Clusia rosea Jacq.
Common Name: COPEY, MATAPALO
Clinging evergreen treelet, aerial shrub, or rarely ground-rooted tree (10 m) most often found attached to the trunks of large forest trees. As do most Clusias, C. rosea begins life as a seedling high in the branches of a canopy tree or wedged into a crevice on a steep, rocky cliff. Growing epiphytically at first, this succulent, dry-adapted plant eventually generates roots that extend to the soil far below. Clusia rosea may be found anywhere sunlight and rainfall are abundant.
Description: When growing on the side of another tree, C. rosea is composed of multiple small trunks and many extended branches. Roots encircle the host bole and may extend all the way down to the forest floor. When growing independently, this species produces many low, thick, and horizontal limbs from which a confusing tangle of aerial roots emerge. Reaching the soil, these vertical roots may later thicken, becoming secondary stems. Over time, this unusual growth results in a dense, spreading and low (10 m) crown. Clusia bark is smooth textured and gray in color. As do others of the genus, C. rosea exudes copious quantities of thick, latex sap from its leaves, twigs, and fruits - however that of this species is a striking fluorescent yellow-green color (and not the more usual white). Leaves are large (17 by 12 cm), simple, and oppositely arranged. Thick and succulent, the waxy blades are used by the plant to store water. Each leaf is very widely rounded in shape (nearly orbicular), possessing a semicircular, drip-tipless apice. A single thick mid rib is flanked by fine, parallel secondary veins that emerge from it at an acute angle and continue to the leaf margin. The disk-shaped flowers are large (10 cm in diameter), attractive, and showy. Seven fleshy snow-white petals surround a button-sized, green central pistil. An annular nectary adorns the base of the ovary. Flowers open facing downwards, in the late afternoon or evening. By morning, they have already begun to turn brown and die. Flower buds are globular and also mostly white, however they show some pink tinges as well. The yearly, very regular, and synchronized flowering period begins in late June and terminates in early September. Fruits begin to grow immediately thereafter, from the expanding ovary. They mature five months later as glossy green, globular capsules (5 cm in diameter). Fruiting commences as each capsule splits into a flower-like star. Inside, eight narrow compartments hold many small (4-5 mm) orange-ariled, white seeds. Harvests last from mid-March through late May.
Similar Species: C. rosea may be confused with some of the other aerial Clusias, like C. peninsulae, however the former has larger and much rounder leaves than all the others (see description for C. peninsulae).
Natural History: Clusia flowers, open primarily in the evening, are probably bat pollinated. Fruits are visited by small birds (e.g. Red-legged Honeycreepers) that consume the ariled seeds. The arboreal habits of these small creatures ensure that some seeds will end up high in the branches of other rain forest trees, ready to germinate where insolation levels are high - but water is scarce. Clusia's water-storing, succulent leaves represent an adaptation to these droughty conditions and help the tree survive during the time it exists as an epiphyte. Though it does rely on a large tree for support, this species does not seem to pose a major threat to its host - rarely growing large or high enough to compete with it for sunlight.
Uses: The leathery, flexible, and durable leaves are said to have been used by pirates as playing cards.
Distribution: Clusia rosea can be found where sunlight is abundant - as in the tall crowns of canopy trees. Common in many parts of Costa Rica, this species is also known from Nicaragua, Panamaa, Ecuador, Peru, the Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico.