Panama, like its immediate neighbours to the north and south, is well-known for its incredible diversity of birds and butterflies, however we are perhaps less well aware of its botanical riches.
Tropical botany is admittedly rather harder than temperate botany, it at first seems all a tangle of lianas and vines, trailing palms, weirdly flowered gesnerids, and it can take an age to find another tree like the first one you looked at! Luckily we’ll have Jerry and Linda Harrison, a husband and wife team of field biologists who settled permanently in Panama in 2011 to untangle the many botanical mysteries we’ll encounter. Whilst Jerry has been avidly cataloguing the flora, Linda has been studying the butterflies and moths of the region around their home and has recorded around a thousand of each!
The world-renowned Canopy Tower in the lowland rainforests of Soberania National Park and the Canopy Lodge in the cloudforests of El Valle de Antón provide the perfect bases for us to explore a diverse range of habitats.
Soberania has a magnificent range of birds. One road alone has seen ornithologists rack up an extraordinary five hundred species along it including such avian luminaries as Purple-throated Fruitcrow, Crimson-crested Woodpecker, Jet Antbird, Lance-tailed, Blue-crowned & Golden-collared Manakins, and the delightful Rosy Thrush-Tanager. The Tower’s viewing deck gives one a wonderful insight into life in the canopy and we’ll soon come to learn that butterflies up here are different from down there! Amongst some of the special species we’ll see here are Common and Menelaus Morphos, Ruby-spotted Swallowtail, the glorious royal blue Periander Metalmark, Guyanan Sarota, Straight-lined Theope, Iphiclus Sister, East-Mexican Banner, Two-eyed Eighty-Eight, Whitened Bluewing, and both Red and Variable Crackers. The range of tree species is quite incredible and we’ll also see conspicuous aroids such as Monstera, Philodendron and Anthurium. Palms include the magnificent Attalea butyracea. And there’s the ‘hot-lips’ Psychotria poeppigiana, attractive gesnerids such as Kohleria tubiflora, and two Heliconias, latispatha and platystachys both favoured by hummingbirds.
The cloudforests of the Cerro Jefe are literally dripping with beautiful plants. Of the approximately 10,000 plant species recorded in Panama, 1,300 are endemic, 250 of these are found on Cerro Jefe – and more than 80 only occur on this mountain! Jerry and Linda have discovered/co-published nine new plant species here, including the orchid Epidendrum adsettii, and 4 mistletoes. Orchids include Dresslerella pertusa, Dryadella butcheri, Specklinia dressleri and Platystele ovalifolia, the last one of the smallest orchids in the world! Amongst many Bromeliads are impressive Aechmea strobilina and Guzmania musaica, and there’s the special scarlet-flowered Centropogon coccineus. The Harrison’s House has feeders buzzing with a scintillating array of Hummingbirds including Rufous-crested Coquette, Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer, Violet-capped, Violet-headed & Snowy-bellied Hummingbirds. A family of Geoffroy’s Tamarins, Panama’s smallest monkey, often stop by.
The Canopy Lodge nestles in a caldera of a long dormant volcano, the steep valley is surrounded by jagged peaks, whose formations have elicited fanciful names as the ‘sleeping indian’. The lodge sits at 710m, and you will immediately appreciate the noticeably cooler temperatures here and every plant, butterfly and birds seems different. The surrounding cloudforests have so many unusual and often bizarre plants. For instance, Psychotria correae, whose white flowers poke out of a red, saucer-sized calyces, with the entire inflorescence hanging limply downward at the end of a foot-long peduncle! There’s the rare terrestrial bromeliad Pitcairnia funkiae, with reddish-maroon flowers, which stands an impressive 4ft tall. We’ll see Aphelandra campanensis, with bright red flowers, as well as at least three Heliconias, including Heliconia ramonensis, Heliconia wagneri and Heliconia irrasa, whose bright red bracts attract White-tipped Sicklebills, a much sought-after hummer! Sobralia chrysostoma is a quite stunning orchid, an ephemeral whose blooms last but a day, and it only blooms in October! Amongst a host of other lovely orchids are Epidendrum pseudoschumannianum, locally known as ‘San Jose’, Psygmorchis crista-galli and, if fortunate, the holy grail of Panamanian orchids, Peristeria elata, also known as the Dove Orchid, and Panama's National flower.
There are many impressive gesnerids, including Columneas and Drymonias as well as Glossoloma panamensis, whose carmine, hairy flowers droop from the stem. The blooms of Verbesina lanata treelets will be attracting butterflies such Green Flasher, Rita’s Remella, Sara Longwing, Rayed Sister, and a host of lovely Metalmarks such as Panamanian and Godman’s Sarotas, the shining Deep-blue Eyed-Metalmark, and the simply gorgeous Lampeto Metalmark. Along sunlight forest paths we’ll find Cattleheart White, Dirce Beauty, Banner Metalmark, Yellow-tufted Prepona, Starry Cracker, Blue-and-orange Eighty-Eight and the Stub-tailed Morpho. Of course birds are amazing in these cloudforests too. Emerald-Toucanet, Orange-bellied and Black-throated Trogons, Red-capped and White-ruffed Manakins, Scarlet-thighed Dacnis, and a whole host of beautiful Tanagers such as Black-and-yellow, Bay-headed, Silver-throated, Golden-hooded, Tawny-crested, and the almost luminous Emerald Tanager are amongst a host of beautiful species we’ll encounter.
Botany and Butterflies. Also Birds, Reptiles and Mammals.
Paul Cardy, with Jerry Harrison & Linda Harrison as first leaders
For the most part easy and never more than three or four miles in a day. Occasionally uphill sections and on some trails there are sections with many steps. When wet some sections can be slippery.
Included in the Price
All flights. All transport, accommodation and meals in Panama. Bhutanese visas. Services of your leaders. Please note: drinks, tips, and items of a personal nature such as travel insurance, are not included.
The minimum is 5 and the maximum is 10.
We will spend the entire tour at two award-winning Canopy Family properties. First, Canopy Family's flagship eco-lodge, the Canopy Tower, is perched atop forested, breezy Semaphore Hill in Soberania National Park. Once a USAF radar station, the "Tower" is fully renovated and repurposed as a 50-ft-high eco-lodge, topped by an observation deck putting you at canopy level for 360-degree views of the forest, the Canal and beyond. For the second half of the tour we’ll stay at the Canopy Lodge in El Valle de Anton at a significantly cooler 700m. Canopy Lodge is nestled in an ancient caldera amongst tropical vegetation with a pleasant, babbling creek outside your room. When you cross the foot bridge over Guayabo River, the Lodge veranda awaits. Here you can enjoy your meals, relax, or watch the bird feeders for what surprises may show up. In your free time you can explore the Lodge grounds for butterflies and tropical plants or even have a swim in our natural swimming area.
At the Canopy Tower the days are warm to even a little hot in the middle of the day with temperatures often around 27°C whilst in the evenings and nights it drops to 22°C or 23°C and there’s often a pleasant breeze too. The climate at the Canopy Lodge is significantly cooler and you may even need a second layer or clothing there especially in the evenings. We can expect occasional but usually short-lived rain in all areas.
How to Book
Contact us to check there is availability for the number of places you require. Download a booking form or contact us and we will send one to you. Complete and send to us. You will receive confirmation of your place and then a detailed information pack will be dispatched to you about twelve weeks before departure. This will contain up-to-date health information. Butterfly, bird, flower (selected) and mammal checklists are available.