Entry 2: May 31, 2011
I can’t believe it’s our last day in San Luis! It seems like just yesterday that I was getting on the plane in Raleigh…
Our independent research presentations were this morning at eight. Melissa, Hillary, and I did our research on the use of medicinal plants in the San Luis, Santa Elena areas and the UGA-Costa Rica Ecolodge Station (Campus). We became interested in this topic after Lucas gave us a tour of the botanical garden here on campus. He showed us several plants-trees and shrubs- that can be used for medicinal purposes. These medicinal plants produce secondary compounds that they use for defense against predators such as insects. In small doses, these compounds can be beneficial to humans for treatment of certain ailments. We wanted to find out if the people of this and surrounding communities take advantage of this natural resource. We took a survey of randomly selected individuals and found that the majority of them do use medicinal plants and prefer them over prescription medication. I expected there to be a lot of usage, but I did not expect so many.
I was nervous to give our presentation at first, but once I got up there, it was fine. I think everyone enjoyed hearing about our project. It was really interesting because it was a different approach to scientific research. I was so excited about our research when we first began because I have always been interested in medicinal plants, but our project turned out to be even more fun than I thought. It was an unforgettable cultural experience. When we approached ticos to ask them to take our survey, they were more than willing to help us. A significant amount of them knew Lucas, and that connection between us made them feel more at ease. After filling out the survey, several of them welcomed us into their gardens or to the area behind their businesses to show us some of their medicinal plants and explain what they use them for. Out of 30 people, only one refused to take the survey. This would never happen in the United States. People would never offer strangers an invitation into their garden. It was so refreshing to feel so wanted and welcome. We met some wonderful people through our research and we could not have done our project without them! Thank you, ticos!
Entry 1: May 15, 2011
First Full Day at La Selva
Today was our first day out in the field in Costa Rica. After a yummy breakfast of eggs and beans with rice, we headed out for our orientation hike. Before our official hike with the guide, we looked at some plant life. We saw a huge tree with other plants growing all over it. These other plants are called epiphites. These plants are not like parasites as I first assumed. Epiphites do not take from or hurt the host plant. They are simply plants that grow on other plants, not from other plants. They get their nutrients from decomposing leaves inside the plant they are living on, like their own supply of soil.As we continued our hike through the BEAUTIFUL rainforest, I saw my first Costa Rican wildlife. There was a very small red dot on a branch on the ground and when I got closer I could tell that it was a frog. Our professors and our guide told us that it is a poisonous dart frog or a blue jean frog. Those are the common names. The scientific name is Oophaga pumilio. We learned that these amphibians are toxic, maybe not to the touch, but if you or an animal ate it, it would definitely be toxic. These frogs lay their eggs and then put the eggs or tadpoles on their backs to carry them around. They care for their young for 5 weeks. They also lay an infertile egg which they consume. This is where the genus part of its scientific name comes from. They were so tiny, yet so powerful and determined. We saw several throughout the hike. They were mostly red with blue underneath and on their legs. Our TA told us, “If it’s pretty, don’t touch it!” I loved our hike today. I can’t believe how much we got to see! Costa Rica is absolutely beautiful and I felt so blessed to be able to see everything in such a natural environment.