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The Araceae Family – More popular than they know

hibiscusBy Donna Porter

If there were ever a world-wide popularity contest of families in the plant world, without a doubt, the Araceae family and its members would win – hands down.  This family’s realm of existence extends from the most frigid of northern climates to the sweltering tropical rainforest of the southern hemisphere.  Its fame is not due to characteristics such as possessing exquisitely-beautiful or scented flowers (as the orchid), or deliciously- sweet fruit (as the mango), or intricate and outrageously- colorful foliage (as the croton).  The truth is that this family’s expansive recognition is mainly due to the fact that it can tolerate low-light conditions, adapt to low-humidity environments, scoff at neglect and travel well.  And, yes, their handsomely-bold and striking foliage has also greatly helped. This renowned family of plants includes an astonishing 108 genera and nearly 3,700 species.  With the assistance of man, its celebrity members have traversed the globe from their native tropical habitats into shopping malls, offices, hotel lobbies and homes of every climate imaginable.


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Varieties – Adding Spice to our Lives

hibiscusBy Donna Porter

A tree is not just a tree, a flower is not just a flower and a fruit is just not a fruit.  To describe a plant by saying that it is a “tropical tree with green leaves and yellow flowers” is similar to describing a person by saying “it is a Latino man with black hair and dark skin”. This oversimplification of descriptions leaves one scratching one’s head in wonder and as clueless as ever.  Plants, as humans, are not all created equal. They are characterized and classified in an assortment of ways to distinguish them, or their groupings or types, and to help in their identification.  Having an identity is as important in the plant world as it is in the human world, although, plants, unlike humans, can be preserved for future usage and benefit – an even greater reason for correct identification.

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Hail to the King of Fruits

hibiscusBy Donna Porter

The delectable, juicy and unsurpassed sweetness of the Mango fruit is enjoyed by more people on a world-wide scale that any other fruit.  Mango is considered the “King of Fruits”.    They are associated with fortune, abundance and fertility and are represented in religious themes of South Asia’s Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim and Christian communities. It is said that the forbidden fruit or “apple” in the biblical story of the Garden of Eden was that of the Mango. Fossil records dating back 25 to 30 million years have revealed the Mango’s center of origin as northeast India, Myanmar/Burma and Bangladesh and their cultivation dates back more than 6,000 years.

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Fabulous Fabs Coloring Our Summer

By Donna Porter

February and March are not exactly my favorite times of the year here in Costa Rica.  Yes, these are our peak months for tourism but, as a plant person, my thinking leans more towards garden activity.  It is a time when we are not suppose to be planting, but I say, if there is a reliable water source and reliable labor available… then let the planting proceed.  This summer began with milder than usual temps and continued, cooling showers in December and on into January, but who knows what February and March will bring. With these conditions, it is has been especially difficult to halt the planting.

Summer in the tropics does have its advantages and “silver lining” in the plant world and one of those is that this is the time of the year when the flowering trees – do their thing.  With the onset of higher /dryer weather, many tree species will shed their leaves and begin their reproductive cycle of flowering and seed production.  It is almost a dormant state for many plants, where little vegetative growth is occurring compared to the rainy/”green” season.

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A Brief Introduction to Ginger’s Family

hibiscusBy Donna Porter

Ginger.  The word, in and of itself, has an essence of beauty and intrigue.  It can stir your senses with images of the exotic, or bring feelings of delight to one’s lips by its soft pronunciation of syllables or to ones taste buds by its savory, tangy flavor.   But, here in the tropics, Ginger brings pleasure to the eyes as well.  It is the name commonly bestowed upon hundreds of plants that belong to the family Zingiberaceae, which include approximately 52 genera and 1,300 species.

Zingiber officinale is the culinary and medicinal ginger whose aromatic, rhizomatous root is world renown. It has been in cultivation in India and China for millennia, and therefore its exact origins are unclear.  Unlike many of its Zingiberaceae relatives, its claim to fame is its swollen, antler-looking roots, and not a colorful, showy flower or handsome foliage.

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Renewing Respect for Red Hibiscus

hibiscusBy Donna Porter

My heart goes out to the Red Hibiscus; a plant that seems as though here in Costa Rica has lost respect  and gained un-popularity through overuse and abuse. It is machete- massacred probably worse than any other plant around, and can no longer lay claim to even its very own spot in a garden or landscape other than being shoved into an overcrowded hedge.  Sadly, it appears as though its only purpose here in Costa Rica is to provide a living screen between neighbors or other unsightly nuisances.  This world- renowned, sacred to some, plant has been belittled, de-throned and Insulted and I would like to shed some light upon the Red Hibiscus in hopes that it will spark a new found awareness and appreciation for this unsung beauty.


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The Bold, Boundless, Bizzare Bromeliads

By Donna Porter

The plethora of topical plants found within the borders of Costa Rica is truly one of the wonders that captivates its visitors and residents alike.  It is amazing to discover  the variety of places that a plant can actually situate itself and call “home”.  I am sure anyone who pays any attention to our natural landscape, has been awed by the sight of  seemingly hundreds of loosely vase-shaped plants nestled  and dangling amongst the branches of some trees.  At first observation one may think that this greenery is part of the actual tree, when in fact it is not.  These are our  native epiphytic-wonders called Bromeliads and there are an estimated 200 native species of Bromeliads alone in Costa Rica.

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In Tribute to Our Trees

By Donna Porter

In the wake of one of the fiercest storms that our little area of paradise has seen in decades is the destruction, disfigurement and removal of many of our grandest and loveliest trees.  Obviously, a large fallen tree or tree limb can cause severe damage to structures, cars and people, and I hope that none of you, Quepolandians, or visitors to our area, experienced any of these misfortunes.

Today, one week after the storm, the sounds of chainsaws and falling trees still fill the air and we continue to see dramatic changes in our local landscape and forests due to the high winds (or whatever natural phenomena occurred that night) that is heartbreaking.  We humans, instinctively, do not miss something until it is gone, and I think that will be the case with some of our lost trees.  Some folks, however, may be rejoicing having gained instant, hassle (MINAE) – free opened vistas of the ocean or mountains, increased sunlight or resulting less debris and fallen leaves to deal with around your homes or hotels due to tree losses, but I believe the loss of their benefits to our environment, landscape and other native habitat is nothing to celebrate.  Their scattered absence for their welcomed shade, their inherent protection from the winds, their veils of privacy from neighbors, and the birds that perch upon and nest within their boughs while monkeys perform their acrobatic stunts along their routes of travel will eventually be realized.
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Fascinating, Fancy, Phenomenal Foliage

By Donna Porter

While the flower has typically been the part of the plant that receives the most recognition, admiration and glory, I would like to take this opportunity to sing praise and pay homage to the precious and incredible… leaf.  Yes, those little products of nature that block gutters, disrupt pool pumps and cause unsightly messes around your homes.  Superficially, they appear to be such an oh-so-simple creation of nature, but, in reality, they perform highly complex chemical processes that serve a multitude of important and amazing functions.  A plant’s foliage conducts a variety of feats while coloring and cloaking a good percentage of our world a beautiful green, and to understand it, or to at least be aware of its complexities, is to truly appreciate it.  It may play second fiddle to the flower, but its significance to life on earth, alone, elevates it high above. Between its epidermal layers, intricate and essential processes occur.  Processes such as photosynthesis – a  natural phenomena that could be defined as something nearing… miraculous.

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Your Fruits and Veggies

By Donna Porter

We would all like to think that because we live in this warm tropical paradise, where plant life exudes from even the tiniest crack or crevice, that it is “a piece of cake” to grow beautiful, healthy plants. In some respects that is absolutely correct; plants do grow rapidly and sometimes, it seems, with the greatest of ease. Just cut a limb from a tree or shrub and stick it in the ground (in the rainy season of course) and in weeks it will start to leaf out and grow. But, our tropical paradise is no exception when it comes to the manner at which unblemished fruits and vegetables are produced.

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Watering

By Donna Porter

Summertime is upon us in the tropics and that means hotter temperatures and weeks and/or months void of the cooling, refreshing, life-giving rains.  To any gardener, be they home-gardener or professional, this can only mean one thing – water, water, water. Visitors who have spent time in Costa Rica in our rainy season, may find it hard to believe that watering is a necessity here, but the natural cycle of the rainforest does include a dry period for flower and seed formation of the natural vegetation. This is why the native vegetation/indigenous plants can withstand these dry times, moreso, than the imported, exotic species.

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The Art and Science of Pruning

by Donna Porter

donna_porter_colourPruning a plant has been defined as a cross between an art and a science. Understanding the physiological aspects of the plant makes it the science while having an eye for balance and a sense of design and beauty makes it the art.

Ok, so I can already hear you locals laughing at this. Pruning here is simply a cross between the machete or chainsaw and the plant. Both shrubs and trees benefit greatly from pruning – proper pruning that is – but for ease of explanation this article will focus on trees. If you have a tree(s) that you desire to keep in your landscape then some basic knowledge on this subject may be helpful to you. If possible, conveying this knowledge to your gardener would be the most advantageous, since they are in charge of the machete. Knowing a few simple facts, and applying them, will result in healthier, longer lasting trees in your landscape or garden and less damage to your property by falling tree limbs.
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