Thursday, June 11, 2015

Panamá Part 9: The Gamboa Rainforest Resort and its Orchid Nursery and Butterfly Sanctuary

Orchids at the Gamboa Rainforest Resort Orchid Nursery. The flower above is called Ascocenda Brighton Fuchsia. It likes warm climates and blooms in summer and fall. Gamboa Rainforest resort was one of the high points during our trip to Panamá. While there we stayed at a luxury hotel situated in central Panama's Gamboa rainforest. In this, the last of my Panamá series, we'll take a look at the 5-star hotel, the surrounding rainforest, and the resort's Orchid Nursery and Butterfly Sanctuary. For a Google map of this area, click here.

The Gamboa Rainforest Resort Hotel

The hotel sits on a hillside above the Rio Chagres near its confluence with the Panamá Canal. The 164 rooms have balconies to provide a panoramic view of the rainforest and the river flowing through it. We stayed in one of the upper rooms seen on the right side of the photo. The rainforest is part of the Soberania Nation Forest and the resort is the only one of its kind in the area.

Our balcony was equipped with a comfy hammock to help enjoy the serenity of the scene. Through the trees, you can glimpse the Rio Chagres. The Chagres, although short, is one of the most important rivers in the world because of its essential relationship to the Panamá Canal. It is also the only river in the world that empties into two oceans. The hotel grounds include 340 lush acres of lawns, pastures, and forest. The Rainforest Resort is located almost exactly in the middle of the narrowest section of the Panamanian isthmus. From here you are less than an hour's drive from either Panamá City on the Pacific or Colón on the Caribbean. The roads are excellent, so this would be an ideal base for exploring the country.

A terrace containing a swimming pool, jacuzzi, and massage tables lies below the hotel. In addition to the many tours available, one can just hang out here and enjoy the amenities of the hotel itself. If I were to return to Panamá, I would seriously consider staying here for the full visit. This place is truly a paradise.

Rental canoes are available at a dock on the river. The thick jungle grows right down to the banks of the river. The rainforest canopy is filled with birds, monkeys, and other wildlife. Among the other creatures inhabiting the river are large crocodiles. It is always good to remember that you are a visitor in a true wilderness. You don't want to become someone else's lunch. Even paradise has its dangers.

Much of the jungle is almost impenetrable. In the early 16th Century, Vasco Nuñez de Balboa struggled through jungle just like this on his way to "discover" the Pacific Ocean. Aside from crocodiles and deadly snakes, Europeans (and later American '49ers) encountered ferocious insects and deadly diseases like Chagres fever, yellow fever, and malaria. Thousands who attempted the crossing died in the effort. Many thousands more perished while building the cross-isthmus railroad in the 1850's and working on the abortive French canal project and the successful American one.

An agouti explores the hotel lawns in search of edible seeds. The agouti is a rodent about the size of a large house cat or a small dog. There were several that roamed the grounds and they seemed unfazed by hotel guests taking their photos.

The Orchid Nursery

Schombergkia lueddemannii is a rather startling member of the orchid family. It grows in tropical forests located from sea level to about 600 m (1,960 ft). It is named after a 19th Century German botanist who explored British Guiana. I don't recall seeing anyone at my high school prom wearing one of these. The Schombergkia was the only orchid I photographed with an identifying sign. I have tried to be as accurate as possible in naming the plants shown below, but I am sure to have mistaken some. If you are an authority on orchids, please feel free to correct any errors.

Phalaenopsis. This is also called Golden Leopard Orchid. Orchids are one of the two largest families of flowering plants. There are between 21,950 and 26,049 accepted species in the orchid family found within 880 genera. The number of orchid species nearly equals that of bony fishes, is double that of birds, and four times that of mammals. Between 6-11% of all seeding plants are orchids.

In the 19th Century, horticulturist began to cultivate wild orchid species. Since then more than 100,000 hybrids and cultivars have been created. Orchis is the genus and the name comes from the ancient Greek word for testicle. It refers to the shape of some orchid tubers. As to the orchid shown above, I have been unable to identify it. If anyone can supply the name, I would appreciate it.

White Dendrobium. Orchids have often been associated with virility. The Aztecs drank a mixture of vanilla orchids and chocolate to give them strength. On the other hand, the Chinese used orchids to cure coughs and lung problems.

Cosmos sulphureus, also known as the Sulpher Cosmos. In addition to orchids, the nursery contains a number of other flowers, such as this Cosmos. The Sulpher Cosmos is native to Mexico, Central America, and northern South America. The plant can grow as tall as 2.13 m (7 ft) and is considered an invasive exotic pest in the Southeastern US.

Some Bromeliads are epiphytes. This means that although they may grow on other plants, or on the trunks or branches of trees, but they are not parasitic. The roots serve only to anchor them to their host. They gather food and moisture from rain and mist. Epiphytic bromeliads are very common in tropical forests.

Epidendrum nocturnum are autogamous, or self-pollinating. Nocturnal Epidendrums are members of the Orchid Family range from Florida in the US to the Bahamas, West Indies, and northern Brazil and the Guianas.

Purple Dendrobium. Purple orchids, because of their royal color, are often called the "true queen of the flower kingdom." The Chinese consider orchids to be a symbol of refinement and childlike innocence.

The Butterfly Sanctuary

The Rainforest Resort employs nature guides like the young woman above. Our guide, whose name is Marta, gently grasped a Giant Owl Butterfly (Caligo eurilochus) to display its remarkable wing features. She was very knowledgable and seemed to enjoy showing us around. There are a very large number of butterflies in the sanctuary, many of which I couldn't photograph because of technical difficulties. Of the ones I did shoot, I could include only a small number here.

Larva of the Giant Owl Butterfly. This guy is about 7.6 cm (3 in) long and has spines sticking out of his back. The face is striped vertically and has a fringe on either side. Because he appears to have feelers on either end, at first I couldn't tell the tail from the head.

The Giant Owl Butterfly gets its name from the large "eyes" on the lower part of each wing. When the wings are opened, they bear a striking resemblance to the face of an owl, hence the name. The eye spots may be a defense mechanism to fool predators into thinking the butterfly is another predator. The creatures can grow as large as 20 cm (7.9 in).

Marta also showed us a Morpho helenor achilleana with brilliant blue wings. This one appears to have gotten chomped once or twice on the lower part of its wings. This species has a very wide range in the tropical areas of Central and South America.

Cypriote stelenese biplagiata, with its wings fully spread. This is also known as the Malachite Butterfly because of its coloring. It is the most common butterfly species in Central and Southern America.

Morpho helenor helenor is related to the Morpho helenor achilliana. There is some disagreement among butterfly specialists about Morpho helenor. Currently these butterflies are classified into a number of subspecies, but some of these may be entirely separate species. Certainly this one and the one with the beautiful blue wings seem very different. The Butterfly Sanctuary is a part of the Rainforest Resort that is definitely worth a visit.

This concludes Part 9 of my Panamá series, and also concludes the series itself. Panamá is wonderful and we encourage anyone interested to visit if you can. I hope you enjoyed this posting. If you did, I encourage you to put any thoughts in the Comments section below, or email me directly. If you leave a question in the Comments section, PLEASE leave your email address so I can respond.

Hasta luego, Jim

1 comment:

  1. Hi Jim, i've loved having a look at your blog, what an adventure! I wondered if i might pick your brain about a trip we have coming up in Feb 2016? my email is Cheers!


If your comment involves a question, please leave your email address so I can answer you. Thanks, Jim