Friday, March 14, 2014

February's Nature Notes

Weather Report: The rains arrived February 27!   According to our Family Nature Notes, we had our break-the-dry-season storm last year on February 25 – right on schedule. J  We aren’t in true ‘rainy season’ yet, but the transition has begun.   That means occasional really crazy wind-and-rain-and-thunder-and-lighting-knock-out-the-electricity storms and a slight cooling trend in the weather.   It’s still plenty hot on the days that it doesn’t rain (I feel as if I’m about to melt as I type…), but at least the dryness and dust are behind us for now.
One of our goals for nature study this year is to make some more detailed observations of things in our surroundings.  Here are a couple of plants from our neighborhood that we’ve taken a closer look at this month:
Crab’s Claw
French: ‘Bec de Perroquet’ (Parakeet Beak)
This is one of those really common tropical plants – I remember seeing them when we lived in Papua New Guinea and in Cairns, Australia (tropical Far North Queensland) too.  They are really fascinating, though.  Apparently they are related to banana plants, which aren’t actually trees.  The “trunks” are really multiple leaf stalks encompassing each other.   The colorful bracts look like pockets and the flowers grow inside – the ones we observed this particular day weren’t in bloom, but I have seen them flowering before.  In these ones we could see the dead remains of the flowers inside the pockets.
Once again Michelle (age 8) showed me up with this one and correctly identified the plant growing just outside our kitchen window as a papaya.  I have seen papaya plants before, and know what they look like.  I have seen this plant every day for over a year and often wondered what it was.  Silly mama.  I’m seriously handing all plant identification over to my kids now!   This is a fairly young papaya plant which has not yet produced any fruit, so that may have been what threw me off.  This is another “tree” that isn’t really a tree, but a large herb according to our plant guide Tropical Plants of the World.
Some of its features….
It has a narrow hollow trunk covered with leaf-scars – the new growth is all along the top, so the ‘scars’ mark where old branches have fallen off as the plant grows.
The branches are hollow too, and the plant has a milky sap.  
This tree is finally producing some buds, they are growing right along the trunk at the base of each branch near the top.
The leaves are amazing.  They are huge and ornate!  Our kids like to play that they are “umbrellas” sometimes.  I’ve heard you can boil the leaves into a tea as a natural malaria preventative, although I’ve never tried it (I’ve heard it doesn’t taste all that great).
We’re also keeping an eye on our mango tree, which now has LOTS of baby mangos on it.  This gives you an idea of their size a couple of weeks ago (these blew down in a storm).   I failed to note when the mangos came ripe last year, but I’m thinking the season was in April and May.  Soon, soon!
What have you seen in your neck of the woods this month?
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