Tag Archives: Nicaragua

Experiments: Hylocereus megalanthus

Hylocereus megalanthus (yellow dragonfruit)

Contrary to popular opinion, the Triffid Ranch doesn’t focus solely on carnivorous plants. The last ten years have been a boot camp on care and propagation of two species of the Hylocereus climbing cactus known commonly as “dragonfruit.” Getting seeds for the two most common species, white (H. undatus) and red (H. costaricensis), was exceedingly easy as dragonfruit continue their rise in popularity in American markets. (An extra surprise for those wanting to buy carnivorous plant seeds: since dragonfruit seeds are almost identical to Venus flytrap seeds, scammers sell a lot of dragonfruit seeds all over Amazon and eBay.) Every reference I could find about the yellow dragonfruit cactus, H. megalanthus, though, noted that it was very hard to find outside of Central America, and a business trip to Nicaragua turned up other species growing under live oak trees but no fruit. By last New Year’s Eve, I’d given up on finding any, so guess what happened when my wife pointed out a new entry at our local Asian market?

Hylocereus megalanthus (yellow dragonfruit) -sliced

Getting one home, several things presented themselves as I went to work with a knife. Firstly, these fruit were imported from Ecuador, suggesting either that Ecuadorean farmers are competing with the big red and white dragonfruit farms in Vietnam, or that there’s something about megalanthus propagation that makes growing them in the Americas much easier. Secondly, as compared to the firm and crunch flesh of other species, megalanthus fruit is just pulpy enough that they’re shipped in the same padded netting used for Asian pears to keep them from bruising during transport. Thirdly, while most Americans are disappointed by the very delicate flavor of red and white dragonfruit (that delicacy, incidentally, is why I love them and could eat them all day), megalanthus fruit has a very distinctive sweet flavor, much like the syrup in canned fruit cocktail. Get the word out to chefs and bartenders in the States and Europe, and Ecuador will have to quintuple dragonfruit production just to keep up with demand.

Yellow dragonfruit (Hylocereus megalanthus) seeds in propagation

Oh, and the most interesting part besides the color of the peel? Yellow dragonfruit seeds are HUGE compared to those of other Hylocereus species. They’re still perfectly edible, and they add a very satisfying crunch when inhaling the fourth yellow dragonfruit of the night, but this suggests further research on which animals are used as vectors for those seeds: I’m putting down early money on lizards and tortoises as well as birds. On any case, most of the remaining fruit went into propagation, using techniques that are very productive for the other commercially grown Hylocereus species: tall pots under a propagation dome, with the fruit scraped out of the rind, spread out atop potting mix in thin strips, and more potting mix put on top to facilitate decay of the pulp. In about a month, we’ll learn if this worked: wish me luck.

Travels Abroad: the Hibiscus of Grenada

Hibiscus

As mentioned earlier, the Nicaraguan city of Grenada is absolutely festooned with beautiful Hibiscus trees, all of which were first starting to bloom during my trip at the end of May. Unfortunately for me, many of the most impressive specimens didn’t photograph well, as it’s remarkably hard to stop and get a good macro photograph when everyone else in your party doesn’t share your botanical zeal. The same was true of the photos I thought I had of hummingbirds feeding from those same Hibiscus blooms. Well, next trip, then.

Hibiscus

Hibiscus

Hibiscus

Hibiscus

Hibiscus

Hibiscus

Hibiscus

Travels Abroad: Hotel La Bocona

Hotel La Bocona

Between the Day Job and working on big plant projects for the end of this year and the beginning of next, sharing photos of the work trip to Grenada, Nicaragua went onto the back burner, but not out of a lack of wanting to share. Actually, yes, it IS because I don’t want to share. Namely, I’ve found my perfect house, and now I need to figure out how to make it happen in Texas.

To recap, the end of May and beginning of June were spent in Grenada with co-workers at the new Day Job, where we were the overawed guests of local philanthropist Peter Kovind. Among many other things, Mr. Kovind took advantage of Grenada’s classic Spanish architecture (painstakingly rebuilt after its burning to the ground in 1856, and you might want to look up the name “William Walker” if you want to understand why) to convert one of Grenada’s beautiful houses into the Hotel La Bocona, literally across the street from the statue of the same name.

Hotel La Bocona

As a hotel, the Hotel La Bocona reminds me of why I dislike most American hotels: simplicity is a wonderful thing. The rooms are comfortable and roomy, the pool is exquisite, and the staff, without exception, absolutely wonderful. Just for the experience alone, I rapidly felt terrible about not making my own bed and saving the housekeepers the trouble. Were I insane enough to consider going back to professional writing, this place would be my perfect idea of a locale in which to lock myself and write for the next month, only coming out to improve my Spanish. (As it stands, my Spanish isn’t so bad that I’d believe that “¡gringo estupido!” meant “May the Lord be with you!”, but it desperately needs improvement.)

Hotel La Bocona

And then there’s the garden. Many of the houses and hotels in Grenada follow the same basic pattern: one big door to the front, usually at the corner, but no windows. Instead, the center of the house is open to the sky, and usually exploding with plant life. When the rains come, they don’t come with heavy winds, so an overhang in the courtyard keeps tables, chairs, and couches protected from water, and when the rains stop, the combination of sights at ground level and sights in the sky (such as the family of parrots yelling at each other from a nearby tree) is about as close to Tanelorn as I’ve ever found. Grenada is justifiably famous for its wide variety of hibiscus trees, and some of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen were growing in the second courtyard, right next to the (shallow, warm, and inviting) swimming pool.

Hotel La Bocona
Oh, and I almost forgot the spa. Grenada has an extremely wide range of tourists visiting at any time, and the spa in the back of Hotel La Bocona turned out to be extremely popular with both German and Canadian visitors. Peeking inside, I could understand why. Let loose a few small dinosaurs in there, and I’d never want to leave.

Hotel La Bocona Spa

I’ve already told myself, over and over, that with a new push toward travel, it’s better to visit twenty new places once than the same place twenty times. I’m reconsidering my decision as far as Grenada is concerned. In fact, if it means being locked up in Hotel La Bocona for a month, I might even take up someone on a book contract, and that’s saying something.

Introducing Delonix regia

Delonix regia

As mentioned before, the big trip to Nicaragua at the end of May/beginning of June was work-related, which puts certain restrictions on botanical sightseeing. It’s bad enough being the only person in the general party actually thrilled to see my old friend Hylocereus costaricensis, the dragonfruit cactus, in the wild (or possibly its cousin H. undatus), and confirming that they grow best in medium to heavy shade during the hottest parts of the year. It should be understandable that my cohorts weren’t going to stop the bus every time I saw something vaguely interesting along the side of the road, and much of the area around Grenada had very handy cliffs and even a few volcano calderas to throw me into if I didn’t stop whining. Because this was business, I settled for biting my tongue, grumbling slightly, and trying my best to get decent photographs before the drivers had us on the other side of the galaxy.

(Incidentally, I learned something very handy and very thoughtful that hadn’t come up in years of bicycling in the States. For many reasons, Nicaragua is absolutely loaded with bicycles, and I watched fathers with two kids on the top bar cruise through traffic with grace and elan. Only recently have motorists in the States, particularly in Texas, accepted the increasing number of bikes on the road, so I still deal with the occasional jerk who thinks it’s still 1983 and that there’s something fundamentally wrong with someone over the age of 14 on a bike, under any conditions. Because of that, I was still rather defensive of anybody honking behind me, as that usually meant an idiot who expected the bikes to get off the road just for them, even if they were the only other person on the road. I’m serious: I had one bozo blast her horn from her SUV for a good half-mile, tailgating me the whole way, and then finally pull around just in time for us both to look at each other at the stoplight. Well, I looked at her: she stared straight ahead and did her best to avoid eye contact while her kids stared. I just told them “You’re all right, but your mom really needs to up her medication” before pedaling off.

(Anyway, it took a trip of this sort for me to make sense of a horn habit that hadn’t made sense before. As mentioned, I used to get defensive about people honking at me, and would get angry when a motorist would pass with a quick double-tap on the horn. “Yeah, I know, I’m in your way. I’m trying to get out of it.” What I discovered was that for Central America at least, this is a sign of respect: the double-tap is to inform the cyclist that a car or truck is coming up behind, and that the driver saw and acknowledged the cyclist’s presence. Now, when I get this at home, I don’t get surly. Instead, I wave and thank them, and the drivers are always surprised that the crazy white guy on the bike actually gets it.)

One of those minor grumbles came up over and over with a particularly beautiful tree that was so brilliantly orange that it was visible from the air well over the Managua airport. Everywhere we went, these trees followed, so orange that I thought the foliage was orange. Upon closer inspection, the coloration was from the blooms, but what blooms! I thought our native crepe myrtles did a great job of hiding their foliage among brilliant cascades of flowers, but this one could have taught the crepe myrtles about eight or nine lessons. My problem was being given a chance to focus in on an impressive canopy of them while moving at speeds that threatened to blue-shift the pigments.

Delonix regia

Finally, I managed to get close to a small specimen, and just stood and stared at the blooms. Each was easily the size of my hand, looking more like something manufactured from steel or bronze than anything botanical. For the rest of the trip, I’d gaze contentedly at those trees as they passed by on the highway back to the airport, telling myself that one day, I’d come back and give them much more time and attention.

Delonix regia

The real surprise on this is that while I and everyone else in the group thought these were indigenous trees, our not having seen them before was only because we lived far too north. We’d encountered Delonix regia, commonly and appropriately named “flamboyant”. Originally from Madagascar, the flamboyant tree grew enthusiastically and vigorously any place where the conditions were right, and went feral over most of the Earth’s tropics. In the US, they’re apparently only found in the Rio Grande Valley in far southern Texas and in southern Florida, but they’re as cosmopolitan a tropical tree as can be managed.

Delonix regia

That was another big surprise: while the northern half of Nicaragua may be jungle, the area around Grenada was much drier and scrubbier, and I saw a lot of analogues to plants I would have seen in North Texas that were thriving under many of the same conditions. The surprise was seeing so many plants, particularly cacti, that I recognized from just about any garden center or commercial nursery back home. At first, I thought that these may have originated in Central America and gained their current popularity due to imports to America and Europe, but D. regia‘s range makes me wonder about that. Time for more research, and the hope that I might live long enough to finish it.

Travels Abroad: La Bocona

Signs to La Bocona

Among many other wonders in Grenada, Nicaragua, one of the greater mysteries of Grenada was literally across the street from the hotel in which I stayed. Right by the front door of the building across the way was a large statue, carved out of volcanic rock, built into the side of the doorway. A very helpful gentleman working at the hotel passed on what he knew about the statue, which he was the first one to admit wasn’t much. Then again, nobody else seems to know, either.

La Bocona
The statue is called “La Bocona,” which roughly translates to “The Big Mouth”. La Bocona is a fixed point in Grenada: Grenada attracts a large number of international tourists and expatriates, and even those completely inept in Spanish, such as myself, can recite the name and have everyone in the city point you in the direction of the statue. In fact, the statue now has several concrete pillars in front, to prevent drivers and cyclists from taking out the front door while being distracted by its odd shape. La Bocona may not be in the center of Grenada, but it’s close enough that it’s very handy as a guide to the central market, the fire department, and any of the central cathedrals in the city.

La Bocona

With it being a landmark, you’d think that La Bocona would have more of a history, but that’s where things get odd. Apparently it was excavated during the construction of a sidewalk, with different versions saying in the 1940s or 1950s, and the owner of the property had it installed in the front of the building so everyone can see it. Other than that, it’s a mystery. La Bocona has no myths coming up around it, no outre explanations as to how it got there, or why it was constructed. It’s just there, and I suspect that filling in some of the questions about it would disappoint everyone, as the mystery seems to feed upon itself. Trying to give it an explanation would ruin it, but everyone has their own basic ideas, which they keep to themselves.

La Bocona
After a while, I shared that sentiment. I have no doubt that archaeologists have already examined and documented everything they can about La Bocona, and now I want to hunt down what they’ve written. I myself have a sneaking suspicion as to what the artist was trying to capture, and if I’m wrong, you’ll never know. In the meantime, it just perches at that corner, unseeing, as wonderful humanity rushes by. It did so before it was buried, and it’ll probably do so centuries after I’m gone.