Cecropia leaf atop lobster claw petals

Cecropia leaf and lobster claw petals in Mexico

No doubt your eyes are drawn to the large, silver-bluish leaf in today's photo, but there's a little more to this colorful display. We're on the floor of a Mexican rainforest to examine a large Cecropia leaf and some lobster claw petals. The genus called Cecropia contains some of the most recognizable neotropical trees anywhere, but the roughly 50 different species can be hard to tell apart. All Cecropias grow fast, by tree standards anyway. On average, they'll climb about 2.5 feet per year and under perfect conditions can grow as much as 10 feet in that time, eventually reaching around 60 feet tall. When dried, Cecropia leaves shrivel into a fist-like form which displays interesting patterns and shapes. Not only are Cecropias very popular with animals like sloths, monkeys, and toucans for their fruit and leaves, many species have a symbiotic relationship with Azteca ants. Cecropias provide shelter and food for ants, and the ants in turn defend the trees from plant-eating predators.

The other striking leaves here are cup-shaped flower petals of the lobster claw, or what botanists call the Heliconia rostrata. With its bright colors and distinctive shape, the lobster claw is often cultivated as an ornamental plant for tropical gardens. Gardeners looking to attract birds love the Heliconia because its plentiful nectar draws hummingbirds to its downward-facing flowers. Those same flowers have special recognition in Bolivia as 'patujú,' the national flower, which appears on one of the country's flags.