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Big Trees from Peru and Costa Rica

Bart Bouricius on October Peru Trip and December-January Costa Rica Trip

This will be the 1st of two posts on Big trees of Peru and Costa Rica

Along with my co-workers, I spend 1-2 months each year in the Peruvian Amazon building, maintaining or expanding tree canopy walkway systems. These walkways are constructed by Canopy Construction Associates an organization I founded in 1990 which includes several contractors and scientists who get together to build walkways when projects commence.

This year I focused a little more of my free time photographing and measuring some of the trees I ran across in Peru and in Costa Rica where my wife Connie and I were visiting some of our Costa Rican and expatriate friends a few weeks ago. The following is a list of the measurements images and comments. To give some perspective to many ENTS members who are less familiar with New World tropical forests, I will use two quotes from Richard Condit the author of the 2011 book The Trees of Panama and Costa Rica:

"Forests of the tropics are famous for high species diversity. In Panama and Costa Rica, 200 or more species of trees can be found on a walk of a few hundred meters." - - - "in more remote areas where it is difficult to visit, it is typical for tropical botanists to leave as unidentified 25% of the species encountered.". I have been told that in Amazonian Peru an expedition of botanists from the Smithsonian Museum in 1984 counted over 600 species of trees in a single hectare (approximately 2.5 acres) many of them new to science. As I was not looking in remote places at least in Costa Rica, I was able to identify most of the larger trees I encountered, however, even in the less diverse gallery forests of the pacific slopes there is amazing diversity.



These first two images are of a particular Kapok tree Ceiba pentandra which is sort of a mascot for the Ceiba Tops Lodge near the banks of the Amazon in Northern Peru. The lodge is run by Explorama. My Coleague Phil Wittman climbed to the first branch of the tree which he accurately measured at 120 feet high. Phil measured the entire tree from the ground at 220 feet, however he was not using the approved ENTS methodology and I suspect it will have to be remeasured using a 440 range finder from directly below the tree to get an inkling how close his measurement was. I measured a smaller Kapok (no image) at the Tirimbina Biological Station Reserve at 157' 9".

There are certainly larger Kapoks in the area, though few offer the chance to see the whole tree like this one does. It is tall because it grew up in the forest. The forest was cleared around it for pasture or crops and then was allowed to grow back, as you can see the canopy of the surrounding forest is significantly lower than the old Kapok Tree. Just eyeballing the tree, I would estimate close to a 9 foot diameter above the buttresses. I plan to get better measurements on a larger Kapok when I take a group of people down to Peru this summer. By the way I measured another large Kapok at the Puntaleon Beach area in Costa Rica that had 10' of fill above ground level put around it's trunk several years ago. This would have killed just about any tree I know of in the US, but the tree still seems in reasonable health. It was easy to measure above the buried buttresses and it was 31 feet 2 inches CBH and 119' high, so if we include the part of the trunk below the fill, it is about 130' high. I was rushed at the time, so I did not get a picture, but if you Google images of Puntaleone Costa Rica Ceiba or Kapok or giant tree, you can find a few images of it. There is a plaque in front of the tree stating that it is over 400 years old. I have no idea how this is known.


Here I am measuring a smaller but attractive Ceiba pentandra on my friend Bob Lucas's farm near Alta Monte Costa Rica. It's measurements were 11' 3" CBH and 141' high.(305)

The trees on Bob's farm are part of a gallery forest which follows a stream bed adjacent to cow pastures on steep hills.


Here is what the gallery forest on the Pacific mountain slope of Costa Rica looks like.


Bob leans against a 158' tall Wild Cashew tree Anacardium excelsum. It was 15' 7". These trees are said to compete with the Kapok trees for height, and large ones can have immense girths as well. CBH. 3027


Here I am with a somewhat larger diameter Wild Cashew not measured.


Bob with Pseudobombax septenatum the Barrigon tree. These trees, in the same subfamily as the Kapok tree, have a swollen trunk with green vertical lines in the bark which has chlorphyl allowing this peculiar tree to perform photosynthesis in its bark. CBH 14' 8" height 107'


Here is my wife Connie with another Barrigon tree CBH 15' 5" but only 93' 3" tall.
See great web page on this species:
by Bart Bouricius
Fri Feb 04, 2011 5:57 pm
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2nd post Big Trees from Peru and Costa Rica

2nd Report on October Peru Trip and December-January Costa Rica Trip

In this report I have some images of trees on another farm and some images from the Tirimbina Reserve both in the province of Sarapiquí Costa Rica on the Atlantic side of the country. I will conclude this post with a large Guanacaste Tree near the town of Balsilla.

Here I stand in front of a Pilon Tree Hieronyma alchorneoides on the farm of the Alfaro family in Sarapiquí Costa Rica on the Atlantic side of the country. You may notice the small fig tree clinging to the right of the Pilon tree. It is a hemiepiphyte which starts on a tree and then grows roots down to the ground. Strangler figs often do this. This Tree was 33' 4" in circumference and 144' high.

My friends Leti and Lisette Alfaro stand next to another tree on the same farm. It is a Wild Almond tree Dipteryx oleifera (recently changed from D. panamensis). This tree was 161.5' tall and 15' 1" above the buttresses. A "much larger" one on the farm was recently cut because it was hollow and structurally unsound. This species according to Richard Condit, is the tallest tree on Barro Colorado Island where an important Biological research station is located. The island is in a large lake that feeds the Panama Canal. The tree in Panama was measured to a height of 53 meters or 172'. This species, which is a very valuable timber tree is protected in Costa Rica. As the tree became scarcer due to logging in the 80's and 90's, the Great Green Macaw, which depends on this particular species for both nesting in and food has become extinct in much of its former range and is now considered endangered. This tree species is so valuable for timber because it has a strong dense wood with a specific gravity of .89 and is said to be impervious to termites.

See info on Green Macaw:

In this image I am climbing approximately 120' up in a large Kapok Tree at the Tirimbina Reserve.

looking up at the towering Kapok Tree from ground.

image 5
My friend Witold, who studies spiders in the canopy at Tirimbina collecting data for his PHD thesis, in the tree with me.

Bob and owner Jonny Cubero in front of a Guanacaste tree measuring 31' 4" in Circumference and 79' tall. This species does not get tall, but this one had a crown spread in one direction of 157'.

Entire Guanacaste tree for perspective.

iLooking up at Barrigon tree from previous post Pseudobombax septenatum

Next year when Connie and I visit our friends in Costa Rica again, I will have prepared for side excursions to look for remarkable large trees. Considering that most of these trees were simply trees that we could walk to from where we happened to be staying, I expect to find significantly larger ones. I am told by Lisette Alfaro that near where she works as a guide, there is a truly immense Sandbox Tree Hura crepitans, which is described by Richard Condit as "A forest giant. Trunk can be immense, matching Ceiba (Malvaceae-Bombacoideae) or Anacardium escelsum (Anacardaceae) in size but without buttresses." I was also told of an individual Ceiba tree that is supposed to have a 22 foot diameter, however I find this difficult to believe unless it is not an above the buttress measurement. Nevertheless, I know there are bigger trees out there and am keen to find and document them, this time with my GPS unit in hand as well as measuring tools
by Bart Bouricius
Fri Feb 04, 2011 7:16 pm
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Re: Glimpses of the Fourth Domain?


You are right about prions, I should not have mentioned them, and I agree that points 4 and 5 have some merit, however I am going to leave a quote from Margulis and Sagan's What is Life, which addresses the reproduction issue(p. 18) but first I need to define an uncommon word (autopoietic) that they use: The proces whereby an organization produces itself.
Self-producing systems, where a system can be a cell, an organism and perhaps a corporation : me: for biological organisms, part of this process may be referred to as metabolism or physiology.

Margulis, Sagan quote:
"DNA is an unquestionably important molecule for life on Earth, but the molecule itself is not alive. DNA molecules replicate but they don't metabolize, and they are not autopoietic. Replication is not nearly as fundamental a characteristic of life as is autopoiesis. Consider: the mule, offspring of a donkey and a horse, cannot "replicate." It is sterile, but it metabolizes with as much vigor as either of its parents; autopoietic, it is alive. Closer to home, humans who no longer, never can, or simply choose not to reproduce can not be relegated, by the strained tidiness of biological definition, to the realm of the nonliving. Of course, they too are alive.
In our view viruses are not. They are not autopoetic. Too small to self-maintain, they do not metabolize. Viruses do nothing until they enter an autopoietic entity: a bacterial cell, the cell of an animal, or of another live organism. Biological viruses reproduce within their hosts in the same way that digital viruses reproduce within computers. Without an autopoietic organic being, a biological virus is a mere mixture of chemicals; without a computer a digital virus is a mere program. Smaller than cells, viruses lack sufficient genes and proteins to maintain themselves. The smallest cells, those of the tiniest bacteria (about one ten-millionthe of a meter in diameter) are the minimal autopoietic units known today. Like language, naked DNA molecules, or computer programs, viruses mutate and evolve; but, by themselves, they are at best chemical zombies. The cell is the smallest unit of life".

Lynn had a much better and more poetic definition of autopoietic, however I have probably burdened you enough with this long quote. I truly appreciate your insight and thinking regarding this subject and it is fun to interact on these random subjects that are rarely touched on most internet sites except for sites used only by the specialists focused on them. I will be visiting Lynn Margulis in a few days and I will be sure to ask her what she thinks of the fourth domain proposal and report back.
by Bart Bouricius
Tue Mar 22, 2011 7:18 pm
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Bart's Travels


Here is a pass through of an email from my friend Bart Bouricious. Images follow.

Bob Leverett

Hi tree folks,

Here are two images of the Kapok from yesterday. Today we scouted out a very promising location in a ravine. The first two noticeable trees Bob and I ran into were Wild Cashews with respective circumferences of 18' 1" and 18' 6" the heights were 131.5' and 126' I could actually see larger ones further down the ravine. We plan to spend a whole day working down the ravine to where there is a primary forest that it runs through. This will be when I return from the Tirimbina Biological Station on the 3rd of January. I am hoping for some record cashews then.. I will keep you folks up to date.


bart tree1.jpg

bart tree2.jpg

by Bart Bouricius
Fri Dec 30, 2011 9:36 pm
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Costa Rica Tree Measurment & Natural history #2

Though the title name is changed a little, this is the second installment of the previous Costa Rican Trees & Natural History. It includes a second part of a ravine on the pacific slope and ends with a nice Kapok ( Ceiba pentandra ) too bad we don't have italics here. I'll plunge right in. The tree below is the first of a few substantial Wild Cashews we encountered on this hike:


Below is one of the several waterfalls that Bob Lucas and I encountered in this section of the ravine.


This next image shows another impressive fat but not too tall Wild cashew:


Now for something really impressive:


This Kapok tree was in a depression at the edge of a coffee farm in Camino barrio San Jose Norte about a 30 minute drive from the Cashew Ravine. The forrester who showed this tree to me plans to take me to a national park where he knows of Kapoks in a primary (old growth) forest that are "at least 30 meters taller" and "much wider" in my next trip to Costa Rica. He got this one right, so I am cautiously optimistic. By the way, in case you are wondering, for the actual measurement Alphonso did have the tape higher than what you see in the posed picture where it is not level. The spread in one direction was 127'. This was not necessarily the longest spread we could have obtained in a different direction and these trees often have a crown spread as great or greater than the height.

The next images are of animals and plants related to or living in trees and a couple more interesting trees from the ravine. The first image is of an Acacia tree a little up hill from the ravine. These small trees provide the ants with both food and a space for shelter which in turn protect the tree from insects and competing plants. Just recently a species of spider living in these trees was discovered to have a primarily vegetarian diet, as it has evolved to eat the highly nutritious protein-lipid Beltian bodies which the tree produces on its leaf tips to help attract the ants.

Next are two more ravine Trees:


The ravine:


two images from a tree climb up slope from the ravine:

These ants are noted for using their peculiarly flattened heads for defensively blocking the entrance to their colony and for being able to control their glide back to the tree if they fall off or are dropped off by a scientist studying this behavior.

below a last image of a part of the ravine we have yet to hike. Bob and I are thinking about camping for a couple of days in the ravine in this area since there are no roads there and we could get further in that way.


by Bart Bouricius
Fri Feb 24, 2012 3:47 pm
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Costa Rica Trees & Natural history #1

I will be sending a series of posts in the next couple of weeks comprising photos and descriptions of trees and animals and narrations of experiences from one partial work trip to the Peruvian Amazon last September, and another trip with my wife to Costa Rica in December-January. Having learned the proper way to measure trees from Bob Leverett and having unusual and frequent access to Central and South America I figured NTS folks might enjoy these posts, as they are rare on the bulletin board.

My holy grail in Central and South America is to find a Neotropical emergent tree over 200 feet tall. My friend Phil Wittman did measure with proper protocol one Ceiba pentandra tree, that I had previously posted images for, at 180' height. It had been previously estimated at 220'. Though it is often said that Kapok trees (a common name which actually refers to two or more species) from which cottony seed floss is collected for stuffing life vests and mattresses, exceed 200' in height, I have not come across any that were clearly accurately measured, with a clearly described methodology, that achieved that height. Instead it seems that there are several accounts, but the authors all seem to quote each other when you try to trace the origin of the actual figures.

I am optimistic that this goal will be realized because in these tropical forests, there is not one or two, but 10's of emergent species that may aspire to reach such a height. To date, with the standard caveat "as far as I know" no Neotropical tree has unequivocally achieved this stature and been reliably measured. If you have information to the contrary, please post it with the source, or let me know.

Before getting into the images and descriptions I would like to set the stage for what I have been trying to do and what it is like to pursue my goal in the Central and South American tropical forest environments. In Peru I build canopy walkways for a living and have been returning regularly for 22 years to inspect and maintain the systems that my associates and I have designed and built. I have been visiting Peru and Ecuador off and on since 1984, having taken 25 trips to the Amazon Basin. I have also worked in Belize and Costa Rica and have been to Central America probably around 20 times for work, biological research, to bring groups of college students down for tropical ecology studies and to visit friends. My main study interest in the Neotropics was originally certain orders of arachnids (no, not all arachnids are spiders- think ticks and mites,scorpions,pseodoscorpions and harvestmen<daddy longlegs>as some examples of arachnid orders), but more recently, with the help of Andrew Joslin and Bob Leverett, I have developed a new obsession, and that is old growth emergent trees. Since folks such as Will Blozan and Bob Leverett know more about temperate trees than I can ever hope to learn, I figured I would take advantage of my access to the New World tropics to learn something about the Emergent trees to be found there. Unlike my home in the Eastern US, where only the White Pine and Tulip Tree tend to grow above the canopy and then spread out above the other trees, there are certainly well over 20 true emergent tree species in the Peruvian Amazon. In the Eastern US, other trees such as the Cotton Woods and Sycamores achieve impressive heights, but their pattern tends to be different and often they grow in a less dense flood plane environment where a tall straight growth architecture is less important in achieving dominance.

While visiting Costa Rica my wife Connie and I stayed at friends Ralph and Margarita in Alta del Monte west of the continental divide. For a few days we also stayed with Margaritas extended family and at the Tirimbina Research Center, both located in the state of Sarapiqui on the Caribbean side of the divide. We were able to get a discounted rate at Tirimbina as I provided a climbing seminar for some staff members at the center. I also spent time on a night climb with my friend Witold Lapinski and his girl friend who was visiting at the time.

Witold is a German doctoral student studying the behavior of wandering spiders, a behavioral group which includes spiders that hunt down their prey without making webs. On nights that are not too rainy he climbs one of the several trees he has rigged to observe these spiders for several hours using his head lamp. He says he has collected enough data in the past year or so to publish probably around 20 papers. Among the trees he has rigged are 3 Kapoks (Ceiba pentandra), one of which exceeds 150 feet in height. Unfortunately I did not get photos of the largest Kapoks in the day time. I did however get a few shots of various creatures in the top of one of the taller trees he rigged. We had to be careful in this tree as there was apparently a Bullet Ant (Paraponera clavata) nest in the top of the tree in a crotch full of soil, and the beasts were quite actively foraging on the limbs. They are called bullet ants because their sting is said to feel like being shot with a bullet. Though this description is a bit of an exaggeration, the sting is extremely painful and the pain can last for as long as 24 hours, though Witold says he seems to have developed an immunity to them such that it is more of an annoyance when he gets stung as opposed to the expected harrowing experience that some of my associates have been unfortunate enough to go through.

Fortunately I have only been stung by a member of the Bullet ants larger sister genus. This happened 2 years ago in the Peruvian Amazon. The name of this other ant genus is Dinoponera, probably because it is a quarter of an inch longer than the one inch long bullet ant and ,as such, is the dinosaur of the ants. Fortunately for me, this largest of new world ants, has a less potent sting than its smaller but more fearsome sister genus. The sting occurred two hours after I had been photographing these ants coming from a nest at the base of a tree in a reserve on the Río Marañón in Northern Peru. I was suddenly awakened when I rolled over during an afternoon siesta to find that one of the these ants had crawled up my pants leg during the photo shoot and had now given me a wicked sting on my upper thigh just below my -- better not go there.

Any way, identifying giant trees in the Amazon or Central America can be a bit daunting. I thought it was quite an accomplishment when I ran my tree service in Chapel Hill North Carolina and learned the Latin names of 21 oak species, but compared to dealing with an environment where, according to some sources, there can be over 600 species of trees on a single hectare (about 2.5 acres), that was child's play. This is why I have limited my scope to only the tall emergent trees, aside from the fact that they hold the most interest for me, and are the most exciting to climb. So now I guess it's time for the first image of trees in a Costa Rican ravine:


The deep light dappled ravine provided constant surprises such as gorgeous waterfalls and swimming holes to die for even though no one ever uses them. The steep cliffs and immense boulders gave my friend Bob Lucas and I a feeling of being small in this amazing place where the giant cashew trees grew so frequently that we did not bother with the dozens of big trees that appeared to be only 12' or less in circumference. There was always something awe inspiring around each curve and meander of the stream.


Bob and I had to zig zag across the stream and boulder hop to find good walking space in and on the sides of the rocky stream bed. As we moved along we looked up at the long leaves which also coated much of the ground below with a thick crunchy layer from these Wild Cashew Trees. The large leaves (up to 16 inches long) from these trees create a layer of detritus and barely decomposed dry leaves a foot or more thick. Here is the view looking up.


Interestingly these trees which were quite large and tall were also the most common trees along the banks of the stream. This interesting tree species is in the Anacardiaceae family which also contains the Sumacs and poison Ivy. This relationship may explain why allergic reactions to the raw nuts and fruit of the cultivated species (Anacardium occidentale) are not uncommon. These "Espave" trees were clearly the dominant emergents in several pacific slope ravines that I visited. What follows is some of the images and data collected during one excursion with my friend Bob Lucas, some of the images are from his own property.


This was the first tree we measured on this particular hike. From here we wended our way down the river to our next tree.


Unfortunately we had to make time in order to make it to a cut to get out of the ravine and to a road by nightfall, so many large species were not able to be identified in this exploratory trip. All height measurements were taken simply by pointing the Nikon 440 rangefinder straight up, so most of the trees were probably a couple of feet taller.


Ambove was our tallest Wild Cashew, yet there is a more imposing one coming up in the next post of this series. Below is pictured a strange looking unidentified species that required a photo nevertheless.


I will be doing 4 or 5 more posts including one about Tirimbina Research Center, another ravine hike including a report on a massive Ceiba pentandra (Kapok Tree) and a couple about trees and beasts in the Peruvian Amazon.

by Bart Bouricius
Thu Feb 23, 2012 8:00 pm
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Re: This woman may have set fire to the Senator

I just find this sad. There seems to be something about a particularly impressive tree that attracts mentally unbalanced people to do something dramatic relative to the tree. Here we have a woman who's life is obviously in tatters doing something stupid which results in a tragedy. No good can come from venting anger at her. There is nothing we can do about it now. I have seen many unusually large trees with hollows and if they were in a public place, they have usually been partially blackened by people lighting flames in them. A tree such as the Senator that inspires awe in most of us can inspire strange and destructive reactions in a few people who are mentally ill or otherwise impaired. We can see a range of odd reactions in some of the comments on the news video.

by Bart Bouricius
Wed Feb 29, 2012 11:36 pm
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Re: Crypto & Zombie Tales With Author, James Robert Smith

Interesting stuff, but are those guys behind you your friends James? Seriously, I will have to check this out.

by Bart Bouricius
Fri Mar 02, 2012 10:40 am
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Tree Living species Tirimbina Costa Rica

In January my wife Connie and I stayed at Tirimbina Research Station in the Forest in the state of Sarapiqui where I provided a climbing seminar to the staff and did some night climbing with my friend and fellow arachnid enthusiast Witold Lapinski and his friend Simone Blomenkamp. Although I have a few images of non arboreal beasts, I am posting primarily canopy, or tree living creatures from Tirimbina here for your entertainment.

First two images of leaf mimic praying mantises. The "dead leaf" mantis was on my shoulder when I came down from a 100 foot climb on one of Witold's several rigged trees. He has to climb at night when the wandering spiders that he studies are out.

The next image (photo by Connie Lentz) is of a Nocturnal porcupine Coendou prehensilis ensconced in a crevice of hollow Kapok Tree Ceiba pentandra sleeping all day.

Here is one of the arachnids I study in the order opiliones which we know as harvestmen or daddy longlegs. Some of this group are predominantly arborial and can be found foraging at all levels in the canopy. They have no venom contrary to a common urban myth. They are related to, but are not spiders.

Next below is one of the fearsome Bullet Ants Paraponera clavata whose sting is said to feel like being shot with a bullet. Ecologist Dan Janson, in an article he wrote about digging up a nest of these ants while being stung numerous times wrote that, one of the advantages of having done this particular bit of research is that "no one will have to do it again". Several of These ants were foraging in large numbers in the tree Witold, Simone and I climbed at night. For more information on these ants, see this article by a friend Randy Morgan from the Cincinnati Zoo:

Since we are dealing with ants, I am posting an image of a myrmecophyte or "ant plant" below. This is a plant in the family Melastomataceae which provides swollen chambers for ants to live in. My presumption is that, as in the many members of this family from Peru, which provide structures for ants to live in, the ants in this Costa Rican species also help protect the plant from its insect and other enemies in return. This however, is not always the case, as there are some species of ants that will sneak in and opportunistically occupy such spaces in some plants parasitically, without providing anything in return. They then abandon the tree or herbaceous plant if it dies and may move on to another one.

Now for something completely different, an unidentified tree frog:

Below are two images of insects that were active at night. First a flying walking stick or "stink stick"(family Pseudophasmatidae), which like the Florida Two Striped Walking Stick Anisomorpha buprestoides produces a repugnant odor when annoyed. The second image is of a large katydid. These insects are in the family Tettigoniidae.

Last is something unrelated to trees at all, but possibly of interest to NTS members. Following are three images of a snake Mastigodryas melanolomus subduing a Lizard Ameiva festiva which Connie was able to photograph in action. I noticed some movement in the leaves by the side of the path and discovered that this snake had just grasped the lizard, but the fairly sizable lizard was not ready to give up without a fight and bit back. Though I can find nothing about this snake being venomous, the process of this lizard becoming inactive from simply a continuous biting certainly suggests that this snake may have some venom.
by Bart Bouricius
Fri Mar 02, 2012 7:52 pm
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Re: The Chaco forest in Paraguay being razed

Bob and Robert,

In the broad sense you are right about the demise of forests, and the proclivities of humanity, however, having worked on tropical deforestation issues for decades, I see some of the usual mythology being perpetuated in this story. As we saw in a previous post, the US and Canada are deforesting faster than Brazil and most Latin American Countries, I am not sure about Paraguay. The first myth is that the only tribe worth caring about is of course the least impacted by outsiders and hence one that is more noble and pure. This romanticisation does no one any good, but is a way of saying that, just like the forest, these people will fall rather than trying to do anything about either situation while not allowing or helping people to determine their own destiny. I remember a Brazilian shaman raging at a reporter who pointed out that he was wearing a modern watch that he needed to keep on schedule while at a conference on indigenous peoples land rights at Smith College. The reporter was implying that the shaman was tainted by modernity and hence impure and hypocritical because he owned a watch. It is obvious even from this story that relatives of people in this "uncontacted" tribe are clearly in contact with their own relatives in the forest. Though they were documented fairly recently, it is probable that they have had to be intentionally in hiding for for a long time to remain uncontacted. Fortunately this view was considered an option by the articles author.

Another myth is that the forests are being cut simply for cattle ranching which is actually secondary to the land speculation which is actually driving the push towards ranching. Often the ranching has not even profitable on it's own, however legally it shows that someone is "making use" of the land, and therefore allows the owner to hang on to it and initially lay claim to it. This process was extensively documented in the 1989 book The Fate of the Forest by Susanna Hecht and Cockburn. It is speculators around the globe who are making money off of this tragedy, probably some in the same wall street banks that brought us this wonderful economic situation and are now speculating in oil and gas and every other thing that can be glommed together to create a derivative security to trade in the global stock market casino. You will notice that while the article focuses on the Mennonites who have, in my opinion, done serious environmental and cultural damage in the Central American country of Belize through missionary and deforestation activities there, are only part of the problem in Paraguay. Large Brazilian companies such as River Plate and others are very important in the deforestation process, and both Mennonites and international companies are making money from the speculation and consequent increase in land prices in this region. Sorry I guess this was not a "quick reply".
by Bart Bouricius
Mon Mar 26, 2012 9:47 am
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Re: El Yunque National Forest Quarters

I worked on a dairy far in Puerto Rico when I was 21 and spent lots of time on return trips in El Verde Research Station which is contiguous with El Yunque. I have hiked much in El Yunque as well as many other forests there. As Ed mentions, the cave systems on the Island are extensive and impressive, but one of the most interesting things is the dry forests in several locations with specialized trees, cactus and some orchids that can tolerate the dry environment. Also check out the luminescent bays. You will of course find the bigger trees in the ravines as hurricanes have had a tremendous impact on the Island.
by Bart Bouricius
Fri Apr 13, 2012 8:06 am
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Re: White pine climb with Michael Gatonska

Michael and Andrew

I think this is great stuff. You know sometimes you actually do not really hear things because the context is too familiar (at least as a professional arborist) and has you focusing on something else, but interestingly when you take the sound out of its normal context, it can be almost like hearing it for the first time. I noticed that some of the most amazing natural sounds I have heard are unavailable on the internet when I try to search for them. Would like to talk to you some about this Michael. Andrew has my contact info, or shoot me a message.

by Bart Bouricius
Wed Apr 18, 2012 5:20 pm
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Re: Windy white pine climb

Cool video Andrew, I think I was doing tree work on the same day here in Western MA, some good gusts. I noticed what might have been another witches broom in the video as well , if you look carefully. I remember there is a tree in the woods behind my house where the top of an eight inch diameter pine was one witches broom. I wonder if it is still alive. I will have to check.
by Bart Bouricius
Tue May 01, 2012 8:10 am
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Re: Sulfur Finding May Hold Key to Gaia Theory of Earth as L


That is certainly true and many interpretations have evolved that have little to do with the actual hypothesis, yet I must admit that I myself find it comforting to examine the connections and feed back systems of life on earth and think about how humans fit into this amazing process. A quote from Lynn and Dorian Sagan's preface to their 1997 edition of their book Microcosmos probably gives a gimps of Lynn's thought process regarding humans role though: "A forum in Harper's Magazine, entitled "Only Man's Presence Can Save Nature," exemplifies humanity's typically grandiose, almost solipsistic, view of itself. Atmospheric chemist James Lovelock speaks of the relationship between humans and Nature as an impending "war"; ecofundamentalist Dave Foreman declares that, far from being the central nervous system or brain of Gaia, we are a cancer eating away at her; while University of Texas Professor of Arts and Humanities Frederick Turner transcendentally assures us that humanity is the living incarnation of Nature's billion-year-old desire. We would like to take all these views to task. In medieval times an interesting prop of the jesting Fool, besides glittering jeweled bauble and wooden knife, was the globe. Picture this figure -- capped and belled Fool, ear flaps a-dan-gling as he handles a mock Earth -- for a more festive, if no less true, summary of how things stand between Homo sapiens and Nature."
by Bart Bouricius
Thu May 17, 2012 8:16 pm
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Amazon Giants Trip Report from Peru

From the Peruvian Amazon Part 1: Notes on two giant lowland tree species, Ceiba pentandra and Ceiba samauma

Having returned from Peru 10 days ago, I have finally compiled the data from two separate trips to the Peruvian Amazon during which I spent several days each time searching for notable trees in the Seasonally Flooded Forest and in the higher Terra Firme Forest where annual flooding does not occur. Accompanying me was my friend of 15 years Weninger Pinedo Flores who had scouted out promising locations ahead of time. Weninger works as a guide at the Tahuayo Lodge on the Tahuayo River where I had built a zip line platform system in the trees several years ago and where I make annual trips for safety inspections and maintenance work. On the most recent trip and on a trip In September of 2011 we located several impressive trees by following "restingas" in swampy areas in flood forest environments. Restingas are low ridges that follow the edges of swamps and often run between small rivers and swamps.

This sort of environment which floods for 2-3 months each year, is the home of both the "Giant Lupuna Tree and the "Wimba" (formerly spelled Huimba) tree. These two trees are respectively Ceiba pentandra and Ceiba samauma . They are two of the most massive trees in the Amazon basin and are treated as sacred by many peoples in both Central and South America. Only C. pentandra however, is found in most of Central America and Mexico. From the research I was able to do I have a hunch that the Wimba tree gets a bit taller, while the Lupuna tree may get a slightly larger crown spread which, in my experience and according to some accounts, can reach a little over 200' at its greatest spread. Measuring crown spread in a closed canopy forest at all can definitely be a challenge, and difficult to do accurately, as the tips of the longest horizontal branches are often obscured by the foliage on lower mid canopy trees. I believe both of these two closely related giants have the potential to exceed a 200' height as well, at least in exceptional individuals. The more obvious differences between the C. samauma and the C. pentandra are that C. pentandra has more spines on its branches than C. samauma which also has somewhat rougher darker bark at it's base than does C. pentandra . These are useful distinctions because the leaves, and flowers or fruits if any, are often far away and hard to see well.


Interestingly there is a lot of confusion surrounding the name "Kapok Tree". Recently, my friend Lynn Cherry who wrote the wonderful 1990 children's book "The Great Kapok Tree: A Tale of the Amazon Rainforest" was surprised to hear that the term Kapok refers to several species of trees in the Bombacaceae family rather than just the single species Ceiba pentandra . I, like Lynn and many others had also assumed that this name referred only to the single species until I discovered that the "Kapok" trees that had been pointed out to me over the years were actually of several different species. When you ask a local Amazonian in Peru "is that a Kapok tree" he or she assumes you are asking if the tree in question produces the cottony substance kapok, which is still collected and used to stuff pillows and mattresses, and was historically used to stuff most life vests. This kapok material is produced from large seed pods and floats on the wind, dispersing the seeds contained individually in the center of each fluffy floating ball of cottony silk.


The kapok producing species are in the Bombacoidea subfamily of Malvaceae along with the famous balsa tree ochroma pyramidale and the also impressive green striped Pseudobombax septanatum "punga tree" ( Pachira aquatica is also called punga)as well as four other members of this Ceiba genus of lesser stature than the two giants, but all of them produce the silky cotton which permits the wind to disperse their seeds. Wimba, by the way, means kapok in a local dialect, and the confusion surrounding kapok has lead to a total mess on the internet regarding local names, however I am using the terms used by the locals I work with which are consistent with Pennington and his fellow authors in the Illustrated Guide to the Trees of Peru (2004).

I have been back almost two weeks from my last trip, and I was pleased to discover on this trip to Peru, that our tallest previously measured tree, not a Ceiba species, had grown a few feet. I was also thrilled to discover the largest Wimba tree yet for me and Weninger.

The tree images I am including are only of the two largest ceiba species, but I will have further posts of taller and stranger species in the follow up posts. These Ceiba trees have been awe inspiring for those that have seen them and though these are from past posts, I want to mention that my friend Phil Wittman measured the Iconic Ceiba pentandra which is the mascot for the "Ceiba Tops" lodge directly on the banks of the Amazon at 183' in height using the Nikon 440 rangefinder and a clinometer, though it's circumference above the buttresses was not measured. I estimate that it is around 20' in circumference at minimum. See my previous posts for images. Generally, once you are over the buttresses of either of these trees, the trunk is rather cylindrical with little taper. Also in a previous post I measured two separate large C. pentandras over 33' in circumference, though neither was over 150' in height. I have a lead on several others in Central America which I will visit this Summer. I responded to these trees much the way that people of some of the Central and South American tribes have, feeling that the true monarchs of this species should be regarded as sacred, and that any attempts to turn them into commercial products should be considered a Sacrilege.
by Bart Bouricius
Mon Nov 26, 2012 6:50 pm
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Amazon Giants Fig Trees Peru report

During my recent trip to Peru for work, I spent time searching for big trees and along with the most massive Ceiba species Lupunas and Wimbas, my Peruvian friends and I found some interesting and huge Fig (Ficus) species. Figs are quite fascinating and are divided into two subgenera: Urostigma which includes trees with aerial roots and often multiple stems or trunks such as the Banyans and hemiepiphytic strangler fig. The other subgenus is Pharmacosycea which is never an epiphyte and is without aerial roots. Members of this sub genus can have immense trunks with long ribbon like buttress and often huge spreading crowns. As there are over 50 species of figs in Peru, most in the Amazon Basin, I was not able to identify species in the time available. Part of the problem is that even if the tree is "in bloom", all the figs keep their flower inside small green balls, so superficially they look the same. The internal flowers are pollinated by wasps which lay eggs in these balls which then will develop into the fruits.
by Bart Bouricius
Sat Dec 01, 2012 5:32 pm
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Re: Amazon Giants Fig Trees Peru report

Thanks Will,

I will have one more post from Peru in a few days which will include a few more unusual trees, some interesting vines, and the tallest trees found yet, I hope you enjoy it as well.
by Bart Bouricius
Sat Dec 01, 2012 7:35 pm
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Re: Amazon Giants Fig Trees Peru report


Actually Manu is sort of expensive to get to but reasonably well protected. There may well be places in the park that are not too hard to get to once you are in the park, and if you are doing research you can get to good places. Madidi in Bolivia may also be good in this respect, and the Tambopata Reserve has some good areas. These are far from where I normally work though and would require extra expense and complicated arrangements. I will take advantage of anything that comes along that furthers my goal of measuring and documenting exceptional trees in the Amazon.
by Bart Bouricius
Wed Dec 05, 2012 3:42 pm
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Re: Did a metal spike kill my old growth Tulip tree?

Nice big old Tulip, too bad, but my guess is that there are a few factors that contributed to this trees demise. I do notice that there are a couple of large stubs where branches were improperly pruned. This often leads to poor healing and rot which tends to help create hollow space in the tree. I also notice girdling wires wrapped around the base of the tree and I wonder if other wires not visible may be more deeply embedded in the tree from the past. Depending on how it was installed, the cable and bolt in the tree could also have contributed to the problem as Tulip trees in particular seem to be especially sensitive to injury to the cambium in my experience. I hope this is helpful.
by Bart Bouricius
Fri Dec 21, 2012 11:05 am
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Re: Suriname 1992

Great Stuff Will,

I have used Miles Silman, the professor that the two graduate students in this post were working under for valuable information. He measured a 58 meter (190 feet) Dipteryx species (wild almond) in Peru on a survey of formerly disputed and little studied land on the border of Peru and Ecuador. Several times I have been to the Southern part of the Peruvian Amazon in the area where the graduate students were working, and unfortunately in part of this area a transcontinental highway through Brazil and Peru was just finished, as the final link, the bridge over the Madre de Dios River was just opened about a year ago. This road has facilitation illegal logging nearby though there are still large areas of relatively well protected land where Illegal Brazil nut tree logging is not taking place. Near the new road, even though the timbering is illegal, and produces much less revenue in the long run than nut harvesting, the wood is quite valuable and if the timber processors and sellers can buy wood that was illegally harvested, they are happy to do that. Often the laws in Peru are quite good, however resources for enforcement are not always sufficient.

Land adjacent to a reserve on the bank of the Madre de Dios where we built a canopy walkway a few years back has been particularly hard hit by loggers because the road was put through near there.

Regarding the Rain Tree or Monkey Pod Tree, this tree and the two giant Ceiba trees can produce crown spreads in excess of 200 feet. I have measured them in the case of Ceiba pentandra , and have gotten measurements over 160' spread in the case of Ceiba samuama . On the Rivers in the Northern part of the Peruvian Amazon where I spend more time, the Brazil nut tree does not grow, but a truly massive tree the Wyra caspi, probably Cedrelinga cateniformis does, and I have measured it to, I believe just over 190' as I was able to get a measurement of 188' with a straight up shot with the Nikon 440 rangefinder, which as aficionados here know, is only the minimum, not the true maximum height of a tree, which is generally at least a couple of feet higher, especially when it is hard to see the top twigs. I have a list of 74 trees that I believe are true emergent trees, and at least 5 of them, I believe have the potential to exceed 200' in exceptional individuals.
by Bart Bouricius
Sun Jan 06, 2013 11:08 am
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Re: Rain Tree, U. S. Virgin Islands


Regarding your trip to Puerto Rico, I did spend some time at El Verde Research Station studying arachnids and ants in the trees. The field station is adjacent to El Yunque and does have some impressive trees, but you need to find the most protected locations because hurricanes have done a number on the Island in recent years. You will find some substantial girths, but it is difficult to find really tall trees because of the storms. If you look in the deepest ravines in El Yunque you might have the best luck. There were some trails going down from a visitor station and snack bar that, as I recall had some decent sized trees. There are a few old Ceiba trees in parks and such, but though they have very large girths, they are greatly distorted from having grown up with no competition and have little resemblance to their magnificent tall counterparts in the natural environment. Any of the dry forest preserves around the island have cool though not immense trees as well.
by Bart Bouricius
Sun Jan 06, 2013 5:37 pm
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Re: Eno River Tulip Tree - Hillsborough, NC


Just one more thing to add to Andrews good advice. When you are placing a rope with a cord you would be advised to give it a good hard jerk just about 20 inches before it reaches the crotch, especially if the crotch is a bit narrow, but when you are removing a rope where you have presumably put it in a good wide crotch and don't have the rope, patience or time to set up a continuous loop, I would recommend slowing your pull to a crawl as the weight shifts to the point where the friction keeping the rope in place is overcome by the weight on the side you are pulling from. This way it will be less likely to wrap around some branch a hundred times, or get stuck in an adjacent tree, as it will tend to fall straight down instead of jumping sideways. I hope that was clear.

by Bart Bouricius
Tue Feb 28, 2012 10:27 am
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Re: Measuring Odd Tree Forms


My perspective on this is that, as the majority of NTS members are from North America, we tend to be both North America centric and temperatecentric. We think of the trees we see when we look out the window or drive along the highway as "normal", however, consider that our geographically constrained species may range somewhere between 700 and 1000 species, depending on where we think of drawing the line. In Panama for example there are over 2,300 identified species, and In South America we have in excess of 20,000 species and many of them are "odd forms" as a matter of fact, there may possibly be more species globally with "odd forms" than with "normal" (temperate) forms. This does not mean to say than in the diversity of tropical species there are not large numbers of "normal form" species as well, however buttresses are exceedingly common among flood plain trees, especially those that grow to notable dimensions that people might find worth measuring. Buttresses are also common on upland trees, though less so. Multiple stems are quite common among the figs in flood plain forests and the ficus genus makes up a disproportionately large percentage of large trees, virtually all of which would be classified as "odd forms". Anyway, the folks in South America would probably suggest that the magazine might be more appropriately called North American Forests as that is what is represented. Considering the focus of the magazine, these odd forms are common in Florida and parts of Texas and scattered in the Southern part of the US, though they may not as rare as we may think, just rarely measured in a comprehensive way. Sorry for my digression, but I am trying to point out that these forms may be quite significant in the overall scheme of things. (See Richard Condit, kKPerez and Daguerre Trees of Panama and Costa Rica for source of species numbers).
by Bart Bouricius
Sun Mar 10, 2013 10:27 am
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Re: Measuring Odd Tree Forms

Re-reading my last post it sounds unintentionally harsh which I really did not mean. Clearly many of these tropical forms are unusual and some, if you do not live in the rural tropics, would seem downright bizarre to most people. I am thinking we might classify these forms as "measurement challenged". There is no question in my mind that we need to focus on something other than the DBH for one or more of these sub groups. I think it behooves us to, as Kouta suggests, have height as the universal comparison measurement while we should focus on crown spread or area with several species, and with a separate group that simply have large buttresses, we should simply measure the DAB (diameter above buttresses). In the case of multistemmed trees like banyans, the areas encompassed by 1. crown and 2. stems would provide an interesting comparative number within this group.

I do not think we have such a problem with aspens, as they present as individual trees regardless of their DNA, but I think mangrove species are perhaps the messiest and most unruly group, as they, in some ways resemble aspens, in that they can sprout from underwater or under mud roots but appear somewhat like the more unruly figs in their form. One other group which is easier to deal with is simple stilt trees such as several palm species (walking palms) and many others like Cecropia trees that also perch on stilts. This group, like buttressed trees can use the same DAB girth measurement or in this case DAS (diameter above stilts) along with height. The real question is how many groups should we have in order not to be comparing apples to oranges in our measurement criteria. There is one other problem represented by the first two Ceiba images that Ed posted, which is that in the first image has no trunk, in that the buttresses actually reach down from the lowest branches. My view on this is that you can not measure a trunk where none exists, at least as it is normally defined. This situation, however is a peculiar anomaly resulting from growing a forest tree on a lawn and having it react in a most extreme way. As it did not have to grow up to get sun, it simply spread out without really producing a trunk, just buttresses and branches. It certainly would not be fair to pretend that there is a trunk here that can be compared to other trunks in a competitive manner, in other words I contend that this is an apples to oranges situation.
by Bart Bouricius
Sun Mar 10, 2013 2:04 pm
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Re: Measuring Odd Tree Forms

Regarding my mention of Mangroves sprouting from roots of adjacent tree, I seem to remember this from trips to the Mangrove swamp near Belize City, Belize, however the 3 species found in Florida reproduce by dispersing embryos called propagules rather than regular seeds, thus they seem not to be clonal in nature, however I can find little immediately on reproduction of the many species outside of the US, some of which get quite large and have no stilt like roots. The following is a description of mangrove reproduction:

Reproductive Strategies of Mangroves
Mangroves have one of the most unique reproductive strategies in the plant world. Like most mammals, mangroves are viviparous (bringing forth live young), rather than producing dormant resting seeds like most flowering plants. Mangroves disperse propagules via water with varying degrees of vivipary or embryonic development while the propagule is attached to the parent tree.

This description of only the 3 species found in the US is from this site:
by Bart Bouricius
Wed Mar 13, 2013 12:40 pm
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