June 7, 2011

Umbrellas of Lima

By Reed Niemack

The flora in Lima was immediately different from what I have been accustomed to seeing back home in the U.S.  Perhaps the most startling has been the use of Schefflera arboricola, or the dwarf umbrella tree.  Commonly used as a houseplant in the states (I have a few at my own residence), here the species is used more as a shrub and for hedges throughout Lima.  This interests me because a plant species that for the most part can only grow indoors in the U.S. is used widely as an ornamental shrub for the outdoors. It is also itneresting because in Lima there is a presence of numerous botanical species, like that of S. arboricola, that are non-native to the region.  In fact, the dwarf umbrella tree is not found natively remotely close to Peru or even South America.  It is known to have originated in the rainforests of Taiwan, and has somehow let the rest of the world know of its beauty as well as its relatively easy cultivation, which is perhaps why it is so common.


The umbrella tree, slightly higher than the dwarf umbrella tree


The other species found here in Lima, very much in the same places as S. arboricola is Schefflera actinophylla, or the umbrella tree.  Now don’t let the similar names become confusing because they have little in common besides the fact that they are related species.  The dwarf umbrella tree is not a miniature S. actinophylla, but an entirely different species found in a completely different part of the globe.  The umbrella tree is supposedly native to the rainforests around Northern Australia and the nearby islands like that of New Guinea, Java, etc.  Here in Lima, S. actinophylla is grown not so much as a shrub, for obvious reasons, but as an ornamental tree found alongside the various palm species and other tropical trees in the parks, alongside sidewalks, and such.  It is surprising to see actually how large they can grow to become because the only specimens I have witnessed are thoseused as houseplants, only about 5-6 feet tall.  These trees are comparable in size to that of the elm or maple species we find in Lawrence.

In Lima, the species are very commonly found alongside one another.  The landscaping aspect of the two plants, and how they are used in conjunction with one another is fascinating in that one can really see why they were named “umbrella tree” and “dwarf umbrella tree.”  The ‘shrubby-ness’ of S. arboricola and the ‘tree-ness’ of S. actinophylla really do seem to complement each other, and are commonly grown in the same pots and gardens here in Lima.  The beauty of these two plant species is obvious to me, and apparently to citizens of Lima.

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The Biodiversity Institute is home to about 60 graduate students and 30 research scientists and curators. They participate in field expeditions to all seven continents and represent areas such as entomology, ornithology, paleontology, parasitology and herpetology. As the authors of this blog, they share their experiences and adventures in collections-based biological research all over the world.

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