October 10, 2007

Melastoma racemosa or something like that

Conostegia xalapensis, La Ceiba, Honduras
How is that for a scientific identification? Heh, heh.

I tried to identify this little tree and originally thought it might be this Melastoma racemosa, but my friend Mary in Panama pointed out that the shape of the leaves is not right. I started this article more than a year ago and after spending most of the day again today, I think it is time to give up. (La Gringa doesn't like to give up. ;-( )

After looking at a zillion Miconia photos, the only thing that I'm pretty sure of, based on the leaves, is that it is a Miconia of the Melastomataceae family. The berries of these plants blacken the mouth when eaten, hence the name melas, the Greek word for black, and stoma, meaning mouth.

Conostegia xalapensis, La Ceiba, HondurasThis tree grows wild in Honduras. It is considered a "trash tree" by some, especially here in La Ceiba, but I like the flowers. Like so many of the plants on our wild hillside, the workers are always itching to chop them down with the machete.

We originally had two on our hillside and I really enjoyed them. They flower most of the year with clusters of pink flowers that look a little like a crepe myrtle bloom. They form small purple berries which look very much like fuzzy blueberries, but with less flavor.

Conostegia xalapensis, La Ceiba, HondurasThe best part is that when the berries begin to ripen, the toucans come every afternoon to check for ripe berries. We see toucans frequently but they generally stay farther away and up higher in the trees where it is hard to get a good look at them. When the toucans visit these trees we can watch them pecking at the berries. This picture shows the small ripe and unripe berries.

These trees are generally short-lived. One of ours died back, I think just from old age, but has been replaced by others, probably a result of seed dispersal by the birds. From a distance the flowers remind me a little of crepe myrtle.

Mary has been working to identify three Miconias on her property in Panama. The two-faced Miconia and Canela = Miconia? articles point out the difficulties. Interestingly, the three species that Mary has don't bloom very often, whereas ours blooms almost year round.

If anyone can identify this tree, I will be very grateful. I'd also like to know the Honduran common name if anyone knows it.

Correction, October 11, 2007: Reader Gordo identified this plant as Conostegia within an hour of posting. I wrote more about it here:

Melastoma racemosa - not! Conostegia - si!

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