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Arnold Arboretum

Seram: Into the forest

April 23, 2012 by Cam Webb

The Seram team: Jumrin, Peros, Boy, Iik, Acun, Sony, and Endro

Soon after I posted the last blog, I got a call from our team member Endro. He was in high spirits, having just enjoyed a successful week in the forest. He had, however, come out early, both to escort one of the team members to a clinic for stomach ache and to address his own rather severe medical needs: he needed to have two teeth pulled out at the hospital. They had been causing him excruciating pain all week, since, he said, he had eaten the spicy fish dish mentioned in the last post. He noted that the Masohi dentist was much more gentle than the ones he had encountered at home in West Kalimantan! Given the pain he had been in all week, his enthusiasm for the trip was all the more impressive. Before heading back into the forest, he wrote:

“Finally our departure day arrived. Accompanied by two park staff (Jumrin Said and Iik Ikhwan) we left on our collecting trip, heading for ‘Camp Illie’ [a national park ranger campsite near a river, high in the central mountains of Seram], three hours away by bus.

Camp Illie

The road cut through the dense Seram forest, which is intact and protected to this day [sadly, something unknown in Kalimantan], and truly beautiful. The road switchbacked endlessly [on the face of precipitous slopes] with many shortcuts (to Heaven!) to left and right. Right by the road were small Peperomia plants, and behind them stood stately rows of Duabanga moluccana and (amazingly still standing) Terminalia trees.”

Duabanga moluccana is a common pioneer species throughout the wet forests of Indonesia, and a few species of Terminalia also reach west into Borneo. However, the greatest diversity of Terminalia, at least in Malesia, is east of Wallace’s line, primarily in New Guinea (see e.g., these species). Terminalia gives its name to a distinctive tree architecture model, terminalia-branching: a terminal shoot grows horizontally and then bends up to form a dense ‘rosette’ of closely spaced leaves at its tip. The next iteration of the branch then grows not from the tip, but from a few centimeters below the tip, and grows out horizontally before bending upwards and forming a leaf rosette. The outcome is flat sprays of leaves linked by inverse arches. One of my favorite trees, from the standpoint of beauty, is Terminalia mantaly, the Madagascar almond, a common street tree in Asia.

From climbing for parrots to climbing for specimens!

“Also on our expedition were three locals (Sony, Peros, and Boy) from the village of Masihulan, who sometimes worked as porters for any visitors to the park. They were also capable tree climbers who used to trap parrots, but who now helped conserve them.”

At the end of our Gunung Palung expedition I was concerned about finding tree climbers at other expedition sites. I needn’t have worried about Seram. Endro said the climbers here were even ‘crazier’ than the Melayu climbers in West Kalimantan (i.e., our trusty team members Edy and WX), shimmying out to the smallest branches, where they were in the habit of coating the twigs with glue to catch the amazing parrots of the island.

“Near the camp, we slid down paths made slippery in the recent rain. Droplets clung to the leaves and the moss that blanketed the trees in this forest. It was getting dark when we finally arrived, and we quickly threw up the tents and stored the supplies. Cups of hot chocolate finished off this first day in the forest; we were indescribably happy to be here. Tomorrow we plan to follow the river upstream. In our experience in Kalimantan, riverbanks have many fruiting trees.
Then, to the soft sound of Boy’s singing “from the tip of Halmahera to the far Southeast, we are all brothers” (a famous local song of reconciliation after the Maluku conflict), we drifted off to sleep.”

Endro told me over the phone that they went on to get many specimens (50 plants in the first five days), most of them trees. Herbaria always contain an over-representation of species that are herbs and small shrubs and a relative under-representation of trees; this is due to the fact that there are more specialists working on small plants and because they are obviously easier to collect. I have impressed upon the team how important it is to make the effort to collect the trees, and it looks like week one of this parataxonomist-led expedition has been a success.


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