Cubicles. Plastic. Air fresheners. Pavement. Electricity. A/C. So easy to forget that we're living on a pile of dirt, and that that pile of dirt is alive. TEEMING with life.

And in some places, that life seems like it has a mind of its own. That it's hiding secrets.


1. The trees are at war.

In Spanish it's called the Javillo, in English it's the Sandbox Tree, and people smarter than us might know it as Hura crepitans. Either way, it's a tree that would kick our asses if we even tried to touch it or get near it at the wrong time, much less climb it. Rumor has it (and by "rumor," I mean the Internet) that it has pumpkin-shaped fruit that explode with the force of a bullet when ripe, throwing seeds every which direction and giving an all too-accurate and new-age meaning to "spreading his seed."

But that's not even the half of it. If you touch its sap, it can cause temporary blindness and inflammation. Eat one of the bullet seeds, and you'll be dealing with cramps, diarrhea, and vomiting. Also, don't eat two. Apparently fishermen use this tree to poison fish. 

Bonus: It's also called the "monkey no-climb" and the "dynamite tree."

2. Your chocolate actually looks like this.

This is a picture of the best stuff on mother-effin' Earth. These little guys aren't ripe, though, otherwise we might've had some legal issues on our hands and in my suitcase. Once they do get ripe, chocolatiers (let's go with that word) rip them open and ferment and dry the weird whitish-grayish-purplish beans inside, turning them into something far, far less bitter, likely by magic.

If you care for a less poetic explanation, you'll find this page more useful.

3. The ants are everywhere, and they can...heal you?

Stomp too hard on the ground in a place like Hacienda Baru, and you'll summon the colony's soldier ants. They're pretty much the stuff nightmares are made of, and probably what Gene Wilder was looking at to make his face contort that way. 

Jokes aside, consider the scale of this picture. What you're seeing is just the head of one of the ants on Emma's hand. Just the head. The guide picked up one of the ants (basically like picking up a small cat), pinched a bit of Emma's skin, and placed the ant onto her hand. He reacted by attacking with his pinchers, pinning her skin together. The guide then ripped off the ant's body, and left her with a "jungle stitch," showing us how indigenous tribes sometimes ingeniously MacGyvered their wounds.

(To get the "stitch" out, he squeezed the head until it exploded. The pinchers never penetrated; they just left a temporary indentation on her skin.)

4. Marcel.

Hey, that monkey's got a Ross on its ass!

5. Sorry, vegetarians, plants are conscious beings, too. Kind of.

Photo by  Connie Ma

Photo by Connie Ma

This one is called mimosa pudica. Not to be confused with mimosa svedka or mimosa thank-god-its-brunch-ica

And it's going to ruin that salad for you. Sort of. That's because if you touch it, blow on it, shake it, whatever, it starts folding up its leaves and can even detract entire branches (like you see in this picture), and basically seems totally alive. It'll stay that way for fifteen minutes or so, until the coast is clear and it can come out of its nonexistent shell again. SO COOL. 

The cute stuff: The "changes in orientation" are sometimes referred to as it going to "sleep." Fitting nicknames include "sensitive plant," "humble plant," shameplant" (womp womp), and "touch-me-not." 

The actual stuff: When you touch it, that stimulus (in the form of action potentials, which also determine YOUR every movement, just for the record, cough) gets sent down the base of the plant, where proteins and aquaporins start up the movement of water and electrolytes out of the leaves' cells. The cells then lose pressure, and they fall away from your touch. Boom. Or, at the very least, that's my layman's attempt at how wikipedia explains it. 

Yeah. The jungle is awesome.

So the next time you're walking through the park (or through the jungles of Costa Rica), start thinking about all that dirt and those trees and the plants (and what they're hiding). They're more alive than you think.