JIM CONRAD'S
NATURALIST NEWSLETTER
Issued in Río Lagartos, on the northern coast of
Yucatán, MÉXICO
in Ría Lagartos Biosphere Reserve

January 25, 2015

RED GROUPER
On flamingo-viewing boat rides the guides sometimes bring along dead fish to toss into the water to attract crocodiles and/or fish-eating raptors to within tourist picture-taking range. One such fish was the eight-inch one (20cm) shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/15/150125gr.jpg.

It's worth paying special attention to this fish's long, topmost fin. Atop most fish bodies there's a "spiny dorsal fin" up front and a "soft dorsal fin" farther back. These dorsal fins may be slightly connected, completely separated, or, as in our fish's case, grown together, forming a continuous fin from front to back. On our fish's continuous dorsal fin you can see that the front part, representing the spiny dorsal fin, has thicker, longer spines than the back part, where the soft dorsal fin is held up by soft "rays," not spines. When identifying fish, often it's true that color and markings vary greatly among individual fish within a species, but the general configuration of the fins, and the fins' number of spines and rays are constant within the species, and therefore are very important identification features.

However, this fish with its slightly unusual continuous dorsal fine, pinkish side fins (pectoral fins), general shape, and the fact that it's a commonly caught and well known species, was easy for volunteer Identifier Bea in Canada to identify even without counting spines and rays. It's the Red Grouper, EPINEPHELUS MORIO, distributed in the Western Atlantic from North Carolina in the US (straying north to Massachusetts) to southern Brazil, including the Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean, and Bermuda. It's a member of the Sea Bass Family the Serranidae. In Spanish Red Groupers are called Meros.

And the Red Grouper's spine count is: dorsal spines 11; dorsal soft rays: 16-17; spines of anal fin: 3; anal fin soft rays: 8 - 10.

A 2001 study by Enrique Giménez and others found that in the body of shallow water immediately north and west of the Yucatan Peninsula known as the Campeche Bank, the Red Grouper's food consisted of fish (28%), crabs (43%), and shrimps (18%).

The Red Grouper is a much-fished species that can grow a lot larger than our eight-inch one -- up to four feet (125cm), with a maximum published weight of 51 pounds (23kg). Being such an important food fish, why had ours been "thrown away" to now serve as crocodile bait? I'm guessing that it was caught by net and was too small for the local fishing cooperative to accept, because of regulations dealing with minimum sizes. Lots of such unwanted fish die when they are discarded after being caught in nets.

In the US, this year the fishing season for Red Grouper is closed from January 1 through April 30, and the length limit is 20 inches, twice the size of ours. Mexico's SAGARPA recognizes that Red Groupers are being overfished. A Mexican government website states that between 2003 and 2006 the Red Grouper catch in the Bay of Campeche dropped 70% from levels registered in 1972. The official document in Spanish describing the situation is available online here

Ecologically, Red Groupers are important not only because as predators they keep other fish populations in balance and cull out the slow and sick but also because they excavate pits on the seafloor, which attract other species, increasing ecosystem diversity, thus strengthening it. In many areas the invasive Lionfish is invading Red Grouper habitat and scientists are anxious to see how this disturbance affects the whole marine ecosystem.

A curiosity about the Red Grouper's life cycle is that the fish begin their lives as females, but then most of them transform to males between the ages and seven and fourteen. When animals are born as females but later change to being male, they are said to be "protogynous hermaphrodites."

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BLACK HAWK SNATCHES A FISH
When flamingo-tour guides use dead fish to entice wildlife into picture-taking range, the main customer is the Common Black Hawk. Many times I've tried to capture that precise moment when the hawk snatches the fish from the water but always I've snapped the picture a little too early or too late. This week I almost got it right, just a fraction of a second before the hawk got his fish. You can see the moment, with the victim fish a silvery blur at the picture's lower right, at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/15/150125bh.jpg.

Distribution maps show Common Black Hawks as occurring all along the Yucatan's coasts, but absent from the interior, though the larger and rarer Great Back Hawk does occur there. I read that our Common Blacks run after crabs on beaches, though I've not seen that behavior. On a typical boat ride up the estuary you might see five to ten Common Blacks conspicuously perching atop Red Mangrove trees right at the water's edge.

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GREEN HERON LOAFING
On our flamingo-viewing boat trips up the estuary we see lot of herons and egrets. The smallest species of that group, and the one with the shortest, thickest neck, is the one shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/15/150125gh.jpg.

That's the Green Heron, BUTORIDES VIRESCENS, found throughout the US and contiguous Canada, except in the inland western part, and south through all of Mexico to northern South America.

As a kid roaming Kentucky's woodland creeks and swamps, this was the most commonly encountered wading bird. At first I just thought of the Green Heron as a dark, stocky bird who hunches on yellow legs at the water’s edge. However, when I finally got a close view in good light I was struck by the velvet-green sheen that can show on its back, the vivid yellow eye, the rich chestnut chest, and the dark cap that in a flash could be raised into a spiky crest. I've spent hours watching Green Herons crouch like statues, waiting to stab into the water for a fish. I read that sometimes they lure fish using small items such as twigs or insects as bait, but I never saw that.

Except in Florida and the southwestern border, in North America Green Herons are just summer birds, but here in the Yucatan we have them year round.

Other herons and egrets wade in shallow water when they're feeding, but Green Herons typically stand on vegetation or solid ground. Their favorite spots here along the estuary are on snags emerging from the water.

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A CONTENTED-LOOKING BABY CROCODILE
The other day on a Red Mangrove snag issuing from the estuary's water a young crocodile only about ten inches long basked in late afternoon sunlight looking so comfortable and contented that I had to take a picture, which is shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/15/150125cr.jpg.

Judging from the very regular pattern of scaling on the critter's bottom, I'd say that this is an American Crocodile. On our other species, the Morelet's, the pattern is disrupted by scales appearing between otherwise straight ranks and files of belly scales.

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HIEROGLYPHIC MOTH CATERPILLARS
Last Sunday morning I set off bicycling to Playa Cancuncita to photograph seaside vegetation but about eight kilometers out of town I got a flat. Walking back to town I got to review the current state of our roadside weeds. Something to say about them is that maybe the most conspicuous weed right now is the yellow flowering Waltheria, which we've reviewed at http://www.backyardnature.net/yucatan/waltheri.htm.

Hundreds of thousands of Waltherias were passed by but I saw only one plant hosting a certain kind of caterpillar, about a dozen of them all of the same species but at various stages of development. You can see the largest caterpillar at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/15/150125cp.jpg.

Volunteer identifier in frigid Ontario was happy to have a caterpillar to work with, and soon she'd figured out that this was the larva of the Hieroglyphic Moth, DIPHTHERA FESTIVA Hieroglyphic Moths are a tropical and subtropical species found from the South Carolina across the US to southernmost California south throughout Mexico to Bolivia and Brazil.

Walking along the road I had plenty of time to wonder about these caterpillars. Usually when such caterpillars are so boldly patterned it's a warning to predators that they taste bad, or else the caterpillars are mimicking other caterpillar species who taste bad. What's the case here? And why were all the caterpillars on just one Waltheria plant among hundreds of thousands, and how come they were of different sizes?

Having Bea's name, it was easy to look for answers on the Internet. Yes, probably the caterpillars do taste bad. There's at least one report of the moth being spit out by a kingbird after trying to swallow it. Studies show that Waltheria leaf extract not only may be "hepatotoxic," or toxic to the liver at high doses, but also it's used by the pharmaceutical industry as an "exfoliator" to lighten skin pigmentation. A caterpillar full of Waltheria's potent juice well might taste bad.

So, our caterpillar's bold patterning well may be a warning signal to predators to stay away, and because a reckless bird might kill a caterpillar before learning that it tastes bad, it makes sense for bad tasting caterpillars to hang together -- one sacrificed individual suggesting to the predator that all the others probably taste bad, too. How and why the caterpillars on this one plant could be of different sizes I'm still unclear about.

Though Hieroglyphic Moth caterpillars feed on many species other than Waltheria, Waltheria seems to be its favorite. In Florida, crop damage attributed to Hieroglyphic Moth caterpillars has occurred in pecan orchards and soybean, and sweet potato fields.

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CROSS-BARRED VENUS CLAM SHELL
In the vast mud flats beside the salt-evaporation ponds of Las Coloradas, where the water is about ankle deep and much saltier than seawater, one of the common seashells turning up in the sand on the shore's edge is the one shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/15/150125vs.jpg.

Each of these shells constitutes just half of the armor of the original clam-like individual. The organism died, the tissue holding the two similarly shaped shells decayed, and now we have loose shells.

In the mud flat environment around Las Coloradas, untold numbers of white, similar-sized and similar-shaped shells litter the sand. At first they all look the same, but if you look closely you see that several species are represented. If you want to speak in general terms and aren't worried about an expert correcting you, with a sweep of the hand toward acres of exposed sand and shallow water you can refer generally to the collection of such white, clam-like shells as cockle shells. However, that term isn't technically acceptable for the shells in our picture.

For, in a narrow, technical sense, a cockle is a small, edible, saltwater clam in the mollusk family Cardiidae. The shells in our picture, however, were produced by a small, edible, saltwater clam in the mollusk family Veneridae, the Venus Clam Family. They're the Cross-barred Venus, CHIONE ELEVATA. Many of the most important edible species commonly known in the US as "clams" are members of this family.

Chione elevata is distributed from coastal North Carolina south to the Yucatan and Belize, and east to the Bahamas and Cuba. Only in the year 2000 was this species recognized as distinct from what is now regarded as a strictly Caribbean species, Chione cancellata, which also is known as the Cross-barred Venus. Though the evidence that two species are involved is pretty convincing, often Cross-barred Venus shells from our area are still labeled as Chione cancellata.

The reason I'm profiling this species instead of any other of the numerous, similar-looking species littering the salt flats of Las Coloradas is that this species is so distinctive that it's easy to identify. What's distinctive is the pattern of concentric, horizontal-running rings crossing the shell's vertical ribs, forming a crisscross pattern. Most Chione elevata shells are a little purplish inside, too.

Sometimes Cross-barred Venuses are present in abundance. A study in North Carolina found over ten individuals in each square meter of Shoal Grass. The species prefers shallow water in which seagrass grows, but it can survive in unvegetated areas, as at Las Coloradas.

Though Cross-barred Venuses are edible they're so small -- seldom exceeding 3cm (1-1/8in) -- that humans seldom bother with them. However, several kinds of mollusk, crab and fish feed on them, the clam's vulnerability to predation being aggravated by its tendency to be a shallow burrower in the mud.

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AN ACACIA IN FULL BLOOM
This week along the road leading into Río Lagartos a broadly spreading tree was prettily abloom with snowy-white flowers, as seen at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/15/150125ac.jpg.

The flowers were tiny ones densely packed in fuzzy spikes such as those shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/15/150125ad.jpg.

You can see how the individual flowers were arranged in whorls along each spike's rachis at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/15/150125ae.jpg.

That picture also shows that from each flower arise many stamens -- more than ten -- and they're not united at their bases. When a flower exhibits these features, automatically the big genus Acacia comes to mind, and these are classic acacia flowers. However, it's a little unusual for acacia flowers to be arranged in spikes instead of spherical heads Also, the tree's leaves aren't at all typical of most acacias. Normally acacia leaves are twice-pinnately compound, composed of so many small leaflets that the whole leaf gives a diffuse, feathery impression. This tree's leaves were twice-pinnately compound, but the leaflets were few in number and of a fair size , as you can see at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/15/150125ab.jpg.

However, when identifying plants, details of flower structure normally figure more importantly than vegetative features, so to begin the identification process with this species first I checked to see if an acacia with flowers in spikes and bearing such curious leaves was listed for the Yucatan. And one was: ACACIA CALIFORNICA ssp. PRINGLEI.

At least, that's the name used by CICY, the Centro de Investigación Científica de Yucatán, and usually they're up to date with their taxonomy. However, most authors seem to call it Acacia pringlei, Vachellia pringlei, or Vachellia californica ssp pringlei, so the scientific community is unsettled as to the name. And nobody offers a decent English name, probably because the tree occurs only in Mexico's arid lands, from northern Mexico to here. The Maya call it Ts'iul che'. Since this species is not well represented on the Internet, here I provide more details.

First, its leaflets are shiny and hairless below, and notched at their tips with tiny "mucros" occupying the notch center, as shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/15/150125aa.jpg.

The leaf's petiole is curiously channeled and segmented, with a conspicuous gland near the base, as shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/15/150125a9.jpg.

Short, sharp, woody "stipular spines" arise next to some buds, as shown in a picture also giving another view of the gland on the petiole at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/15/150125a8.jpg.

The tree is formed of several blotchy, whitish stems, as shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/15/150125a0.jpg.

Acacia californica ssp. pringlei is uncommon here, though other individuals have been seen, which were smaller and less spectacularly flowering than this one. What a bonanza this blossoming must be for pollinators beginning to feel the dry season's pinch as nowadays many flowering plants just dry up.

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SNAKEWOOD
Sometimes the most interesting stories are those told by nondescript individuals usually overlooked in the tangle of things. That's how it was was a certain head-tall bush or small tree found the other day so intricately enmeshed in a thicket of other small trees and bushes that taking a picture of it would have shown nothing but a hodgepodge of stems. However, the plain-looking little thing was fruiting and I figured I ought to look. The mosquitoes where horrific so for such a plain-Jane tree, even if it was fruiting, I didn't try too hard to get good pictures. Just snap a couple of shots while swatting at mosquitoes and get out of there. You can see a stiff, slender twig bearing ordinary, bug-eaten leaves and those fruits at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/15/150125sw.jpg.

A twig with a mature fruit and a flower a little past it prime, with the petals fallen off and the ovary beginning to swell, both arising from a gray, hairless stem warty with tiny lenticels is shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/15/150125sx.jpg.

Even through the mosquitoes I could see that the pea-sized fruits were unusual in that their bases appeared to be cupped with the remains of the former flower's calyx. They looked like fruits we've looked at before, on a small tree called Snakebark, Colubrina arborescens, seen down at Chichén Itzá in the central Yucatan. You can compare Snakebark's fruits with those on our mosquito tree at http://www.backyardnature.net/yucatan/colubrina.htm.

The similarities are so striking that our mosquito tree has to be another Colubrina species. Three Colubrina species are listed for the Ría Lagartos Biosphere Reserve, so is our modest little tangle tree one of those? Doing image searches on the Internet for each species, it was easy to determine that our modest bush is COLUBRINA ELLIPTICA, known by a host of English names, including Snakewood, Soldierwood, Nakedwood, Greenheart, Hogplum and Mauby. Snakewood is a member of the Buckthorn Family, the Rhamnaceae, and is distributed from the Florida keys throughout the Caribbean, Mexico and Central America, south to northern South America. Colubrina elliptica can be distinguished from the Yucatan's other two Colubrina species by its hairless leaves and stems.

One thing making Snakewood interesting is that in the Caribbean a fermented drink with a taste like root beer with herbal bitters added is made from its bark. The drink is called Mauby and normally it's brewed from Snakewood bark, spices and brown sugar. After a froth forms and is skimmed off, yeast from a previous batch is added, and this is allowed to ferment a day or two. Wikipedia's Mauby Page is at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mauby.

Medicinally the drink is regarded as a tonic and sometimes is used against diarrhea, dysentery and hypertension. A 2005 study by Marroquín-Segura and others found that a Snakewood extract significantly reduced blood glucose levels in rats, so maybe there's something to its fame as a medicinal drink.

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MADRE DE CACAO BUSHES
In one of those occasionally flooded areas near the mangroves with very thin to nonexistent soil atop limestone rock where regular trees give way to cacti, agaves and scrub usually less than head high, this week a dry-season-leafless, woody bush has been prolifically producing clusters of white flowers. The flowers give a springy look to the hot, mosquitoey landscape, as shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/15/150125ps.jpg.

Up close, the blossoms show themselves to be of the typical Bean Family "papilionaceous" type, meaning that they have a large top petal, two separate side petals, and two bottom petals fused along their common side to form a scoop-like structure called a keel, as seen at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/15/150125pt.jpg.

Closer still, the flowers show their top petal to be graced with a greenish-yellow blotch, with pink tips of the scoop-like keel peeping from between the two white side petals, or "wings," as seen at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/15/150125pu.jpg.

Thing is, we've seen these exact flowers below, but not on low, scrubby plants. Rather, they were on some small trees down at Pisté near Chichén Itzá where there's more rainfall and the forest is higher. These are flowers of a common and much used tree bearing many names in both English and Spanish, among the most commonly encountered being Gliricidia, Quickstick, Mata Ratón and Madre de Cacao. It's GLIRICIDIA SEPIUM and our page for it profiling a larger tree is at http://www.backyardnature.net/yucatan/gliricid.htm

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GAUMER'S AGERATUM
Probably because last week we received a good rain, several plants are blossoming here in the dry season when I wouldn't expect them to. Where very thin soil spottily gathers atop limestone, this week a wildflower has been prettily and prolifically issuing sprays of small, pale bluish flowering heads, as you can see in its typical thin-soiled habitat at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/15/150125af.jpg.

A shot showing how small the flowering heads are compared to my hand is shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/15/150125ag.jpg.

Even at that distance it's easy to see that this pant is a member of the Composite or Daisy Family, the Asteraceae. Moreover, with its flowers' color and the plant's general form, it looks a bit like the gardener's ageratum of that family. Closer up still, you can see how each head consists of many cylindrical, closely packed, bluish disk flowers crammed together inside a green, bowl-like "involucre," at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/15/150125ah.jpg.

The green involucre consists of a distinctive collection of slender, sharp-pointed bracts that are of similar size and arranged in just one overlapping series. Breaking open a flowering head, you can see the blackish, future achene-type fruits at the bottoms of the disk flowers, as shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/15/150125ai.jpg.

All these details continue to remind us of garden ageratums, except that the garden plants are larger, with more conspicuous flowers. Even the leaves are ageratum-like, as shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/15/150125aj.jpg.

In fact this is indeed an ageratum. In fact, the genus Ageratum consists of 40 to 60 species, most of which are tropical and semitropical plants native to Central America and Mexico, with six species listed for the Yucatan Peninsula.

Our little wildflower specializing in thin soil atop limestone is AGERATUM GAUMERI, occurring from the Yucatan Peninsula south to Nicaragua. The main field mark separating it from other Ageratum species is its smallness. In 2011 we looked at Ageratum maritimum on Mexico's Caribbean coast. That species was not only larger but had semi-succulent leaves. You might enjoy comparing our present Ageratum gaumeri   with that one, enjoying "variations on the Ageratum theme," at http://www.backyardnature.net/yucatan/ageratum.htm.

Traditionally the Maya have used Gaumer's Ageratum, which they call Xta' uulmi, to relieve "rheumatism," and "prickly heat" they believe to result from walking along the trail overhung with dew-wet weeds.

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SALTWEED
You can see the weedy banks of the man-made canal cutting through the thin finger of land separating the estuary from the Gulf of Mexico right across the water from Río Lagartos at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/15/150125bl.jpg.

That scruffy-looking vegetation is dominated by a leggy, sprawling, much branching herb with stems currently tipped with small, silvery, egg-shaped flowering heads, as shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/15/150125bm.jpg.

The egg-shaped, silvery flowering heads immediately put us in mind of certain genera of the Amaranth Family, especially the genus Alternanthera. For example, you might remember the Yellow Joyweed growing on the back of the church at Hacienda Chichen, shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/yucatan/joyweed.htm.

In fact, I was pretty sure that our canal weed was another Alternanthera species until I "did the botany." It turns out that taxonomists won't permit our sprawling herb entry into that large and well known genus because its flowering heads are subtended by two fleshy leaves, as shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/15/150125bn.jpg.

Alternanthera flowering heads are on long, leafless stems, or peduncles, as you can confirm in our Yellow Joyweed pictures.

Our plant belongs to a genus I'd never heard of, Blutaparon, a small genus of only four species, all the species found only in the tropical and subtropical Americas, and all inhabiting the littoral zone. The littoral zone is basically the area between low and high tide, though other definitions take it a little farther inland.

Our rangy-looking plant is BLUTAPARON VERMICULARE, variously known as Saltweed, Silverweed, Silverhead, Samphire, and other such names. It occurs on saline soils, sands of beaches, dunes and sand bars from southern Florida, southern Louisiana and Texas south to Brazil, plus the Caribbean area, and here and there elsewhere, such as Hawaii and Africa, where it shows up unexpectedly.

Happily, Saltweed doesn't need to appeal to human aesthetics in order to protect the shoreline from erosion, something that helps not only the mangrove ecosystem to stay intact, but also helps keep the estuary from filling with silt.

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BROWN ALGA LIKE LINGUINE-PASTA
While identifying a fish I stumbled upon a web page on which not only the fish was identified but also the clump of alga the fish was hiding in. I'd seen that alga before, and pictures of it were somewhere in my heap of unidentified organisms found washed up onto various beaches. You can see what this alga looked like after washing onto the Gulf of Mexico beach across the estuary from Río Lagartos at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/15/150125ce.jpg.

With its golden color and thin, ribbon-like, semi-translucent leaves, or thalli, this is a distinctive alga. A closer look at its special system of thallus branching is provided at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/15/150125cf.jpg.

What's special about the branching is that as the thalli grow longer they systematically branch into more or less same-sized branches. Such branching of anything is said to be "dichotomous." A close-up showing how thin and semi-transparent the thalli are, with tiny speckles appearing throughout, is shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/15/150125cg.jpg.

Several alga species are similar to this but our pictures best match a species known to commonly occur in the Gulf of Mexico, CANISTROCARPUS CERVICORNIS, which has no good English name. It's a brown alga of the class Phaeophyceae, and the family Dictyotaceae, which is a large family whose members in general occur in water that's warmer than most other brown algae.

Canistrocarpus cervicornis vaguely looks like linguine pasta, so it's natural to wonder how it survives in waters teeming with fish, sea turtles, sea urchins, crabs and gastropods that eat such algae. Studies suggest that many algae might be waging chemical warfare against aquatic herbivores. A 2010 paper by Éverson Bianco and others in Brazil reports on chemicals in our alga that drastically inhibit the feeding of a species of sea urchin. Other studies find that Canistrocarpus cervicornis contains polysaccharides that are anticoagulant and antioxidant.

It's clear that brown algae are slopping over with interesting chemicals, and currently laboratories all over the world are figuring out what the chemicals might be doing, and how they might be of service to humans.

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A SLUMMING BRAZILIAN RED-CLOAK
Everyone knows that ornamental plants often shrivel and die no matter how tenderly you nurse them. It's also true that sometimes plants that have been rooted in places that seem completely inappropriate for them thrive and turn out beautifully. That was the case this week with a gorgeous individual planted too close to a wall and below an overhang in a shadowy, mostly paved, junky courtyard behind a restaurant where hardly anyone every sees it. About eight feet tall (2.5m) and looking more robust and healthy than any plant of its kind found on the Internet, you can see it competing with weeds in its tiny plot of gravelly soil at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/15/150125mg.jpg.

A close-up of its white-lipped flowers emerging from among a flame-like cluster of pinkish bracts, or modified leaves, is at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/15/150125mh.jpg.

Here are the field mark making it easy to figure out which plant family we have here:

These field marks guide us to the big, mostly tropical Acanthus Family, the Acanthaceae. Once we know the family, an image-search can be done on the Internet using such keywords as "Acanthaceae pink bracts." When I did that, the first two thumbnails showed images of our plant.

And those plants were identified as the Brazilian Red-cloak, MEGASKEPASMA ERYTHROCHLAMYS, a shrub that despite the Brazil in its name is native to rainforests of Venezuela, Costa Rica, Nicaragua and El Salvador. How a rainforest plant can look so healthy in such an environment as this one's is a mystery to me.

Megaskepasma is a genus I'd never heard of. One reason for that is that it embraces only this single species. Earlier our plant was considered a member of the big ,easy-to-remember and well known genus Justicia, but splitters banished it from there largely because our plant lacks "cystoliths," which are tiny, rock-like grains embedded in the plant's tissue, maybe to dissuade animals from eating them, and which are typical of plants in the Acanthus Family.

Whatever the taxonomic situation, it was a pleasure meeting this exotic plant singing its pretty song in such a hidden, cramped, unworthy setting.

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FEATURED ESSAYS FROM THE PAST:

"Barbara's List" from the March 24, 2007 Newsletter, at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/p/070324.htm

"Boom-Boom, Croak-Croak" from the December 18, 2006 Newsletter, at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/p/061218.htm

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Best wishes to all Newsletter readers,

Jim

All previous Newsletters are archived at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/.