Location:Caves Branch - Belize
by Wayne & Karen Brown
We woke up to the sound of jungle noises today. Today we are going to expore the rainforest not by 4-wheel drive, but by 2-wheel drive on mountain bikes! Ian Anderson's Jungle Lodge just got some brand new mountain bikes we are going to use for our rainforest exploration today.
We head off into the rainforest down a muddy trail right by our hut. Inside the rainforest the air feels heavy, wet and sticky and smells like wet dirt. We feel closed in by the plants all around us. It is like we are riding through a narrow green tunnel.
Like coral reefs tropical rainforests only grow near the equator in warm environments. Like coral reefs there is competition for space to grow. In the coral reefs we saw that the corals themselves compete for space and sunlight. Corals grow on top of corals growing on top of other corals. In the rainforest we see the plants competing for space and sunlight. Plants grow on top of plants growing on top of other plants.
We notice that the rainforest is made of different layers of plants. The top layer is the canopy, about 60-100 feet (20-33 meters) high. The bottom layer is the forest floor. Between the canopy and forest floor is the understory, about 30 feet (10 meters) high. Between the understory and the forest floor is the herb layer about 3-6 feet (1-2 meters) high. Popping out of the canopy are the trees the emergent layer (over 100 feet/33 meters).
We see that the canopy is made of the branches of the tall trees that reach over the rainforest and cover it like a blanket. The plants and trees that are under the canopy are ones that can grow in shade, because the canopy blocks out the sunlight. The plants and trees that we can easily touch and see are in the understory and herb layer.
The soil in the rainforest is only about 10-12 inches (25-30 centimeters) deep. Roots cannot grow deep into the ground to support a plant. To protect itself from being knocked over during a wind storm many of the large, tall trees have special buttress roots. To us buttress roots look like rocket ship fins. These roots support the tall trees of the emergent layer and absorb nutrients from the soil.
We discovered that the plants in the rainforest have different ways to protect themselves from animals and insects. One plant we found is a palm the Belizeans call "give and take". This palm has long needles on its trunk that can give you pain if you grab it. (These needles protect the palm from animals that would climb up and eat it.) The center of the palm can be rubbed on a wound to take pain away. We found out how these long needles give pain. Wayne slipped on the muddy jungle trail and grabbed the nearest tree to keep from falling down. It was the "give and take" tree!
We rode our bikes back to the Jungle Lodge and Wayne used a pin to dig out all the neddles that were stuck in his hand from the "give and take" tree. (Next time he said he will just fall and not try to grab anything!)
We ended our day planning tomorrow's exploration of The Black Hole! Join us tomorrow as we rapell 300 feet down into a sinkhole like the underwater sinkhole (The Blue Hole) we dove in last week.
Wayne & Karen Brown
Caves Branch, Belize
Position: 17º 10' N / 88º 41' W
Air Temp: 88ºF
Weather: light breeze, sunny with scattered clouds.
Wayne rides down a muddy trail into rainforest. The thick canopy of the rainforest blocks the sunlight from reaching the ground.
Karen looks at the large buttress roots of a tall tree.
The "give and take" palm can give you pain and take it away. (Karen has her hand near the big thorns to show you how long they are.)