Cavenillesia platanifolia, a.k.a. cuipo tree seedling. Huge, jelly-filled winged fruit germinates on forest floor with a big-leafed seedling that grows into an enormous barrel-shaped tree which rings like a gong when you knock. The jelly is for moisture uptake and retention (Nancy C. Garwood, American Journal of Botany Vol. 72, No. 7, The role of mucilage in the germination of cuipo, Cavanillesia platanifolia, a tropical tree) like those water-expanding granules you add to potting soil. Most peculiar botanical wonder. Watercolor on S&B Alpha Series. Barro Colorado Island, Panama.
The word of the day: mucilage. Rolls right off the tongue.
Here’s a mature cuipo tree on the ground. One of the big canopy trees, it’s closely related to the giant ceiba. It’s also related to okra. Looks like a vase and sounds like a water tank if you knock. It even sloshes a little. There’s a small grove of different sized cuipos here and each one plays a different note, like wooden bars on a marimba. Barro Colorado Island, Panama. Pencil drawing, 8 1/2″ x 11″ Robert Bateman sketchbook.
It’s a zoo out here. And a botanical garden. And a science camp, a steam bath and a cabinet of wonders all grabbled up in one writhing clump of carbon-based life-cycles. I’m still watching the oropendolas, my current top-rated soap opera. But weirdness needs love, too, and here are a few rare moments of it, caught on paper. The weirdest is saved for last, naturally.
Eulaema; Orchid Bee, head-standing inexplicably on the side of a tree in the forest. Flies in circles for a minute and at the end of each buzzy go-round lands on this one spot, forehead pressed against the bark, long hind legs tilting up the gaster. Maybe not random, since it likely serves the purpose of mate attraction, but nonetheless, very odd. Barro Colorado Island, Panama. Pencil drawing.
A big dark purple hummingbird lights on a mossy branch in a sunbeam, where it washes armpits and drinks simultaneously, flicking its long tongue into the soaked moss. Watercolor over pencil, S&B Alpha Series. Barro Colorado Island, Panama.
Slaty antshrike faces off against a praying mantis at dawn, where both try to score a moth worn out battering all night against a path lamp. A standoff, then one of the predators becomes prey. Can you guess which? Watercolor over pencil, S&B Alpha Series. Barro Colorado Island, Panama.
It’s startling when a rodent-like deer walks toward you in the rainforest. A brocket does not fit a North American’s search image for deer. For starters, it’s the size of a dog. I had a head-swiveling moment like this the first time I saw a capybara, too. And that’s a rodent that looks like a deer. The tropics are just bewildering. Watercolor over pencil, S&B Alpha Series sketchbook, 8 1/2″ x 11″. Barro Colorado Island, Panama.
Peanut head bug, Fulgora laternaria. Most weird of all. The “head” looks like a rubber ducky, or a rubber alligator. It’s a true bug, in the order Hemiptera, meaning its mouth is a straw and it sucks plant juices. Watercolor over pencil, drawn from a live specimen captured and released unharmed by noted cicada expert Brian Stucky. I also worked from his excellent photos. Thanks, Brian!
I’ve posted new sketchbooks in a pull-down menu on the navigation bar and will add more in time. Sketching Barro Colorado Island is wonderful for oddities and rainforest weirdness, much of it random and mysterious, begging to be deciphered. There’s a whole planet out there. It’s good that so much of it makes so little sense.