting)
Lichens on a rock at Cerro de la Muerte at 11,000' ft (Costa Rica has a
central mountain range that we crossed on the way to Las Cruces).
The spines* of the marimba palm, which make music when you give 'em a twang.
2nd row, left to right:
A plam flower (The Wilson Botanical Garden has one of the largest colletions
of palms anywhere).
An orchid blooming on a tree right by our cabins
A stilt palm
A view up the strangler fig that tried
to eat Diane
The beautiful walking iris. We watched all the blossoms open within
a space of 15 minutes.
A really weird flower that I don't have the name for.
Last updated February 2003
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