A Street Tree Makes the News

A street tree in Panama City has bloomed out of season – and it made news! In my experience, a botanical event, unless it’s a crop failure, rarely makes news. But there it was, an article in the online version of the Panamanian newspaper La Prensa.*

The tree in question here is the beautiful guayacán (Tabebuia guayacan). (Image from La Prensa*)


It normally blooms between February and May, the dry season in Panama, and here it is blooming in September, at the height of the rainy season.

The article is brief and does not appear on page 1, but comments are allowed and already some Panamanians have expressed their pride in this tree and have recommended that every street in the city be lined with them!

I’ve called the guayacán a “street tree” because it is extensively planted in Panama City and in other urban areas of Panama, but it is a native tree of Panama and the sight of them in bloom on a hillside is one of the dry season delights. It’s one of three (that I know of) “yellow-topped” trees native to Panama and all of them bloom at slightly different times during the dry season. Normally, the first to bloom is the poroporo (Cochlospermum vitifolium), then the yellow Cortez tree (Cortez amarillo), and finally the guayacán. I haven’t been out and about lately to know whether the other trees have also bloomed early this year, but I do know that a young poroporo in the pasture below our property has not yet flowered.

The article states that the only explanation scientists have been able to come up with for this strange blooming is “environmental stress.” But in a comment to the article, one reader notes that he’s seen guayacáns bloom at this time of year before. I find it interesting that this year has shown record rainfalls (at least here in western Chiriqui) for every month since June. I have also noticed that in our area certain trees, but not all, have bloomed far in advance (although not six months in advance!) of their usual blooming time. A professional botanist made this comment on the post where I discussed this phenomenon of early blooming:

Lacking other environmental cues, many tropical plants respond to rain events to coordinate their flowering. At one extreme you have the tropical wet-dry forests where everything dries out and then springs back to life when monsoon rains begin. Even in the wet tropics, many plants flower following big rains. Years ago we documented the flowering of a native nutmeg in Queensland where the trees sort of began flowering irregularly, but then after a big rain event, 100 mm or more in a week (and you’ve certainly had that by a factor of 10), and 18-21 days later all the trees reached peak flowering. Some Panamanian trees do similar things.

It’s possible that because we’ve already far exceeded our annual average rainfall, these guayacáns have had enough and decided to get on with the business of flowering.


*Footnote: I have no idea how to give you the URL to the original article and photo in La Prensa. The URL shown in the address bar is http://www.prensa.com/ but that of course pertains to the entire paper on any day of the year. Perhaps you can find it by searching for today’s date, September 29, 2010, and then going to the Panorama section of that paper, looking for the article Florecimiento a destiempo. As of today, though, the title of the article does not show up in the search function of the paper. 😦

About Mary

I spent a few years at sea, and I never came back from a cruise without having learned something new about the ocean or what lived in it. After retiring to Panama, I began to learn something new about the tropical savanna ecosystem nearly every day I stepped outside. I focused on plants, those marvelous signs of life. Now I'm in my second retirement, living in Sicily. I'm leaving my plant studies online for those who have found them useful.
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2 Responses to A Street Tree Makes the News

  1. Sea Monsters says:

    Lol trees in the news? Must of been a slow news day! 😛 but in all seriousness thanks for the read!

    • Mary says:

      Thanks, Sea Monsters. I just looked at your site – pretty neat. Many years ago I had a chance to visit Loch Ness with some marine biologists. They couldn’t help teasing me that I, as an American, would be interested in only one biological aspect of the Loch – whether or not Nessie existed. 😉

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