The Canal Zone Forest Preserve: A Jewel of a Jungle

Accession number 2003.094.004

Material Information

The Canal Zone Forest Preserve: A Jewel of a Jungle
Physical Description:


Subjects / Keywords:
Forest reserves
misc loose printed papers
Spatial Coverage:
Panama -- Central America -- Panama Canal Zone


General Note:
Item received on 11/27/2010
Original Location:
Box 4 Envelope 14

Record Information

Holding Location:
Panama Canal Museum Collection at the University of Florida
Rights Management:
All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier:
accession number - 2003.094.004
System ID:

Full Text

The Canal lone
O Jese e
A Jewel Of A Jungle

"AMONG THE scenes which
are deeply impressed on
MADDEN my mind, none exceed in
sublimity the primeval
forests undefaced by the
hand of man. No one can

stand in these solitudes
unmoved,, and not feel that,
there is more in man than
the mere breath of his body."

Journal during the Voyage of
H.M.S. "Beagle" (1831-1836)

"WHERE CAN we see the real jungle?"
Canal Zone visitors often ask as they
speed along the Transisthmian Highway.
Then suddenly they round a curve
and there it is-a dense tropical forest
stretching out on both sides of the high-
way, looking just like the jungle in which
Tarzan had his great adventures.
It is the Canal Zone Forest Preserve,
one of the few areas of tropical mainland
forest under the protection of the United
States. It covers nearly 6 square miles of
the Canal Zone, about 10 miles north
of Balboa, and is under the jurisdiction
of the Panama Canal organization.
Here giant cuipo and espave trees
tower up tens of feet where their
branches stretch out and interlace with
those of other trees to form a canopy.
Many of the trees have branches cov-
ered with gardens of ferns, orchids, and
Seeing these giant trees in the forest
provides an illusion of exploration. Walk-
ing along the historic Las Cruces Trail,
which passes through the preserve, one
can easily visualize the Spaniards laden
with their treasures of gold crossing from
the Pacific to the Atlantic side of the
Isthmus. This trail was used also by the
Forty-niners to avoid the long overland
trek to California during the Gold Rush.

Hiking Trail
Part of the trail no longer exists having
A forest visitor strolls along the Las been inundated at the time of the cre-
Cruces Trail near where it meets the ation of Gatun Lake. But the remaining
Transisthmian Highway which passes section is a favorite hiking trail for Isth-
through the middle of the Preserve. mian Boy Scouts and other groups of
nature and adventure lovers, including

the Canal Zone bottle collectors who
search along the trail for bottles dis-
carded by travelers of times long past.
The access roads, leading to the
World War II gun emplacements located
in the forest, provide other interesting
trails for exploring.
Large areas of Panama's irreplaceable
jungles have disappeared. But thanks
to the foresight of the late Dr. Thomas
I3arbour, well known naturalist, who
proposed the establishment of the Mad-
den Forest Preserve, and to the late
Canal Zone Gov. Harry Burgess, this
valuable piece of tropical forest has been
saved almost intact.
The preserve was created by order of
Governor Burgess on May 27, 1930.
The original order designated the area
as "natural timber preserve," but on
April 29, 1931, Governor Burgess issued
a new order designating it as a "forest
preserve" and stipulated that "the cut-
ting of timber, the trimming, injuring,
or carrying out of any of the trees, palms,
or other plants in this area is prohibited."
Dr. Barbour, who also had a great

deal to do with having Barro Colorado
Island declared a wildlife and forest pre-
serve with laboratory facilities so that
naturalists from all over the world could
study there, discussed his part in the
establishment of Madden Forest in the
December 1936 edition of the Bulletin
of the Pan American Union.
He wrote: "A few years ago it was
decided to build a dam at Alajuela, up
on the Chagres River. This is to pro-
vide more power and more water for
Gatun Lake during years of exceptional
drought. The first step in the project
was to build a road from the main Canal
Zone highway near Summit to the dam
site, and when this came to be built,
lo and behold!, it passed through sev-
eral miles of real first-rate wild forest.
Not, to be sure, in an absolutely prime-
val state, for there are a few clearings
and a little timber had been removed,
but still here were several thousand
acres of good typical woods in a zone
with enough annual rainfall to keep a
good many streams running and plenty
of moisture in the ground so that a

The dense tropical forest stretches out on either side of the road and seems ready to
swallow up a passing motorist traveling across the Isthmus.

cy~- rY-9~

beautiful luxuriant vegetation was to be
seen; a typical picturesque forest, easily
accessible to the amateur naturalist.
Wood Cutting
.'I was in Panama in the spring of
1930 and took the liberty of suggesting
to Col. Harry Burgess, Governor of the
Panama Canal, and a warmly apprecia-
tive lover of nature, that it would be
splendid if this area was set aside as a
forest reserve. This was no sooner said
than done, and in June 1930, Governor
Eurgess wrote me that the order had
been issued setting the reserve aside.
Police were instructed to protect the
area and signs were put up forbidding
woodcutting and trespassing.
"Ths forest reserve abuts on country
with a considerable rural population as
you cross the boundary of the Canal
Zone, to which the reserve extends, and
passes into the territory of the Republic
of Panama. The area is not sufficiently
extensive to support many of the large
native animals, but many of the small
species are abundant and will increase
with protection, and the birds are very
satisfying indeed and are to be seen in
numbers and great variety. There are
several fine colonies of the hang-nests,
or oropendulas, and some most note-
worthy colonies of leaf-cutting ants. One
hill of these near the picnic site where
the "Old Gold Road" crosses the modern
highway is the largest I have ever seen."

Ant Armies
The leaf-cutting ant armies, which
Dr. Barbour mentioned, continue to fas-
cinate visitors to the forest who like to
watch them carrying bits of leaves like
bright green sails. The giant blue Mor-
pho butterflies, some with a wingspread
of 6 inches, flitting unmolested through
the green jungle foliage, are an unforget-
able sight. These butterflies are so
numerous that when the forest is viewed
from the air they.appear as large bright
splotches of blue on a green carpet.
The Canal Zone police keep a reg-
ular patrol and watchful eye on the
forest preserve but poachers still slip
in occasionally as they did in Dr. Bar-
bour's day. In those times, poachers
felled trees for charcoal as well as for
lumber. Governor Burgess always kept
a paternal interest in the forest and
took action immediately when reports
came in that anything was being taken
from the forest without permission.
The forest is always available to
scientists and men from all over the
world have conducted a variety of stud-
ies there. Madden Forest Preserve is
often listed in scientific journals as the
location where studies of tropical flora
and fauna took place for specific reports.
Members of the Smithsonian Institution
use it often and consider it a "must"
stop for visiting scientists.
Dr. David A. Harcharik of Duke Uni-
versity in Durham, N.C., writing of
Madden Forest in the Association for
Tropical Biology, Inc. Newsletter, said,
"'The area should be an objective of
study by biologists of many kinds. The
old antiaircraft sites, now obsolete in
terms of Canal defense, provide fine
vantage spots for viewing the Canal
and are, in many respects-, feature
attractions of the area.

"Its ready access from Panama City
and the Canal Zone, the potential co-
operation of local scientists, its unique
location, and the challenge of the un-
explored should make the preserve a
target for intensive exploration by
Dr. Harcharik also pointed out that
Panama is the biological crossroads of

This leaf-cutting ant is ready to bite into
a leaf. They can be seen carrying bits
of leaves to their nests.

North and South America containing
plants and animals from both continents.
It may be the most biologically diverse
country in the world for its size and he
considers the ,forest preserve an ideal
spot to study the flora and fauna of
this area.
Primitive Vegetation
"In our present state of overpopula-
tion, the forest and the various natural
vegetation types, which give the tropi-
cal landscape its originality, have a
chance to survive only in carefully
guarded reserves like Madden where,
fortunately, remnants of primitive veg-
etation have been preserved and some
rare species protected."
Medical researchers now know that
many of the medicinal roots, plants, oils,
and saps or resins first used by the na-
tives of America hundreds of years ago,
have great value in the treating and pre-
venting of diseases. Who can say what
lifesaving drugs may be there in the
plants of the jungle waiting to be dis-
covered as was quinine in the Peruvian

Near this monument to George W.
Green, municipal engineer from 1921 to
1947, is a parking area for motorists who
wish to stop and stroll through the forest.

Flowering plants bloom along the trails
in the preserve. Dr. Edwin Tyson, bi-
ologist at Florida State University, Canal
Zone Branch, admires a Costus uni-
florus, known in Spanish as the Cafia
de Mico.

Famous Letter
But the true value of a forest cannot
be measured for it goes far beyond ma-
terial resources. In 1961, while Secretary
of the Interior Stewart L. Udall was
speaking before a group, he read a
now famous letter from the novelist,
Wallace Stegner.
The letter said in part: "Wilderness
is useful for spiritual renewal, the rec-
ognition of identity, the birth of awe.
These are some of the things wilderness
can do for us. This is the reason we need
to put into effect, for its preservation,
some other principle than the principles
of exploitation or usefulness or even
"We simply need that wild country
available to us, even if we never do
more than drive to its edge and look
in. For it can be a means of reassuring
ourselves of our sanity, as creatures, a
part of the geography of hope."

Three Interesting Trees

THERE ARE 10 times as many kinds of trees growing in the tropics as grow in
temperate zones. And due to the extreme conditions of heat, drought, and mois-
ture which prevail at different times during the year in Panama, they are
strikingly different from those found outside the tropics.
One of the most common trees in Madden Forest as well as throughout Panama
is the Cecropia; it is also one of the most unusual. Its leaves are being shipped
all over the world for use in dried flower arrangements. But one would have to
shake the tree to discover that it is a vast apartment house for fierce Azteca ants
which rush out of the tree and attack anything that might disturb it. The ants
live inside the hollow stems of the branches and guard the tree from the leaf-
cutter ants which would quickly denude the tree of its shapely leaves.
The branches of the Cecropia are also hollow and are fashioned by certain
South American Indians into blowguns.


Balsa Panama'

Another tree common in Madden Forest Preserve is the: Balsa, the weight of
which is only 7 pounds per cubic foot, about half the weight of cork, making it
one of the lightest woods in the world. Nearly everyone at one time or another
has put together a model plane made of balsa or remembers it as the wood used
by Thor Heyerdahl in the construction of the Kon-Tiki.
Balsa is the Spanish word for raft which has been one of the main uses of the
wood since ancient times. The green wood is very heavy and spongy and will
decay in a day or two if left on the ground after being cut. When the wood is
dried, either by standing on end or placing in a kiln, it is very light but tough
and is of great value where strength is needed without much extra weight.
It is often used in steamship construction as it provides excellent insulation
due to its cellular nature, and saves hundreds of tons in a ship's gross weight.
Another tree in the forest is the Panamd, unofficially the national tree of the
Republic of Panama. Some persons believe that the country derived its name
from this tree. Sometimes growing to a height of 120 feet, the Panamd has large
leaves. The flowers appear in clusters but have no petals. Instead, there is a
wooly outside and dark red and greenish color within. The fruit is a cluster of
five pods 4 inches long containing large brown chestnut-like seeds.
The beginning root system at the base of the Panamd tree makes it one of the
most unusual looking trees in the tropics. Flat, wall-like extensions snake out
from the trunk forming cubicles between the roots.

The Canal Zone Forest Preserve is one of the few
areas of tropical mainlaind forest under the care
of the United States. It covers nearly 6 square miles
of the Canal Zone 10 miles north of Balboa.