The Storm….An Amazon Rainforest poem.

The Storm…an Amazon Rainforest Poem.

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My beloved rainforest in a storm is a force to behold. Lightening and thunder booms, crashes and shakes the earth. Trees sway and are denuded in the violent winds and torrential downpours.
The storm makes you feel small and powerless. It’s amazing, frightening and exhilarating.

Palla, Conta or Shapaja Palm (Attalea butyracea) Amazon Rainforest Trees.

Palla, Conta or Shapaja Palm.(Attalea butyracea)

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There are about 1.8 billion Palla across the Amazon Basin. The palm leaves have always been used by indigenous people to thatch the roofs of their huts.
The large leaves of the Palla were used to thatch the roof of my own lodge. The leaves last 5/10 years, depending on the weather and skill of the thatchers. My roof was looking decidedly sad after just three years and had several gaps through which the rain poured, but I just had it patched up rather then put a plastic or tin roof on as was suggested.

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My friends, local people, were able to weave the palms too. They made sunscreens for me and room dividers.

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Local people were also able to make intricate decorations from Palla leaves. They included hearts, flowers, birds, fans, insects, and so on. They sometimes made them without taking the leaves from the stem, as shown.

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The Amazon Rainforest has 16,000 different species of trees, including the Palla palm. It is thought there are four hundred billion trees altogether in the rainforest. The Amazon Rainforest is truly a treasure.

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Amazon Rainforest Trees…Huicungo (Astrocaryum murumuru)

Amazon Rainforest Trees….Huicungo (Astrocaryum murumuru)

There are more than a billion Huicungo trees in the rainforest.They grow up to 15 metres and their fruits are edible.

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Like many trees in the rainforest the Huicungo uses sharp spines on its trunk to protect it. Some birds ie the Long-billed Wood Creeper, are able to forage for insects without becoming impaled.

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The hard seeds of the Huicungo are used to make black rings.

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Brazil-nut Tree…‘Castanheiro do Para’ Its amazing reproduction system.

Brazil-nut Tree…‘Castanheiro do Para’ (Brazil)

Brazil-nut trees are huge. They can reach over 200 feet/30 metres high. They dominate the forest and are protected by law from cutting down. They grow in pristine forest, necessary for their complicated reproduction system.

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At the very beginning of the reproduction system the Brazil nut tree needs an orchid and a bee.
The orchid bee (Euglossa) collects nectar from the flowering Brazil nut trees. These specialist bees have a long tongue that can open the flower.
As they collect nectar the bees spread pollen from tree to tree fertilising the yellow Brazil nut tree flowers and thereby the fruit…the nuts.
The male orchid bees attract females with the fragrance from a particular orchid. The larger female orchid bee pollinates the Brazil-nut Tree.

The nuts, that we know are the seeds of the tree, which are enclosed in a large husk similar to that of a coconut. The shell is rock solid and needs to be opened with a sharp machete to release the 8 to 24 seeds, so how does it get opened in the wild?
The answer is the Agouti. A large rodent with razor sharp, chisel-like teeth. The agouti eats some of the seeds and takes off others to bury them for later. If some of the seeds are forgotten they will eventually germinate and grow into new trees.

Brazil-nut husks ready for opening. The empty shells I used as plant pots and holders.

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The Brazil-nut Tree needs a bee, an orchid and an agouti to reproduce. It needs pristine, untouched forest for these conditions to be met. Deforestation, even if the tree is kept in place, can affect anyone of these conditions so that reproduction cannot take place and we lose a magnificent tree as well as a delicious food source.

Amazon Giant Water Lily…Amazon plants, Brazil.

Amazon Giant Water Lily.

The Amazon Giant Water Lily has a fascinating reproduction system.

The white female Lily opens at night. A beetle, the Scarab Beetle, covered with a dusting of male pollen,is attracted to the strong, sweet perfume of the female flower and moves in to feed on the nectar. In the morning when the sun rises and the temperature increases the flower closes and some of the beetles are trapped. They continue to feed on the nectar throughout the day, distributing male pollen on the lily as they do. This results in the white female flower turning pink and become male. At nightfall the now pink male flower opens, the beetle is released covered with a dusting of male pollen and it moves onto another white female flower to begin the whole cycle again.

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The reproduction system of this flower and other flowers and trees in the forest are held in a delicate balance. Disrupt this balance and the whole eco-system collapses and we will be the losers.

Fungi. Amazon Rainforest Fungi.

Fungi is an essential feature of the rainforest. It decomposes organisms and absorbs the nutrients, returning them to the soil. But, fungi also have other functions within the ecosystem. An interesting one is the wood-decaying fungi which eat holes in tree trunks enabling wood peckers to find a nest hole. They may also have a role in the weather system, have medicinal properties and a recent find–a plastic eating one, which could solve one of the planets greatest problems…plastic pollution.
Fungus can be seen growing on fallen, rotting trees and branches in the forest. It may stay on the wood for many days, or at other times it will bloom for only a short while, shrivelling up and dying at the first touch of a suns ray. That’s what happened to the first fungi I photographed. It bloomed quickly on a tree trunk after a heavy rainfall. As soon as the sun came out, it died off, leaving no sign it had ever been there.

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The tiny, white fungus I found while on a trek in the forest. It seemed quite hardy. (Possibly Lentinus)

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The Red Fungus (Pycnoporus sanguineus) I believe was another hardy, woody fungi. Again found on a forest trek. It is thought to have important medicinal benefits.

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The yellow/orange, mushroom-shaped, fungus I found growing in the ground after we had burnt some piles of leaves, branches, twigs etc. the ashes can be seen on the ground.

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Unfortunately I am not an expert, so am unable to name most of the fungi I have seen. Any fungi expert wishing to help me out and add to my knowledge would be most welcome to point out names and be credited in the post.

Astrocaryum vulgare (common names Tucum or Tucumã-do-Pará in Brazil)

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A tree that means a lot to me is the Astrocaryum vulgare. It is a palm tree, the seeds of which produce a black wood. Indigenous people, unable to afford gold, used the black wood for marriage rings.
Christian missionaries wore them as a sign of solidarity with the poor. A symbol of a desire for equality, social justice and human rights.
I was given by friends both a solid black wood ring and an Amazon gold and black wood ring. The man who gave me the gold and black wood ring said the gold symbolised the richness of the country I came from and the black wood the forest he came from, forever entwined. I wear them everyday to remind me of the forest to which I am eternally bound.

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Butterflies of the Brazilian Amazon Rainforest. Morphos, Zebra Heliconias, Postman and Owl butterflies.

The Amazon Rainforest contains two and a half million species of insects. Some of them belong to the beautiful and large order of insects, the Lepidoptera, which includes butterflies and moths.

Butterflies have three stages of development from egg to caterpillar to chrysalis. Many of the caterpillars in the forest are poisonous or have hairs which can cause intense irritation. See the second stage here in this poisonous caterpillar.

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The body of the butterfly is divided into three parts..the head, the thorax and the abdomen. The legs and wings are attached to the central area, the thorax.
The most noticeable thing on their heads are the large eyes…clearly seen in the female Morpho photo.
Male Morphos (Morpho menelaus ) have iridescent, laminated wings of a rich turquoise blue, sometimes edged with black. They are stunning, large, butterflies which seem to float on air. They are breathtakingly beautiful.
The female Morpho is dull in comparison, but with a certain charm and incredible eyes.
These butterflies sip juices from rotting fruit.

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Butterflies feed on flowers and each species favours particular flowers. The Heliconius feed on various kinds of Passion flowers which makes them mildly poisonous to predators. The bright colouring of their wings sends out a visual warning that they will be unpleasant to taste. Some other nontoxic butterflies mimic the colouring of the Heliconius for protection.

The Zebra Heliconius (Heliconius charitonius) is black with cream or white stripes. They eat pollen and sip nectar from passionflower plants.
I cut a piece of water melon, which they were partial too, just so I could watch them.

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The Postman butterflies (Heliconius melpomene-also known as Longwings) are black with striking red markings, again to warn predators off. They feed on nectar and also pollen from Lantana or verbena, Hamelia and Palicouria. This one was attracted to the plastic container in which I put decaying food used for mulching plants.

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Owl butterflies (Caligo memnon),so named for the large eye-like markings on their wings, use a different method of protection from predators, who seem to find the eyes on their wings confusing and off putting. They may also use the ‘eyes’ to draw away attacks to their heads.
Owl butterflies feed on Heliconia and Musa (includes bananas). Their main predators are small lizards.
Fluttering under the house in the late afternoons, they had to avoid the large Tegu and small Ameiva lizards that lived there.

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A fascinating fact: The Passion flower plant uses mimicry to deter predators, just as some butterflies do. Butterflies will only lay their eggs on clear, pristine leaves, free from another females eggs, to give their caterpillars a good start in life. The Passion flower, to deter this and prevent all its leaves being eaten, produces mock eggs on its leaves and stems.

Alternative medicine and Shaman in the Amazon Rainforest.

Alternative Medicine in the Brazilian Amazon Rainforest.

The diversity of plant species in the Amazon Rainforest is the greatest on earth. At least 120 prescription drugs come from rainforest plants. It is hardly surprising then that there is a great deal of knowledge locked away in the brains of the Shaman regarding the plants they use to cure a multitude of illnesses. Knowledge that has been passed down over many generations.
Alternative medicine is used by both forest dwellers and townies in the Amazon. Local shaman make up potions and creams from animal fats and plants. They are preferred by many people to conventional medicines and used for diseases and injuries.
Most locals prefer to go to a shaman then make the arduous, often long, journey to a doctor or hospital.
During a stay at a hotel situated halfway between Manaus and Manacapuru, I saw this reliance and trust in the shaman at work. One of the women staff had slipped over. Her ankle had swollen badly. So she limped off to the forest and returned the next day with the heavily bandaged leg smelling strongly of camphor and other indistinctive scents. She had been to the local shaman who had applied several ointments to the swelling. With the knowledgeable use of natural remedies, the shaman assured her that her ankle would be fine and a week later, she was back to normal. The peoples confidence in the shamans powers, I think, has a lot to do with recovery.
Having been to a shaman I can see why. They have a hands on approach, something conventional doctors seem to have abandoned. They are caring and soothing and will not be rushed. Surrounded by their potions and lotions and balms of uncertain origins, they will make up something special for each individual patient.
I bought several of these balms and used them on bites and bruises. They were made up, I was told, of jaguar and caiman fat and plant extracts. The perfumes emitted were either sweet and pleasant or antiseptic and balmy.
Natural remedies were freely on sale in stalls close to the harbour in Manaus, where row upon row of little bottles were stacked on shelves filled with assorted liquids. Balms and creams were put in small, plastic pots.
The shaman fills empty seed cases with his concoctions, which oddly I prefer. He will slice the top of a hard shell and reattach it with a piece of thin string to make a lid for the little container.

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The knowledge of the shaman passed down often through families should, I think, be something to be explored. Sadly, we in the West have lost much of the knowledge we had by pushing the keepers, mostly women, to the fringes of society, or by burning or drowning them centuries ago. And even nowadays alternative medicine is seen by many as taboo unless backed up by science.

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Scrapping the bark of many of the trees will emit an aromatic smell.

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See here for information on plants used in the amazon Rainforest for medical purposes.

Amazon Rainforest plants and flowers. ‘What colour is the rainforest?’

What colour is the rainforest? Flowers and plants of the Brazilian Amazon Rainforest.

This question led someone to my blog. My answer illustrated by photos and text below:

The rainforest is naturally predominantly green. Every single shade of green imaginable, forever changing as the sun seeps and moves through branches and leaves to lighten and darken the forest. Because the forest trees are constantly in a state of regeneration and leaf shedding, colours we associate with autumn and winter, with death and decay: yellow, bronze, gold, orange, red, lay within the mix.
But there are other colours too, these belong to the flowers and plants. The Amazon Rainforest has over 55,000 plant species.
Some of the rainforest flowers have tissue paper thin petals. Amongst these Convolvulus, known as Bindweed, in shades of sky-blue and white. Their delicate beauty a wonder in the tough conditions of the forest.
Many plants have thicker, more robust leaves. The Caladium bicolor amongst them. As their name suggests their leaves consist of two colours, an inner pink and an outer green. These plants with large, heart shaped leaves can be found in abundance in the forest growing in bright clumps.
I had to negotiate a clearing teeming with hundreds of small, chirping grass hoppers to dig up these plants for my verandah. As well as being beautiful they served as a shelter for geckos and small lizards.
The Lobster Claw Heliconia is typically Brazilian, loud and brash. The flowers hang down, a vibrant orange and yellow. There are other varieties of Heliconia not quite so brazen, but always with a red, orange and yellow flower. The more delicate Heliconia, I planted close to the lodge, came from a shady part of the forest.
Coleus grow almost everywhere too. The large plant in the photo taking root in a log. The velvety leaves have a rose-pink inner and a dark, rich, velvety maroon-red outer.
And, scattered amongst the bushes and trees, struggling for existence and almost invisible are apparently insignificant, but vitally important, small flowers of lemon yellow, soft pink, sky blue and ivory white. Little beacons of pollen and nectar for the butterflies and hummingbirds, bees and bats.
The river too holds a flower, the Victoria Water Lily, the largest water lily in the world. The huge, flat green leaves with a deep pink underside lay on the water, strong enough to hold a human in its middle. The flower is a showy, creamy white on the first night and a pale pink on the second night.
These are just a few of the many flowers and plants of the rainforest. They give the forest small bursts of either vibrant, or gentle, contrasting colour. Their struggle to find a home, sunlight and water, under the often thick canopy of trees, a testament to natures survival strategy.

Photos:
Convolvulus, Caladium, Heliconia – Lobster-claw, Heliconia, Coleus, Victoria WaterLily (Victoria Amazónica), Miscellaneous.

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