This poem was written a few hours after I had left the rainforest. I did not know at the time but it would be the last time I saw my forest for years maybe forever.
Just reading it again brings tears to my eyes.
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.
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.
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.
Dry Season in the Amazon Rain Forest.
There are two seasons in Amazonia, the wet or rainy season and the dry season.
The wet season begins late November to December and continues until early June. The dry season begins June or July and continues until early November. The rains in the dry season lighten and are mere showers compared to the heavy rains of the wet season.
As the dry season progresses the area close to Eden lodge, Manacapuru Lago, undergoes an extraordinary transformation. The fast flowing river recedes, leaving behind small isolated pools of water or narrow meandering streams, the banks are left exposed and they widen. The area around the lodge and as far as the river mouth, appears as richly green as an English meadow, thick with soft, waving grasses and small delicate flowers over which clouds of butterflies float and flocks of small birds fly.
The photos show the same view in the wet season and in the dry season.
This idyllic vista, however, is deceptive. Underneath what looks like a lush field of grass is thick, grey, cloying mud. It is impossible to walk on. Feet sink in and are sucked down, so that within seconds mud has reached up to the knees in a quite frightening way.
The trip to and from the lodge, usually done by canoe, has to be taken on foot across river beds or makeshift tree trunk bridges, because there is no other option. Gritted teeth and determination are needed.
There are benefits to the dry season though. It is easier to see many birds.
Kingfishers and Birds of Prey sit on fishing poles to pick off the few fish that haven’t made their way to the deep river and Vultures feed on carcasses of Caiman and Dolphin beached on the sandy river banks.
The White and Blue herons and Snowy Egrets pick in tiny rivulets of water at the far edges of the river mouth, looking for any hapless fish left behind. When gathered together in great numbers as they do in this season, they make a snoring, murmuring noise. A sound that makes its way up the hill to the lodge.
However, when the first heavy rains fall the forest and its people sigh a breath of relief. Fresh water and fish return in abundance and travelling becomes easier for water reliant canoes and boats. Plus the coolness of the air that a good downpour brings, if only temporary, is a welcome feature of the wet season.
Is the Zebra found in the Amazon rain forest? This question leads people to my blog. The answer is no, no zebras.
But, there are Zebra Butterflies. Beautiful butterflies with a taste for melon.
The Zebra Heliconias (Heliconius charitonius) are black with cream or white stripes. They eat pollen and sip nectar from passionflower plants, which makes them mildly poisonous to predators.
Frogs and Toads of the Amazon Rainforest.
Frogs and toads frequented the kitchen. The warmth and humidity were perfect for these amphibians who felt quite at home in the damp conditions.
The Amazon Rainforest contains more than a thousand species of frogs and many of them found their way to my kitchen.
The photo shows one of my favourites. A large frog, orangey brown, with dark stripes. The eyes of these frogs were amazing, dark blue with red flashes surrounded by a golden filigree edge, like precious jewels. Stunning.
I hate cockroaches, the only insects I can’t bear, and these frogs ensured that they, and any other insect which made its way into the kitchen, were not a problem, so were welcome living pest controllers. They moved easily about the wooden walls of the kitchen, securely attached by their sucker like feet and could frequently be found between the large serving spoons, forks, knives, colanders and saucepans that hung from hooks on the walls.
The brown frogs shared the kitchen with what I believe was a toad. It had greenish-grey warty textured skin, but I thought it handsome.
The frogs and toads did not stay in the kitchen entirely though. One day I was taking, carefully, the washing from the line, when something large and cold slapped onto my chest. I froze rigid thinking it was a snake, but the frog then jumped back onto the wall, leaving me shaking with fright.
There were tiny, brightly coloured frogs too. They do not like the walls of the lodge, instead preferring cool, dark, damp places. I found a particularly pretty one; tiny, pink and pale grey with delicately patterned, black markings, in the toe of a Wellington boot. I went to pick this pretty frog up, but my hand was grabbed and pulled away. It was poisonous, as are most small frogs. I learnt on day one in the rainforest that many creatures like closed-in footwear. I was told never to put on a pair of shoes or boots without investigating the toes first with a stick and this I did religiously.
Insects of the Amazon Rainforest, Brazil.
There are a multitude of insects in the Amazon Rainforest and I do believe I have met most of them personally.
They hum and chirp, buzz and sing constantly, a sound that merges into a rhythmic beat, like a heart beat, that goes on all day in the forest. Occasionally the heartbeat stops dead…..absolute silence reigns for a few seconds. Then it returns and you wonder at the insects timing. How do they do that, all going silent at once?
Insects also bite and sting, nip and suck. Most of the Amazons insects have evolved spiteful ways to protect themselves and so they are best left alone and avoided by visitors, but not by photographers and scientists and the curious ie me.
One morning I was watching a sparkling, jewel coloured fly on my hand. It was swept off by a friend who told me the fly would lay eggs under my skin, which would grow into caterpillars and eat me. Well not all of me, that would be a challenge to even the biggest animal, but certainly a small area of my body.
Here are a few which are harmless. See Mud Dauber Wasps for those that sting.
These Grasshoppers are just three of the two and a half million species of insect in the Amazon Rainforest. Grasshoppers come in a range of colours, from a dull greyish-brown to a more common green or to something more vibrant, a rich emerald green and mustard yellow.
Grasshoppers make their calls by scraping the inside of their back legs against hardened areas on their wings. Each species, of course, has its own distinctive call.
This Waxy-tailed Leaf-hopper ( or Plant-hopper), is a showy insect. It’s waxy tails are probably used as a defence mechanism, attracting predators away from its head. If snapped off they regrow.
These insects drink sweet juices from plants and trees using their proboscis.
The Katydid here is clearly seen on the woven grasshopper, but on a bush it would be virtually invisible. It even has the veins of a leaf marked on its body to enable it to blend in with its environment.
There are some two thousand species of Katydid in the Amazon. They feed on flowers and fruit and provide protein to many animals and birds. See Tettigoniidae for a fascinating story about these insects.
This beetle was photographed by accident. I was taking a photo of the flowers and didn’t notice until later that I had caught it in the frame.
I have no idea what it is, only that it looks quite extraordinary…like a raspberry with legs, a friend said.
That’s the Amazon Rainforest for you, full of surprises.
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.
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.
See here for information on plants used in the amazon Rainforest for medical purposes.