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Looking for Bromeliads in the peninsula of Paria in Sucre State, Venezuela.

In 1966, the late Dr. Julian Steyermark discovered a new bromeliad (later to be described as Guzmania membranacea Smith & Steyermark) in the wet forest of Cerro de Humo (Smoky Hill) and Las Pavitas (Small turkeys Hill), at 1250-1270 m altitude, in Sucre State. Since 1978 this area has been included in the Paria National Park. This bromeliad was photographed by Steyermark in 1966 and two of his photos were included in the book "The Bromeliaceae of Venezuela" (Oliva & Steyermark 1987).

After 43 years, the senior author, in company of Prof. Bruno Manara, decided to go to the type locality in order to find again the same species and make a botanical sample for the Herbarium (VEN). An additional reason for this trip was that in Cerro Jefe in Panama a bromeliad was found that looked similar to Guzmania membranacea, and was named Guzmania cinnabarina H. Luther& K. Norton, closely related to Guzmania stenostachya L.B. Smith, also from the wet cloud forests of Panama. This puzzle needed to be solved, and we decided to make a trip to the "type locality" of this species. For that, we contacted an old Steyermark guide, named Victoriano Carreno, now 72 years old; he was the guide who accompanied Mr. Steyermark on that first trip to Cerro de Humo.

We left Caracas on Tuesday, July 27, 2009. We started early in the morning for Peninsula of Paria, the extreme eastern portion of the Coastal Range of Venezuela, which geologically and botanically is related to the central range of Aripo, on the island of Trinidad. At noon we were at Cumana City, the "first born" of the mainland Spanish cities (founded 1525), and from there on we were entering into terra incognita for the senior author, and terra almost so for the junior. Four hours later we reached the city of Carupano, at present an active and busy city, which in the XVIII-XIX centuries was one of the most active ports of Venezuela, from where cacao was shipped to Europe, to be known as one of the finest and best cacaos in the world. Carupano was the first city in the country to have a submarine telephone cable, joining this city with Marseille in France.

From here we moved south-east to a small town called El Pilar. Our main purpose was to find a shelter for the night. Since there was no hotel, we entered a bakery store and asked if they could direct us to find a place to spend the night. A very active and loud-speaking woman suggested us to ask the man of the shop at the next corner. Said shop was a small food store; and although in distress we asked the owner if he could indicate a place for us to spend the night. He gently answered that his father was building a small tourist motel, and that several rooms were already available to spend the night, so we found shelter!


From here on to the east the Peninsula of Paria begins and we were interested in any bromeliad that was sighted. Geographically, the mountain range is closer to the northern border of the peninsula so the southern slopes are longer and more accessible and leave a short strip of flat land, where a rudimentary agriculture is practiced after the traditional method of cut and burn. The northern slopes fall abruptly toward the sea, leaving almost no space for human activity. Anyway, several beautiful beaches exist, where marine turtles reproduce and people meet to enjoy the sea and the tropical sun.

Along the road ther many gigantic trees, with wide crowns and long horizontally spreading branches, such as Ceibas (Ceiba pentandra), Caro-caro (Enterolobium cyclocarpum), Saman or Rain trees (Pithecellobium saman), a Rubber tree (Castilloa elastica), a number of wild Figs (Ficus spp.) and Cannon-ball-trees (Couroupita guianensis) shade the cacao plantations. Their branches and trunks were covered with bromeliads such as: Aechmea aquilega, Aechmea nudicaulis, Tillandsia juncea, and the most common of all, Tillandsia elongata var. subimbricata, Tillandsia fasciculata, Catopsis nutans, Vrieseaplatynema, together with small orchids, and a great amount of the epiphytic drooping Cactaceae: Rhypsalis, Epiphyllum and Hylocereus. Festoons of "barba de palo" or Spanish moss (Tillandsia usneoides), and "Una de murcielago" or bat-claws (Macfadyena unguiscati) hung from the branches of the trees, while the Tina (Tillandsia recurvata) packed the electric wires.

Other trees commonly used to shade the Cacao plantations (Theobroma cacao) were: Mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla), Cedar (Cedrela odorata), Coral tree (Erythrinapoeppigiana), Pardillo (Cordia alliodora), Sandbox tree (Hura crepitans) and plentiful Apamate or Pink poui trees (Tabebuia rosea). Coconut palms (Cocos nucifera) are ubiquitous.

Along the road from place to place there were houses shaded with Mangoes (Mangifera indica), Taparo (Crescentia cujete), Pomalaca (Syzygium malaccense), Muco or Mamon (Melicoccus bijugatus), Jobo (Spondias mombin) and Plum trees (Spondias purpurea), Papaya trees (Carica papaya), Avocado trees (Persea americana) and an occasional Cotton shrub (Gossypium barbadense). In many places in front of the houses local people exposed exquisite fruits and tortillas to the tourists. The air was wet; and although the morning had started clear, now the sky was becoming clouded. Anyway, we didn't worry, we were looking at the branches and crowns of the trees and taking photos of the most interesting items.

At nine we arrived at the village of Rio Grande-Abajo, where the road forked and started climbing to the left. We followed it and a quarter-hour later we reached Rio Grande-Arriba, crowning the shoulder of a narrow hill, that allowed only one main road, flanked by a row of humble houses on both sides. This was the home of Victoriano Carreno, and following his directions, and asking people, we soon arrived at the house of Vidal Torres, 77 years old, a relative of his.

The old man was enthusiastic, when we told him that Victoriano had directed us to him, in order to know how to reach Cerro de Humo, or Smoky Hill, and offered to accompany us as a guide to Las Melenas (The Manes), the last village, where the protected area of the National Park of Paria begins. We had to climb about ten kilometers through a tortuous and terribly eroded dirt road, covered with cement or macadam only in the steeper places, and so after half an hour or so reached Las Melenas; but in the last steep stretch the junior author had to get out of the car in order that our Trooper 442 could make it to the park ranger's house. The air was chilly, since we were at almost 1000 m high.


The ranger had left the day before, but his grandson wrote down our data, and offered us the guest room, in case we needed to stay there that night. We refused his offer, since we had planned to go on till Macuro, the easternmost place of Paria, where Christopher Columbus arrived in 1498 during his third voyage from Spain, calling Paria the "Land of Grace" (actually, he guessed he had arrived at the biblical Paradise on Earth). Meanwhile, the sky had become darkly clouded, the wind was blowing and some drops of rain started to fall. We decided to hike up anyway, along the trail which entered into the forest, and left our guide Mr. Vidal at the ranger's house. Here too, everywhere the huge trees were covered with bromeliads, but cacti were lacking, the wet trunks were dressed with moss and small ferns, and the understory was luxurious with herbs, shrubs and many kinds of lianas. Since our interest was concentrated on bromeliads, we had eyes just for these plants. Yumara (Guzmania hngulata) and the German flag (Guzmania monostachya), together with a huge Canareque (Vrieseaplatynema) were frequent in the lower portion of the forest; only some of them were blooming, but we could easily identify them from the size and shape of the leaves. As we climbed, the unmistakable zebra leaves of Planare pluma (Vriesea splendens var. splendens) became very common and dominant, although only one of them was in bloom. We were intrigued by the huge size of a bromeliad more than one meter in diameter, with leaves at least five fingers wide. Maybe it was the Planare pina (Glomeropitcairnia erectiflora): no other bromeliad this large is known from the area nearby.


As we climbed higher, we started to see another medium-size bromeliad attached to the lower portion of the tree trunks. As usual, it was not blooming, but a mature old spike was on the ground and from its size and tipped leaves, we guessed it was a Guzmania membranacea, endemic to the rain forests of the Paria peninsula, and was the species we were looking for. We picked up the old fruiting inflorescence and several samples of this bromeliad, in order to have them grow in Caracas to be compared with the recently described Guzmania cinnabarina, and we started our way back.

Some rain had begun to fall, but soon the rain became a stormy shower; we were obliged to look for a shelter under huge inclined trees and where some wide-leaved Malanga (Araceae) Monstera deliciosagrew, but with little success. Anyway, we got completely wet and had time to observe a kind of slender palm with bifid leaves (Asterogyne ramosa), very common in the understory, and several tree ferns; and when the rain ceased, we decided to return to the car, to find our poor guide, Mr. Vidal almost freezing in the wind. We returned down to Rio Grande-Arriba, through the very slippery dirt road with terrible deep gorges and commented that should it have started raining half an hour earlier, we could not have reached Las Melenas and Cerro de Humo.

We said good-by to Vidal Torres and his kind daughter-in-law, returned to the main road of Paria, and continued our voyage east to the town of Irapa, where Christopher Columbus had to turn south and then back towards Trinidad, since he convinced himself that Paria was not an island, but part of the mainland. On this point he had to agree with the local Galibi Indians, who called Paria "Barohui enetale", i.e., Mainland's Nose. There we were hosted in a small motel close to a swamp, and passed the night lulled by the croaking of frogs and toads, and were awakened by the cries of dozens of small parrots and other birds flying across.

The following day we went on, and reached Guiria, a large fishing port, and from here proceeded our trip eastward, hoping to reach the village of Macuro, although people said that it was not possible to arrive there by road, since, due to the hard raining of the days before, there were some places impossible to go through. We went on, anyway, on a road that was a kind of "roller coaster". Now the high range with clouded tops had become a series of low hills, and the vegetation had changed completely, since the area was dry; the tall luxuriant trees covered with bromeliads and other epiphytic plants had vanished, and were substituted by an uniform bushy and spiny vegetation about 3-4 m high, spattered by frequent cacti, and where a different kind of bromeliads existed. The most common was the Caracuey (Bromelia humilis), which carpeted great areas almost as the only understory, and the bigger, although much rarer Chiguichigue (Bromelia chrysantha); and the only epiphytic one was Tillandsia flexuosa.

Just to compensate our frustration, we made a small trip with a boat or "penero" in the very small port of Juan Diego, and convinced ourselves that Bromelia humilis was ubiquitous. Then we started our way back, after visiting a friend in Carupano city; and the only variation in our bromeliad research, was to admire a flock of flamingoes feeding in a lagoon close to the road and the seashore.


I want to express my gratitude to Prof. Stephen Tillett, of the Venezuela Central University, for his collaboration in the english language.


Oliva-Esteve, F. and J. A. Steyermark (1987). Bromeliaceaes of Venezuela: Native and Cultived [original spelling] Caracas, Graficas Armitano, C.A.
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Title Annotation:General
Author:Oliva-Esteva, Francisco; Manara, Bruno
Publication:Journal of the Bromeliad Society
Article Type:Essay
Geographic Code:3VENE
Date:Jan 1, 2010
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