As mentioned before, the big trip to Nicaragua at the end of May/beginning of June was work-related, which puts certain restrictions on botanical sightseeing. It’s bad enough being the only person in the general party actually thrilled to see my old friend Hylocereus costaricensis, the dragonfruit cactus, in the wild (or possibly its cousin H. undatus), and confirming that they grow best in medium to heavy shade during the hottest parts of the year. It should be understandable that my cohorts weren’t going to stop the bus every time I saw something vaguely interesting along the side of the road, and much of the area around Grenada had very handy cliffs and even a few volcano calderas to throw me into if I didn’t stop whining. Because this was business, I settled for biting my tongue, grumbling slightly, and trying my best to get decent photographs before the drivers had us on the other side of the galaxy.
(Incidentally, I learned something very handy and very thoughtful that hadn’t come up in years of bicycling in the States. For many reasons, Nicaragua is absolutely loaded with bicycles, and I watched fathers with two kids on the top bar cruise through traffic with grace and elan. Only recently have motorists in the States, particularly in Texas, accepted the increasing number of bikes on the road, so I still deal with the occasional jerk who thinks it’s still 1983 and that there’s something fundamentally wrong with someone over the age of 14 on a bike, under any conditions. Because of that, I was still rather defensive of anybody honking behind me, as that usually meant an idiot who expected the bikes to get off the road just for them, even if they were the only other person on the road. I’m serious: I had one bozo blast her horn from her SUV for a good half-mile, tailgating me the whole way, and then finally pull around just in time for us both to look at each other at the stoplight. Well, I looked at her: she stared straight ahead and did her best to avoid eye contact while her kids stared. I just told them “You’re all right, but your mom really needs to up her medication” before pedaling off.
(Anyway, it took a trip of this sort for me to make sense of a horn habit that hadn’t made sense before. As mentioned, I used to get defensive about people honking at me, and would get angry when a motorist would pass with a quick double-tap on the horn. “Yeah, I know, I’m in your way. I’m trying to get out of it.” What I discovered was that for Central America at least, this is a sign of respect: the double-tap is to inform the cyclist that a car or truck is coming up behind, and that the driver saw and acknowledged the cyclist’s presence. Now, when I get this at home, I don’t get surly. Instead, I wave and thank them, and the drivers are always surprised that the crazy white guy on the bike actually gets it.)
One of those minor grumbles came up over and over with a particularly beautiful tree that was so brilliantly orange that it was visible from the air well over the Managua airport. Everywhere we went, these trees followed, so orange that I thought the foliage was orange. Upon closer inspection, the coloration was from the blooms, but what blooms! I thought our native crepe myrtles did a great job of hiding their foliage among brilliant cascades of flowers, but this one could have taught the crepe myrtles about eight or nine lessons. My problem was being given a chance to focus in on an impressive canopy of them while moving at speeds that threatened to blue-shift the pigments.
Finally, I managed to get close to a small specimen, and just stood and stared at the blooms. Each was easily the size of my hand, looking more like something manufactured from steel or bronze than anything botanical. For the rest of the trip, I’d gaze contentedly at those trees as they passed by on the highway back to the airport, telling myself that one day, I’d come back and give them much more time and attention.
The real surprise on this is that while I and everyone else in the group thought these were indigenous trees, our not having seen them before was only because we lived far too north. We’d encountered Delonix regia, commonly and appropriately named “flamboyant”. Originally from Madagascar, the flamboyant tree grew enthusiastically and vigorously any place where the conditions were right, and went feral over most of the Earth’s tropics. In the US, they’re apparently only found in the Rio Grande Valley in far southern Texas and in southern Florida, but they’re as cosmopolitan a tropical tree as can be managed.
That was another big surprise: while the northern half of Nicaragua may be jungle, the area around Grenada was much drier and scrubbier, and I saw a lot of analogues to plants I would have seen in North Texas that were thriving under many of the same conditions. The surprise was seeing so many plants, particularly cacti, that I recognized from just about any garden center or commercial nursery back home. At first, I thought that these may have originated in Central America and gained their current popularity due to imports to America and Europe, but D. regia‘s range makes me wonder about that. Time for more research, and the hope that I might live long enough to finish it.