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|Vol. 12(1), pp. 13-16||The McAllen International Orchid Society Journal||January 2011|
Mid-December's climate in Belize was a delightful taste of summer!. Despite all the current complaints about personnel problems with the US Security system, it should be noted at the outset that we encountered no problems whatever in this regard. As well, American Airlines did its job: it got us there and back (San Antonio-Dallas-Belize-Dallas San Antonio) with no problems. So much for the going and coming.
Fig. 1. General map of Belize; Dig. Photo DSC_3846, Wed-29Dec10.
If you want a good map of Belize, avoid nearly any US-made Atlas! These are great for US states and parks, but on a large full-page spread, Belize is allotted about 1.5 by 2 inches of space (Fig. 1). One may locate Belmopan (the capitol), Belize City (international airport), and even the coastal cities of Dangriga and Punta Gorda, but that's about it! Your best bet is to check a tour guide booklet. So much for map complaints!
Fig. 2. L to R: Wilma Ferry, Dr. Heron, Furman, Ray, Lindy, & Dr. Pete Allen. Digital photo DSC_3791a, Belize/Sat-11Dec10
We flew into Belize City on Sat-11Dec10 and were met by Dr. Caroline Heron with a Saturn rental car. From Belize City we drove west, toward Belmopan, stopping just short of that city at the "El Rancho," a roadside restaurant, where we stopped for food and refreshments with a few new friends (Fig. 2). After an extensive debriefing conversation which settled most world problems, Dr. Heron drove us back to her home in Dangriga where we spent the night. The route was westward and then southeast; through mountain country (good roads), but it was night and little could be seen of the country.
Sunday was a day to drive around the coastal city of Dangriga area, noting the area where Dr. Heron was planning to build a house, and otherwise sight-seeing locally.
Fig. 3. L to R: Wilma & R. J. Ferry, Betty's father, Betty, & Pio Saqui. Digital photo IMG_5243, Belize/Mon-13Dec10, Photo: Dr. C. Heron
Fig. 4. Native lizard, ca. 15 cm long, with captured cricket. Digital photo IMG_5220, Belize/Mon-13Dec10
The following morning was taken with a presentation by your editor, in Belmopan, at the University of Belize. Lunch with a few faculty members followed. Later a few of us stopped by the "Orchid 96" nursery run by the parents of one of the students of faculty member Pio Saqui (Fig. 3). The nursery featured orchid hybrids imported from Taiwan as well cacti and local plants. Most of the plants were potted in tree fern, and many were flowering quite well, but in the absence of name tags, flowers were not photographed. However, a small lizard was noted as busily engaging in biocontrol and was caught by the digital camera (Fig. 4).
Fig. 5. Belize map: Belmopan area west to Guatemalan border. Digital photo DSC_3847, Wed-29Dec10
Fig. 6. Downed trees, western Belize; area near Guatemalan border. Digital photo IMG_5161, Belize/Mon-13Dec10, Photo: Dr. C. Heron
After touring the nursery, Dr. Heron, Pio, and the Ferrys drove beyond San Ignacio to the river area close to the Guatemalan border (Fig. 5). The Category One Hurricane Richard had come directly through Belize a few weeks prior, and from Dangriga in the south to Belize City and all the way to the country's western border the results could be seen in the many trees downed (Fig. 6).
Typical of this type of forest tree in the tropics, the tree was heavily covered with epiphytes. It should be noted that the world has at least three easily defined world climate zones, broadly speaking. In the winter, the northern hemisphere has a cold-warm climate (with cold predominating!), while the southern hemisphere has a warm-cold climate (with the warm predominating, and the two hemispheres switch back and forth. However, in the tropics the seasons tend to range not between warm and cold, but between wet and dry. In some areas, one might even modify this to the hurricane (wet) season and the non-hurricane (dry) season. For example, one sees no rain in southern Viet Nam from late October to about mid-April, and the rest of the year it seems like the rain will never quit! Belize, on the other side of the world, has currently entered the--you guessed it--dry season. (Disclaimer: none of this precludes a pop-up shower now and then!
Fig. 7. Looking at orchid plants gleaned from downed tree. Cayo District, Belize. Digital photo IMG_5164, Belize/Mon-13Dec10, Photo: Dr. C. Heron
Here, in western Belize, a couple of us couldn't resist picking our way through the brush to look at the epiphytes (Fig. 7). It was a rather noisy place with the howler monkeys holding forth high up in the trees. Your editor wasn't about to get any photos of a howler, but did get a look at a male of about 35 pounds or so who was advertising his location in no uncertain terms!
Along with a load of bromeliads, orchids included several species not in flower including Myrmecophylla tibicinis and Epidendrum hawkesii, Epidendrum rigidum, and a few species of Trichocentrum, and others with flowers that had opened since the hurricane's passage. Pio's place has a few acres of land, and although many of his orchid plants had been blown down (along with their tree hosts!) during the hurricane, several plants were recovered from this location for preservation at his place, which is not far fom this site.
Fig. 8. Flower of Dimeranda emarginata. Dig. Photo IMG_5155a, Photo: Dr. C. Heron
Fig. 9. Part-inflorescence, Epidendrum ciliare. Digital photo IMG_5201. Photo: Dr. C. Heron
Fig. 10. Prosthechea cochleata. Dig. Photo IMG_5210, Photo: Dr. Heron.
Looking at this sort of a situation makes one want to recover plants, tag them with the original location, and flower and identify all of them in due time. The country of Belize supposedly is host to about 332 orchid species, but one suspects the terrestrial forms particularly have been under collected and consequently under researched. We did encounter several plants of Dimeranda emarginata (Fig. 8), Epidendrum ciliare (Fig. 9), E. rigidum, Nidema boothii, and several others, but no Belizean field trip would be complete without finding plants of the national flower; known in Belize as "the black orchid," Prosthechea cochleata (Fig. 10).
Is there room for orchid studies and serious orchid research in Belize? Of course! In fact there is a particular need for the education of primary, secondary, and university students in the field of botany in general and orchids in particular! There is a need for individuals in Belize to understand not only the orchids, but their substrates; which are abundant; which are threatened; which are endangered; and even ones new to science! All this will require work on the part of local individuals to rescue and culture species and work with other sources to correctly identify these plants. As well, work should be undertaken equally to document their various pollinators and pests.
Given sufficient data, it is not unthinkable that botanical curricula and texts could be written for elementary through university students. These activities would go far to raise the consciousness of the general population of Belize regarding the value of their country's natural resources and their role in managing and preserving them.
This all suggests a monumental undertaking, and a lot of work, but a Chinese proverb comes to mind: "the journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step."