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Manual de Plantas de Costa Rica

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The Cutting Edge

Volume XIV, Number 1, January 2007

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

HEEEEEEEE’S BACK!!!  Manual co-PI Nelson Zamora arrived in St. Louis on 18 December for a six-week tour of duty at MO (departing 3 February).  Top on his agenda is the finalization of his Fabaceae treatment for the Manual, but he will also be working on the La Selva digital florula.  His wife Ruth Villalobos also made the trip, along with their daughter Gloriana and son Julián.  Theirs has been a much anticipated visit here at MO, and we trust it will be both enjoyable and profitable.

TUPELO MADNESS.  As a result of correspondence with Drs. Jun Wen (US) and Jenny Xiang (NCSC) and other Nyssa (Nyssaceae) specialists or enthusiasts, interest in Nyssa talamancana Hammel & N. Zamora was rekindled just over two years ago.  This sp., described only in 1990, is endemic to the Caribbean slope of the Cordillera de Talamanca in easternmost Costa Rica and westernmost Panama, but its congeners are restricted mostly to the southeastern United States and Southeast Asia (with a few outlying populations in tropical Mexico).  In part because of its very densely woody endocarp, Nyssa has one of the best documented fossil records of any extant tree genus, being widespread in Tertiary formations of the Northern Hemisphere.  In the United States, the native Nyssa sylvatica Marshall (Black Gum or Black Tupelo) is a popular ornamental for its broadly conical shape and striking fall foliage (bright red to purple).  Jun and Jenny are interested in the biogeography and phylogeny of Nyssa and its relatives, and have long been wanting fresh material of N. talamancana for DNA analysis.  For our part, we have long wanted to return to the area where it grows (a difficult two- or three-day hike) to conduct a more thorough survey and collection of the flora.  Since Nyssa talamancana itself could be called a living dinosaur, the study of its biology and associated plant spp. can give us insight into the dynamics not only of the present-day flora, but also of the ancient flora of the region.  We thought this might be just the opportunity.

A mini-expedition was organized from INBio, involving four collectors:  two specialized on plants (Daniel Santamaría and Daniel Solano) and two on insects (Billen Gamboa and Marcos Moraga).  The entire round-trip from INBio ended up lasting just one week (20–27 November) and, much to our disappointment, the team was able to spend only a couple of collecting days at the target site.  The hike in took longer than expected, then trip leader Gamboa came down with a life-endangering case of gastroenteritis and had to be evacuated to a hospital (the good news is, he toked up on serum and quickly recovered).  As a result, the general botanical collections amounted to fewer than 200 numbers (but will certainly include many interesting spp. from these poorly explored forests).  As for Nyssa talamancana, our botanists located about 30 mature individuals, in various stages of flower and fruit, in this one population (Cerro Bitárkara), all of them large trees up to ca. 25 m tall.  Based on this information, in conjunction with records of previous collections and reports from indigenous people living in the area, it appears that the sp. flowers and fruits pretty much throughout the year.  The large, red fruits of N. talamancana are said to be highly sought by the Great Curassow (Crax rubra).  Unfortunately, the bird in question (along with everything else that moves and has a bite of meat on it) is itself highly sought by human predators, and no longer exists in the area!  We wonder if this circumstance might explain the abundance of unscathed fruits and ungerminated seeds littering the ground below the trees, as well as the fact that only one sapling could be found.

Our team was able to bring back perhaps as many as 100 viable-looking seeds (fruits, endocarps, or whatever) of Nyssa talamancana, as well as herbarium vouchers and silica-dried material.  A neighbor who has a small hydroponic and organic greenhouse has already had some success germinating the seeds in sterile rice chaff.  Germination is slow (and we've had to crack the seeds open with a mallet to get any results), but one plant has completely emerged from the endocarp, its cotyledons now expanding and turning green, while another is still in the process of emerging.  We also distributed seeds to several other institutions in Costa Rica, but don't know yet how those have fared.  One of our goals is to get the sp. into cultivation in several botanical gardens in Costa Rica, and eventually elsewhere.

The November Nyssa excursion was funded by MO, but Dr. Wen has offered to contribute a matching amount ($2000) to INBio in support of future endeavors of this nature.

OUTWARD BOUND.  INBio curator Francisco Morales traveled to Chile for a week, departing 14 November, to participate in a conference on medicinal plants.  Shortly thereafter he turned up in El Salvador (26 November–9 December), where he collected plants on Volcán Conchagua and the islands of the Golfo de Fonseca (among other places) under the auspices of “Proyecto Noruega” (see this column in our last issue).  Is there anywhere this guy hasn’t been?  Also on the go once again, INBio curator Armando Soto collected in Guatemala during 3–19 December, in the company of CR curators Silvia Lobo and Joaquín Sánchez, also under the “Proyecto Noruega” program.  Armando reports that the greatest hardship faced by the Tico contingent was the dietary switch from rice to tortillas.


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