On The Road...And In The Woods...In Panama and Costa Rica

On the road… again!

Afghanistan to Zambia

Chronicles of a Footloose Forester

By Dick Pellek


Teak is Still Exotic in Central America


As a graduate student at the University of Florida, the Footloose Forester chose to declare a major in tropical forestry. To be a credible tropical forester, that meant knowing the tropics on a personal basis. The Peace Corps experience in Pakistan during the mid-1960s was perhaps the signal that he was keen on pursuing a career in international forestry, but as a country with a warm temperate climate in most of West Pakistan where he was stationed, that did not qualify as tropical experience.  The nearly three years in Viet Nam may have tipped the scales toward added credibility. Soon after he was accepted at Florida, he applied for a study program through the Organization of Tropical Studies.  He was accepted for a three month course in Costa Rica, with extensive field work and 12 earned credits at the University of Costa Rica that were recognized by the University of Florida as counting toward a Masters degree.

After more than 35 years of never describing how the Footloose Forester came to become a restless traveler, this admission belongs somewhere in his memoirs. But nobody ever asked, so he never elaborated.  Perhaps some people were curious but did not know where to begin.  In the present instance, it may help to explain how he sojourned in Panama, for starters.  As memories grow dim, he needs to piece it together for himself.  He usually can’t remember how he came and went from countries, and more important, there are always voids in memory about travel in the countryside where public transportation is sparse.  Such is the case about Panama.

The Footloose Forester was awarded a small grant to study teak plantations in Central America, as a follow-up aspect of his thesis work on teak plantations in Trinidad.  He chose Costa Rica, Honduras and Panama as object countries because he knew that teak had been introduced as a plantation species; and he wanted to research how their growth compared to Trinidad teak.  The results of the study were published in the journal Caribbean Forester in 1970, but since the journal itself went out of publication decades ago, finding the details may forever be lost.  Only a few university libraries may retain archives, but the University of Florida is one of them.  How does all that have to do with Panama?  The dim memory focuses on the fact that the largest and healthiest teak trees were located in the David, Panama area in the extreme northern part of the country.

Other countries in Central America show some interest in pursuing the planting of teak.  Perhaps none is more entreprenural than Costa Rica.  There has been a long learning curve, but past research has begun to pay off.

In the photo below, a rare plantation of teak in neighboring Costa Rica shows that teak indeed is a fast grower, under the right circumstances of growing conditions, including spacing.  The tall specimen shown is only one year old.


Young teak plantation in Guana Coste Province, Costa Rica

Few people tout teak in the Western Hemisphere anymore, but if more did they could point to the David plantations as examples of successfully introduced exotic species that may perform better than native teak in its natural range of India, Burma and Thailand.  And the several small plantations in Costa Rica also show promise. Superior growth in the young plantation trees in the Guana Coste plantation must be monitored over a number of years, to determine if they also exceed the growth quality classes that have been established as standards of comparison.  

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