Saturday, April 30, 2011

Hurricane Hugo, a few photos from the aftermath of Hurricane Hugo in 1989.

This tree was defoliated and stripped of most of its smaller branches.  In this particular area most trees sustaine extensive damage but remained standing.

In this area the trees were stripped clean of leaves and lianas and only the hard woody stems remained.  Unfortunately it is not easy to get a perspective in this photo this makes trees with substantial sized look like twigs.  To get an idea of the size look at the lower left corner of the photo were the remains of a palm frond can be seen.

In this area the wind were so fierce even the bark was stripped of some trees.  The top of this was ripped away by the wind.

Seven days after the hurricane some roads were still impassable due to the massive tree fall.

This part of the forest had faced the full brunt of the wild and the main color was that of the bare trunks and surviving braches of the trees.  Leaves which usually covered everything are nowhere in sight.

Forest damage over El Verde Station.

Shattered tree trunk

The entrance to the Caribbean National Forest, blocked by massive tree fall

Tree trunk sheared off 

Making the best of a bad situation some college students from El Verde Station go out to do some research.

These photos were taken seven days after Hurricane Hugo hit the northwest corner of the Island of Puerto Rico.  I was able to take them because Hector Colon invited me and Sandra Moya to see the damage inflicted by the hurricane to the forest of the area around El Yunque mountain, then know as the Caribbean National Forest.  We were shocked by the tremendous damage that the high wind inflicted to the forest.  In some parts it looked like someone had bombed the forest.  Bird mortality was high, as I recall half of all the Puerto Rican parrots in the forest perished as a result of the hurricane.  Other species were similarly affected. We traveled around the El Verde area.  We narrowly avoided being in the middle of a shoot out between cars that left several cars riddled with bullets by the side of the Espiritu Santo river bridge.  We were unnerved because we heard the shooting from the spot we were inside the forest a few hundred feet away from the bridge.  Although in some parts of the forest the damage was severe, in some sheltered parts the forest suffered much less damage.  But huge parts of the forest were defoliated in a way that I had never thought possible.  I took these photos and forgot about them for decades.  Due to poor storage they degraded considerably and some became damaged.  But even in their decay they give a powerful testimony of the awesome and frightful power of a tropical cyclone.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Mona Island, Cueva del Lirio, AEB trip circa 1982

A land's view from an area near Cueva del Lirio, you can see in the top left corner the ship Alborada that had ran aground on the reef in from of Pajaros Beach
A part of the Asociacion de Estudiantes de Biologia of the Mayaguez Campus of the University of Puerto Rico.  You can see Nelly with a ton of hair, Javier alarmingly young, Jorge without big muscles and Isabel with a goat skull.
In one of the ledges of the cave we found a small nesting colony of  Sooty Terns

There were Sooty terns all around the Island but these were nesting in one  an opening of the cave that faced toward the sea
The inside of the cave is filled with a breathtaking variety of speleothems ranging from cave pearls to massive stalagmites that resemble fantastic animals.
A seaward view from Cueva del Lirio

I visited Cueva del Lirio many times during the 1980's.  My only regret is that I didn't take more photos of the inside of the caves.  Mona Island caves are laberinthic and this makes them unsettling and disorienting for those that are not accostumed to visit caves.  There are many strange and wonderful speleothems inside this cave.  Hopefully one day I will be able to go back to take photos of them.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Tolumnia (Oncidium) variegata, birds weaving this orchid into their nest

Tolumnia variegata, one of our most common native orchids
A nest of an unidentified species of bird

The orchid was originally weaved into the fabric of the nest, you can see the dried  leaves trapped in the fibers.  A new fan of leaves grew free of the nest and its now producing another leaf fan on top of a stolon.

Many years ago, as I was hiking in a local forest, I found an area where the local birds would weave orchids into the fabric of their nests.  It was a charming sight but unfortunately at the time I didn't have a camera with me.  I returned to the forest last weekend and managed to find a nest with an orchid.  When I visited this area, a long time ago it was almost pristine.  Now although there were signs of human visitation, to my utter astonishment, there was no trash anywhere.  Apparently whoever has visited the spot has been respectful of the area.  Sadly, I found the orchid population in the area was just a fraction of the size it was when I first visited.   

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Mona Island, the amazing sight of waterfalls on a dry deserted island, AEB field trip 1980.

Water falling from the 200 feet tall cliffs in the area of Pajaros beach

We tried to fend off the water with anything that we could find

We had to take refuge in the area of Cueva del Caballo since the rain swamped the camping area.

Mona Island is a deserted island usually most remebered by hikers for its dryness and its endless vistas of dry fearsomely thorny scrub.  Althought the island can have periods of rainlessness that lasts months, from time to time it does gets hit with the great weather systems that make their way from Africa to the Caribbean.  In this case the Association of Biology Students was camping in Sardinera beach and decided to go to the other side of the island, to Pajaros Beach, about six miles away as the crow flies.  During the night we were camping in Pajaros beach a tropical wave or depression unexpectedly dumped an enormous amount of water over us (I know this is almost beyond belief but at the time we didn't have cellphones or even (gasp) Tweeter).  When we woke up the next day there was water everywhere and the astonishing sight of waterfalls falling from the central plateau of the island.  The previous day the island had been bone dry and now it everything was soaking wet.  We took refuge in a small cave nest to the Cueva del Caballo and made jokes as we shivered and tried to make the best of it.  I have gone back to Mona Island many times over the years but I have never again witnessed this spectacle again.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Mona Island, cave pearls, circa 1984, AEB field trip.

These are cave pearls from a cave in the Island of Mona, a small island about fifty miles to the west of the Island of Puerto Rico.  Mona Island is composed of a huge slab of limestone that rose from the sea about a million years ago.  There are two types of limestone in Mona Island, caliza lirio, the top layer, is relatively easily dissolved by rain water, the bottom layer is dolomite which is harder and resists dissolucion by rain much better.  In the boundary between the two layers of limestone you get enormous caves which can have hundred of thousands of square meters of interior space.  The easiest caves to access are all around the coast of the island. Almost all were severely altered by man early last century to extract huge quantities of guano that were deposited in the caves in the past.  The caves in Mona Island are laberinthic with many side passages and cavities going in all directions and interconnecting in all sort of ways.  They are full of a large variety of stalagmites and other speleothems, some of which seem to defy gravity.  Cave pealrs can be found in large numbers in some of the caves but they are rarely as white and pristine as these ones.  As you can see they are not necessarily round, they can be square, triangular and irregularly polyhedral.  From the empty niches you can tell that some have been taken away from the cave.  These pearls have no commercial value and are best enjoyed in their natural setting.  Hopefully these ones are still in the cave where I saw them.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The goats on Mona Island back in 1979, ABE field trip

A startled goat running at full tilt through the scrubby vegetation in alocation a few hundred feet south of the Mona lighthouse
Part of herd of about thirty that crossed the road from Pajaros beach to the lighthouse

Two goats grazing on the median strip of the road from Pajaros beach to the lighthouse.

My first trip to Mona Island was back in 1979.  It was with the Asociation of Biology Students of the Mayaguez campus of the University of Puerto Rico.  This trip was an important event in my life as I made new friends and decided to go to study to the Mayaguez campus.  I took many photos in that trip, sadly they have become a bit deteriorated.  But they still provide a window to a time where Mona Island was not a popular destination and few people visited it.  In this trip I saw a large number of goats.  About seventy goats crossed the road ahead of me during a half hour hike between Pajaros beach and the lighthouse, undoubtably there were many times this number lurking in the vegetation to the sides of the road.  The goats seemed untroubled by our presence  and some even spent some time grazing on the median strip of the road even as we approached them.   The goats were also plentiful around the lighthouse and I even managed to get fairly close to a few before they took flight.  In the decades that have passed since my trip hunting became much more popular and large numbers of hunters would visit the island to hunt for goats and pigs.  The goat population plummeted and it became harder and harder to see them.  The last time I was in Mona, about ten years ago, you had to hike for hours away from human haunted areas to be able to glimpse even one.

Grammatophyllum stapeliiflorum, flowers that look like the result of a night of drunken carousing between an orchid an a bat

A close up of the flower showing the lip

Unlike other Grammatophyllum, the inflorescences of stapeliiflorum grow downwards and are strongly pendent.

This small Grammatophyllum can be found in the forests of Malaysia, Indonesia and the Phillipines.  It grows under hot to warm conditions.  In my garden it grows well alongside my other Grammatophyllum and thrives under the same care.  How to care for Grammatophyllum is described elsewhere in this blog, the plant gets the same care as elegans.  Originally this plant was grown shadier than the other of the same genus because I got it as a seedling.  But as it reached adult size it failed to bloom.  

I moved it to brighter light with a few hours of full sun in the morning and the plant bloomed in its season that year.  In 2011 the plant started blooming in the first week of April.  The flowers last well and unlike other orchids they have not been damaged by local insects or birds.  The flowers are said to produce a foul odor but my plant only produces a fairly innocuous resinous fragrance that is not strong.  This plant has proven to be problem and pest free but unfortunately the high light conditions needed to promote good flowering don't help with having a spotless foliage.

Although this is a highly desirable orchid it seems it has only become available to the average hobbyist in recent times.  I have not seen it exhibited locally perhaps because its blooming season falls between the mayor spring and autumn  orchid shows.  This plant has been variously classified as a Grammangis, a Cymbidium and Sadokum.  I would recommend it for people that want to cultivate a member of the Grammatophyllum tribe but lack the space for the larger species.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Dendrobium Bohemian Rhapsody, Den loddigesii x Den cucullatum

A beautiful form with heart shaped lip

A smaller clone with poorer flowers and an oddly shaped lip

This Dendrobium is a hybrid of the species loddigesii and cucullatum.   In my experience Dendrobium loddigesii will grow well under warm conditions but will bloom poorly or not at all.   Dendrobium cucullatum will grow and bloom well under my conditions.  This hybrid has been a disappointment for me, it grows relatively well but blooms with few flowers.  This plant is capable of producing a good display of pink flowers.  I have seen a plant grown by Ed Merkle that produces a breathtakingly beautiful display of pink flowers.
My suspicion is that my conditions are just too warm for this plant to perform at its best.  I cared for this plant in ways that elicit abundant flowering from its pendent Dendrobium relatives with little to show for the effort.   Surprisingly the flowers of my two plants are very different.  One has big flowers with wide petals and sepals and a wonderful heart shaped lip.  The other one has narrow petals and sepals and a strange trumpet shaped lip.  Why these two plants of the same hybrid are so different is a mystery to me as primary hybrids tend to be quite similar, perhaps different forms of the species were used to make the two of them.  Since they bloom weakly I keep them mainly as curiosities.  Perhaps growers that can supply the proper seasonally cooler temperatures will probably be able to enjoy really good blooming from this orchid.

Dendrobium parishii a small orchid from the deciduous forest of Asia

This plant is relatively well bloomed for a local plant

A more typical few flowered blooming, note the hairy lip that is characteristic of this species

A hybrid between lodiggesii and anosmum, this one has a particularly wide lip and a delicate color.  Small and deeply colored forms of this hybrid, Den. Nestor, are sometimes confused with parishii

This species is native of a wide band of Asia, it can be found from the Assam region of India to China, Thailand, Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam.  It grows grows in deciduous forest that undergo seasonal variations that dictate a wet and cloudy summer and a dry and sunny winter.  This variations in water availability and light intensity are said to promote better blooming when some effort is made to replicate them in captivity.  The flowers have a powerful, pleasing fragrance.
This Dendrobium seems to grow poorly locally.  Most of the plants I have seen on display are literal dwarves when compared with similar plants grown in more temperate climates.  In my own experience this is a plant that is difficult to keep and can be prone to rot if put in a growing media with poor aireation.  None of my plants have produced canes that have reached more than five or six inches.  However when grown in well drained media or in a plaque of cork or fern the plant can be problem free.  It has also grown relatively well in very small pots that have good drainage.  One of my best plants was grown on a two inch pot for several years with little complaint.
The canes can be straight or arching, I have had plants that have grown both ways.  It responds well to daily watering and heavy fertilization during its growing season.   However it can be perceived as a frustratingly slow grower for those of us accustomed to plants such as anosmum and cucullatum which can grow a five to seven feet cane in a single season.
This plant is very common in horticulture and even the most cursory Internet search can reveal several growers that have it for sale at very affordable prices.  Locally I have seen this plant only on the collections of the more experienced hobbyists.  It is not clear if the relative rarity of this species locally is because the more experienced hobbyists are the only ones that are interested in it or whether they are the only ones that can keep it alive for an extended period of time.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

A rare hybrid of Dendrobium farmeri and Dendrobium densiflorum

The flowers of the hybrid look like those of Den. farmeri var. albiflorum but the structure of the lip and the distribution of color are slightly different

The plant packed for transportation to a local orchid society meeting where it won the "plant of the month" award.

To the left, Dendrobium farmeri var. albiflorum, to the right the hybrid of farmeri and densiflorum
Several inflorescenses together show the dense arrangement of flower that this plant has inherited from the densiflorum parent

This hybrid is more floriferous than either parent but can be erratic on its blooming patterns with several inflorescences opening together of one or two at a time over several months.

This rare Dendrobium farmieri x densiflorum hybrid combines the dense and long inflorescence of densiflorum with the white-yellow flowers of farmeri.   When I got this plant, years ago, as tiny seedlings I found that it grew well albeit a bit slowly.  In time it started blooming and producing large and dense inflorescences.  Unfortunately I lost one of my plants to rot after a repotting.  This seems to be a big problem locally with these plants and other related to farmeri and densiflorum, they grow very well but damage to the root and the stems during repotting can result in the rotting of the stems.  As a result now I am potting these plants in baskets and avoiding repotting them as long as possible.
Unlike densiflorum and farmeri which bloom once or at most twice in a season this hybrid usually blooms once with several inflorescences at the same time and the rest of the year it can produce inflorescences at irregular intervals.  It can be cultivated in an identical manner as farmeri or densiflorum but seems to be less dependent in seasonal cues to bloom.  I tried to grow this plant into a specimen but the loss of older canes to rot made this impossible.  I would love to find source for this hybrid to replace the plant I lost but so far it seems that nobody has made it again. 
The flowers of this hybrid are very much like farmeri with little to betray the densiflorum ancestry.  You have to look at the flowers closely to see the way they differ from farmeri.  The differences are mainly in the lip, the orange-yellow color of the lip extends almost to the tip of the lip, the upper side lobes of the lip don’t close over the column and the lip is more elongated.  The canes of the plant however are larger than those of farmeri and have a clear resemblance to the canes of densiflorum.  As far as I now this plant is quite rare in cultivation, I have yet to see one exhibited in a local show.  Hopefully someone will make this hybrid again as it has much to recommend it.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Dendrobium thyrsiflorum, a rare blooming in Puerto Rico

The color combination of completely yellow to orange lip and white floral segments is a salient characteristic of Dendrobium thyrsiflorum
It is very rare to see locally plants with full sized inflorescences.  Plants in the wild and those cultivated in temperate climates can produce even larger inflorescences

This flower shows the round lip of a fully opened flower

Dendrobium thysiflorum is an orchid that is found in the northern areas of India and the Himalayas, China, Thailand and Vietnam.  In Puerto Rico it can grow happily and vigorously.  But it blooms rarely and most of the time with relatively short inflorescences that are a pale shadow of the ones this plant produces in the wild and under cultivation in more temperate climates.  I have often wondered why this plant won't bloom well locally.  I thought that it might be due to the lack of the proper rest period of low temperatures or too enthusiastic fertilizing and watering in its rest season.  But after examining this plant I am starting to suspect that although temperature and rest period may have something to do with the lack of blooming it may be that most local plants are too small to bloom properly.  The blooming plant was significantly larger than most plants I have seen under cultivation locally with canes close to two feet tall.  In more temperate areas  Dendrobium thyrsiflorum can grow into humoungous specimen plants that produce dozens of inflorescences at the same time.  I have never seen a specimen plant in Puerto Rico but after seen this one, there is hope that someone can crack the problem of blooming this plant well in our island.  This plant can be cutlivated the same as Dendrobium farmeri but it is a much taller orchid.  I grow my own plant of this orchid in a net pot.  I have lived there for many years but now I see that it has the potential to grow much larger as my plant is barely nine inches tall.  I plant to give it heavy fertilizing during its growth phase to see if I can coax it to produce larger canes.

Dendrobium farmeri, a flower with a touch of lavender in the petals

This photo, taken with flash, gives the lip a deeper orange color than what it is in life

This plant bloomed unexpectedly from a very old cane, and from an axillary bud that had been dormant for years.  This plant almost perished from rot and the new canes, are tiny, too small to produce inflorescences so this blooming was a pleasant surprise

This photo which was taken using sunlight gives the lip a color more true to life than the first photo.  Most farmeri blooms are pink to pale pink but this variant has a slightly deeper shade of lavender in the border of the floral segments.

Dendrobium farmeri is one of my favorite Dendrobium.  It is easy to grow (there is information about its care elsewhere in this blog) and can be very floriferous.  There are many variants in the market that go from pure white to lavender.  Variants with a deeper lavender color are rare in Puerto Rico.  I compared the flowers of this plant with the flowers of the pink forms I have and the color of the petals is essencially the same.  The difference lies in the size of the flowers and in the lavender color in the tip of the lip.  In this plant the flowers stay small and the color is spread over a smaller area in my pink forms the petals are significantly larger and lavender is fainter giving the plant an overall pink shade.  This plant suffered from rot a few years ago and almost died.  The plant was reduced to a few dehydrated canes.  I put the canes in a shady humid spot where they remained for almost two years without neither dying or growing.  But last year one of the canes produced a tiny side growth from a dormant bud.  I was overjoyed and gave the plant a lot of TLC.  Unfortunately it seems that this plant will take a lot of time to recuperate to its former size.  On the bright side I got this unexpected blooming with was a wonderful surprise from a plant that almost didn;t make it.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Crash Boat Beach y Peñas Blancas area, Aguadilla, underwater photos from the early eighties

A coralline comunity near the beach in Peñas Blancas called by surfers "wishing well".  There was an impressive quantity of marine organisms growing in some underwater limestone outcrops full of caves.  Mark Verdiun, his siblings and me used to visit this place all the time.  It was fun to explore the area to see what we would find, there was always something new to see.  Large stony corals were rare here.

Two spotted drums (thanks Pucho for the ID), very young ones, swimming near the base of one of the pillars in the Crash Boat beach.  Notice the trash on the seafloor.

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One of the pillars of the Crash Boat piers.  You can see the pillars have lots of fishing wire entangled around the sea life clinging to them.

The longspined black urchin Diadema antillarum used to be present in the coralline areas in huge numbers as you can see in some spots the sea floor was carpeted with them.  In 1983 there was a tremedous die off in which around 97% of all of this urchins perished.  Some say that the decline of some Caribbean reefs was tied to the loss of this important member of the reef community.

A box fish, Crash Boat

Coralline community, Peñas Blancas, see the blue chromis in the left center of the photo

My friend Jose Nieto snorkeling between the pillars of the Crash Boat piers