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Guardian of the Forest

September 10, 2010

“Guardian of the Forest” or Ix-canan is the name that Mayans gave to the Firebush, Hamelia patens. But as its common name suggests this plant is on fire. Or at least it appears that way. Even in the coldest days of winter here in South Florida its embers of life are smoldering deep within its roots. The cold stopped its growth dead in its tracks during the freeze this past winter but some of the leaves hung on, changing to lighter reds and greens in hopes of catching those different wave lengths of light. Growth was slow and steady during the spring months but as soon as the heat and wet of summer hit, it exploded with green growth and blossoms.
Each blossom strikes up a flame of such intensity, that the hummingbirds, butterflies, bees and ants just can’t ignore. The anoles wait patiently on the branches in hopes of catching those nectar seeking ants and once in awhile land a butterfly. As I looked closer on this plant and watched the pollinators, I observed that the ants were crawling in and out of holes just above the ovary. These holes were absent from the newly formed flowers. I then watched as a carpenter bee, too large to climb down into the tubular flower, appeared to pierce the base with its mouth parts. I thought this was clever for the bee and fortunate for the plant that the ants were distributing the pollen while they crawled around. There seemed to be more than enough nectar to go around.
Towards the end of summer and into the fall the berries attract song birds. They are not particularly sweet enough for my tastes but I can see making a jam or jelly from them. The firebush also has many medicinal uses that have been discovered by the indigenous people of Central and South America, the West Indies and Mexico. These uses are many and include treating burns, another reference to its name, to healing headaches. With its gift of abundance it’s easy to feel gratitude for this marvelous plant.

One Comment leave one →
  1. September 11, 2010 2:58 am

    Ah, one of my favorite tropical plants! In Belize and Guatemala, hummingbirds of many species love the flowers, and tanagers, euphonias, manakins, and aracaris feast on the little black fruits. It seems to be an edge specialist, growing especially thick along roads, which I think must be how it got its name (the literal translation of which seems to be “Lady Guardian”). It’s been far too long since I’ve seen one!

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