Odes to Our Habitat

Odes to Our Habitat

Our Collection of Poetry by Sammy C. Caracolla

Ode to a Heliconia
The heliconia is
the most beautiful plant in the forest.
It has deep-green, paddle-shaped leaves.
They rise from the forest floor. 
It is of the banana family. Instead of bananas,
bracts shaped like lobster claws 
in colors of red and yellow
dangle above the ground.
Hummingbirds get water from the tiny pools
in the paddle-shaped leaves.
Then they help the plant reproduce.

The heliconia is my favorite plant.
As a C. caracolla, my life centers on heliconia.
From it I get shade and moisture
and shelter from the hubbub
of the forest community.
My favorite foods—
algae and fungi and other tasty tidbits—
lie on the surfaces
of the large and lovely leaves.
If there are a lot of heliconia
where I live,
I will grow and multiply.
If there aren’t,
I won’t.
(Scientists say  
the number of heliconia
is a factor that can limit 
our growth. I, a poet, 
prefer the way I say it.)
Only in droughts
do I have to descend to the moister regions
of forest leaves and soil.

Our young snails need the 
cooler, wetter, and less exposed homes 
of bromeliads
that live on the ground.
Other snails prefer the Sierra palm tree.
Still others live their entire lives in the leaves and soil
of the forest floor.
Some prefer the moist areas of the coastal lowlands.
But I, a Caracolus caracolla
I will always be faithful 
to the beautiful heliconia
that grow in the upland rainforests.

A Graduate Student Adds Her Two Cents about Heliconia 
I feel Mr. Caracolla's ode to heliconia was heartfelt but lacking in facts. I am researching heliconia. I would like to add some facts. For many years these plants were considered weeds to many humans who lived near them. Recently, however, they have become prized for their exotic look. Scientists now study them more than they did.

Heliconia are found mainly in the American tropics. Today they are grown all over the tropical world. There are between 200 and 250 natural species, and at least that many varieties that people grow by combining species. Most wild heliconia live in moist or wet regions, particularly middle elevation rainforests. You can also see dramatic groupings in open sites along roads and in the forest.

Many heliconia grow higher than a human. The shoots of the plant grow out of rhizomes. These are stems that grow horizontally underground. Each shoot has a stem that can grow up to several meters. The leaves unfurl on opposite sides of the stem. Some of the leaves are long and grow vertically, similar to those of a banana plant. Others are smaller and grow horizontally or at an angle. Most stems end in a flower cluster. Some of the clusters stick straight up. Others hang down like ornaments. The leaf-like clusters are called bracts. They are the most dramatic part of the heliconia. Most are brightly colored in reds, oranges, pinks and yellows. The actual flowers are small and far less showy.

Heliconia are hermaphroditic. Each plant contains both male and female sexual parts. They still need to be pollinated in order to produce a fertile seed. In the American tropics only hummingbirds pollinate heliconia. The birds fly to the bright colors of the bracts. When the birds put their bills into the flowers to get the nectar, they also transfer the pollen from flower to flower.

I hope this scientific information is, well, informative.

Ode to Moisture
Praise be to rain.
Of all the resources of the rainforest—
the trees and leaves, the birds and bees—
we C. caracollas need moisture the most.

We thrive in the rainforest
because conditions are wet.
We grow and multiply
and become uncommonly dense
when conditions are wet.
Most of us survive into adulthood
and grow big and strong
when conditions are wet.

When conditions are dry,
we retreat into our shells
and become terribly inactive.
We are more active 
on cloudy days 
than when the sun is shining brightly.
In fact, losing the moisture in our bodies
is our most likely cause of death.
This is especially true of the young.
Moisture, then, is one of our most important
requirements for life.
Along with the heliconia,
water is a limiting factor
in our survival.
Without it
our population will plummet.

We give thanks for moisture in all its forms—
drizzles, downpours, mists and fogs,
low-lying clouds, and high-flying hurricanes
(well, maybe not hurricanes—
we don’t like to drown).

Praise be to rain. 

Ode to HSR
All snails say this:
There is nothing better than our HSR.
We are loyal to our HSR.
We learn early in life to choose our own HSR
and to remain there all our lives. 
We never stray far from it 
(never more than 20 meters).
At night we are more active.
We freely roam 
to the farthest reaches of our HSR.
During the day when we are less active,
we hunker down in our HSR.
We are not territorial.
We don’t mind sharing our HSR
with other snails and animals.
To us our HSR
is better than any place in the world.

What in the world, you might ask,
HSR is our home site range.
Now you know.