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Where are Panama's introduced plants?

December 03, 2012

Where are Panama's introduced plants?

Omar López, a STRI postdoctoral associate and scientist at Panama's technology institute, INDICASAT, says the tally is probably too low. He points to neighboring Costa Rica, which has some 1,500 alien plants on record

Panama is full of introduced plants. Mango trees line city streets and rural roads, bananas grow almost any place where there's dirt, and the Panama Canal is lined with the sugarcane-like Saccharum spontaneum, a weed so widespread it is known locally as “canal grass” ? even though it came from South Asia.

Many of Panama's 750 introduced plants, including the invasive canal grass that now covers three percent of the Panama Canal Watershed, were escapees from the Canal Zone's experimental gardens, now Panama City's Summit Zoo.

Omar López, a STRI postdoctoral associate and scientist at Panama's technology institute, INDICASAT, says the tally is probably too low. He points to neighboring Costa Rica, which has some 1,500 alien plants on record.

“Our inventory tells us we have a problem with the count of exotic species,” says Omar, explaining that 60 percent of Panama's alien species are cultivated as ornamentals or for agriculture and are easy to find. “Greater efforts are needed to know the exotic flora of the country.”

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