|from the March 21, 2010 Newsletter issued from
Hacienda Chichen Resort beside Chichén Itzá Ruins, central Yucatán, MÉXICO
MOLDY BREAD AND CHEESE
For awhile a certain woody vine climbing high into trees has been catching my eye with its hand-size clusters of brightly red fruits. The fruits had always been too high for me to take a look at, though, until this week when I hiked to Pisté to buy fruit, and noticed a low vine in the scrub along the road. You can see the cluster of red, three-winged, half-inch wide (13 mm) fruits at the base of a long, brown rachis that earlier must have born male flowers above.
Note how the rachises thicken and flatten at their tips. In this genus rachises usually bear tendrils, so I don't know what's going on here. A fruit close-up is below:
There you can see how the fruits split to reveal flattish, shiny brown seeds with large, pale arils at their bases, an aril in this case being a pulpy covering arising from the umbilicus-like connection of the seed with its pod. Some seed-types have them, most don't.
The vine is PAULLINIA FUSCESCENS, a member of the large but mostly tropical Soapberry Family, the Sapindaceae. In that family we also find Balloon-Vines, Goldenrain-Trees and Litchi trees. Unaccountably, in English our vine often is referred to as Moldy Bread and Cheese, the genus Paullinia being thought of as the Bread and Cheese genus.
You can see one of the vine's twice-compound leaves below:
If you encounter such leaves on a woody vine in the tropics, you need to think "Soapberry Family," for lots of woody vines in that family bear such leaves. A while back we looked at a prettily flowering Serjania, at http://www.backyardnature.net/yucatan/serjana.htm.
On that page you can see a doubly compound leaf almost but not quite identical to our Paullinia's. Several vines in this family bear such leaves, but the fruits can be very different. The flowers often are so tiny that you need magnification to see the details.
This species is distributed from Mexico through Central America into northern South America. The stems are tough and pliable enough to serve as rope for anyone wanting to bind a few sticks of firewood together.