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Manual de Plantas de Costa Rica

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The Cutting Edge

Volume XXVIII, Number 4, October 2021

News and Notes | Leaps and Bounds | Germane Literature | Season's Pick | Annotate your copy

A GLIMMER OF HOPE? Field biology may be returning, slowly, to Costa Rica. Manual contributor Mario Blanco (USJ) reports that Judy Stone (WAVI), a specialist in Witheringia (Solanaceae) and related genera—and collaborator of Manual Solanaceae co-author Lynn Bohs (UT)—was in the country from ca. 13–31 July, collecting samples for phylogenetic and genetic studies and annotating specimens in herbaria. She was accompanied in the field by Universidad de Costa Rica grad student Jeffrey Flores Rojas, whose thesis research involves a revision of the Costa Rican spp. of Cestrum [see this column in The Cutting Edge 27(1), Jan. 2020]. As far as we are aware, all went well. Because of COVID restrictions, there is no chance of a herbarium encounter with any such visitors at CR: only one outside visitor is allowed per day!

BETTER LATE THAN NEVER! Although we were ignorant of it at the time, on 19 May 2020, famed biologist Daniel Janzen received the title “doctor honoris causa” of the Universidad de Costa Rica, in recognition of his long and distinguished career as an ecologist and naturalist and his contributions to conservation…we could go on, but the facts are common knowledge. Congratulations, Dan!

CROWNING THE CHAMPION. Recently we had a conversation in the herbarium with MO Curator Roy Gereau, a specialist on the African flora, who spun a tale about a German collector who had recently documented the tallest individual tree on the African continent. He had reportedly found this tree, a sp. of Entandrophragma (Meliaceae), in a remote canyon in East Africa, and measured its height—60 m—with “Germanic precision.” This got us to thinking about Costa Rica, and it occurred to us that 60 m could well be at or near the upper height limit for trees in Tiquicia as well; we clearly recalled seeing heights in that range specified on labels, but never 70 m or taller. We decided to undertake a desultory perusal of our Manual volumes to substantiate this notion. A brief interjection here: all plant-height data for the Manual were compiled from actual labels of authoritatively identified, fertile specimens; that said, such label indications (as we can testify from personal experience) are virtually always crude estimates, based at best on eyeballing the individual in the field, or at worst on some rum-soaked recollection conjured while pressing up the material later in the day. With that caveat, we were able to confirm our notion that 60 m is close to the maximum height for Costa Rican trees. According to the Manual, the following native spp. attain non-parenthetical maxima of 60 m (family names as accepted in the Manual): Anacardium excelsum (Bertero & Balb. ex Kunth) Skeels (Anacardiaceae), Caryocar costaricense Donn. Sm. (Caryocaraceae), Couratari scottmorii Prance (Lecythidaceae), Hieronyma alchorneoides Allemão (Euphorbiaceae), Huberodendron allenii Standl. & L. O. Williams (Bombacaceae), Hymenolobium mesoamericanum H. C. Lima (Fabaceae), Oreomunnea pterocarpa Oerst. (Juglandaceae), Pterygota excelsa (Standl. & L. O. Williams) Kosterm. (Sterculiaceae), Qualea sp. A (Vochysiaceae), and Sloanea brachytepala Ducke (Elaeocarpaceae). Honorable mention should go to Anthodiscus chocoensis Prance (Caryocaraceae), with a parenthetical maximum of 65 m (and several other spp. attain parenthetical maxima of 60 m). Testing his conviction that any desired information can be obtained via Googling, Manual co-PI Barry Hammel did just that, and rather amazingly, came up with the following Web site:


This site records three spp. as representing “the tallest trees in Costa Rica,” the champion being one of those on our list, Pterygota excelsa, with a height of 64.50 m documented—in this case, with the requisite precision (using a Nikon Rangefinder/Hypsometer)—by one Bart Bouricius, in 2016, for a tree growing in Parque Nacional Piedras Blancas (near Golfito). Bart’s runners-up, however, are two spp. that didn’t even make our list of candidates: Ceiba pentandra (L.) Gaertn. (Bombacaceae) and Quercus bumelioides Liebm. (Fagaceae), both topping out at 60.40 m (vs. 55 m and 40 m, respectively, as according to the Manual). The Quercus, in fact, is said to be “the tallest accurate measured oak world wide, over 10 meters taller than all oaks measured in the United States or Europe”—and Bart has yet to measure an even taller conspecific rumored to be growing in the same vicinity (on Cerro de La Muerte). We have no idea how many spp., let alone individuals, have been measured by Bouricius and other similarly equipped individuals, so consider the jury to still be out on this (one of those nettlesome “negative hypothesis” issues). For the time being, however, we are happy to accept Pterygota excelsa as the provisional Costa Rican champion for arboreal stature. The real eye-opener? Little Costa Rica harbors trees of greater height than any yet recorded from the entire continent of Africa!

STEEL DRUM ROLL... Congratulations to our long-time colleague and main Manual contributor Francisco Morales, who arrived in Trinidad and Tobago on 29 September to assume his new role as curator of the National Herbarium (TRIN). This transition has actually been in the works for quite some time, but (like most everything else) was delayed due to the pandemic. In addition to his curatorial duties (abetted by six technical assistants), Chico will serve as a lecturer (with at most two courses annually) and researcher at the local (St. Augustine) campus of the University of the West Indies. His work will be facilitated by the availability of a molecular lab and a field vehicle. May the force be with you, good friend!





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