Drinking from the Balsa Tree

The tree named Ochroma pyramidale is better known as the balsa tree, from which we get lightweight wood to make model airplanes. But its flowers are more valuable to many species in Panama, because they bloom at night during the dry season and fill and refill with sweet nectar.
Throughout the night and into the next morning, the trees here and on the mainland nearby will play host to an unusually large and pan-Linnaean cast of characters—mammalian, avian, amphibian, insectile. A few of the customers look familiar: A close cousin of the opossum often seen bumbling around trash cans in the United States turns out to thrive in the tropics and to love the taste of Ochroma juice. Others are gorgeously obscure: If you were to catch a rare glimpse of the olingo, a distant relative of the raccoon, as it slid silently through the branches like an oil spill with feet, you'd realize how alien our planet remains, how poorly we understand its parts.

Read more about this fascinating tree at National Geographic. Link to story. Link to photographs. -Thanks, Marilyn!

(Image credit: Christian Ziegler)

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