Day 6: The Poisonwood Tree

We spent the whole day today working on more research projects, then hiked to the bird tower for the sunset in the evening.

Morning: Assessing differences in plant diversity between hurricane disturbed and undisturbed areas using sampling along transects in disturbed and undisturbed areas. From this we could not reject a null hypothesis that the diversity was the same between disturbed and undisturbed areas (couldn’t say for sure whether there was a difference at all).

Afternoon: Assessing the toughness of young Trumpet Tree (Cecropia peltata) as a protection against herbivory before colonization by Aztec ants. To do this, we had to measure the toughness of many trees of this species with a specialized tool, including trees colonized by ants. The bite of these ants isn’t too bad—speaking from experience here—but we each exposed ourselves to them as we each tested the leaves of a one tree colonized and one uncolonized by ants. We had to bend the trees down because they are very tall—I will attach a picture here—and this would cause the ants to rain down on us. Once we finished, we also had to climb over ant covered trunks that we had felled across the trail.

It is worth noting that we did not at any point go through the rainforest felling trees on a whim. This Cecropia species is a pioneer species, meaning it grows rapidly and colonizes sunny areas, so in a way it is accustomed to recovering from destruction. Most of the ones we severed were fairly young, as well, and we avoided damaging the trees where possible.

In the evening we went to the bird tower. On the way up we finally saw a White Poisonwood tree (Sebastiana tuerckheimiana)! The tree has had a few other scientific names, but this appears to be the most accepted version. It is not a widespread species and can be confused with the other poisonwood tree in Belize, the Black Poisonwood (Metopium brownei). Poisonwood trees are felled only by brazen individuals who are accustomed to the effects of the extremely caustic sap which can be found in many parts of the tree, most notably, of course, the trunk. However, it is highly sought after by some carvers and woodworkers for the exceptionally hard and smooth wood. I was excited to finally see the infamous tree from a safe distance.

White Poisonwood tree (Sebastiana tuerckheimiana)

We also saw a Cedar (Cedrela odorata) again. This time I recognized it by its pods, which pop open, the casing forming a four-pointed star with a small nut in the middle. I then looked up and saw the tree. It seems to grow in more exposed areas, but all of the ones I have identified are quite large, so it is difficult to tell what the surrounding area might have looked like when the tree was young. I have also seen them deep in the forest, however.

We had an amazing view from the top of the bird tower, but sadly the sun was obscured by clouds. I will include a picture when I have one. Someone commented that we could see nothing from the top of the hill, especially without climbing the tower, but we saw a few animals while there as well as the view. Of course, we were still surrounded by trees! There is always something new to see here.

2 thoughts on “Day 6: The Poisonwood Tree”

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