Nature in the Zone

In our recent oral history interviews, many participants have noted the natural beauty of the Canal Zone and Panama, remarking on how special it was to grow up in a “tropical paradise.” What do you remember most about Panama’s natural landscape? Did you often travel in Panama to experience different scenery? What were your favorite natural sites or features of the environment?

2000.29.94Frank Hill emphasizing the size of a tree, undated.

2000.38.3.65Woman seated under a banana tree looking at a fawn, undated.

2005.30.2.3Back of photograph reads, “Teresa (Hanson) Roseth (Rossetti?) – another excursion into the interior of Panama with friends. A very frequent occurrence, 1920s.”


  • Cheryl Peterson Russell

    A vivid ”nature” memory for me as a child living at the base of Sosa Hill on Tavernilla Street was when the Fire Department would set the hill on fire to control over-growth. The firemen kept a watchful eye but with the flames practically up to our clothesline, it seemed to me that our house would surely catch on fire and I worried for the deer and other animals. Other “nature” memories include going to Summit Gardens to see all the different types of plants as well as going to the Volcan and El Valle to see the square trees and golden frogs.

  • Robert A Dryja

    The Canal Zone evidently had a strong attraction for people with an interest or attraction to nature from early in its creation. Summit Gardens was created as a “plant experimentation” station. It evolved into a park with three ponds in it and a variety of tree and plant species for people to see. Jungle was growing immediately adjacent to it. The Orchid Path was originally a place in which a variety of orchids were grown. The streets in the “flats” and high school area of Balboa had a variety of trees planted trees along the road sides. I remember watching the seeds of mahogony trees whirl down while looking out the windows of my classroom. Mr. Seaquist, my biology teacher in high school regularily brought a variety of animals to class. How many of us had a jungle sloth crawling around in their class? Barro Colorado Island was a research station that people could visit. (The “Big Tree” growing on the island makes the tree in the attached picture look small.)

    The preceding set the stage for seeing/exploring the natural world on your own. There was no ubran sprawl and so the jungle grew close to housing areas. Sosa Hill was adjacent to downtown Balboa and was covered with tall saw grass in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Ancon Hill was adjacent to the Governor’s home and covered with a regrowth of jungle after the canal construction was completed. You took the ferry board across the canal to go to Farfan beach. It was part of a largely undisburbed coast line. I commonly saw deer, monkeys and coati mundis. Parrokets made a terrific noise when gathered in a tree top. The access road ajacent to the Galliard Cut section of the canal passed through largely undisturbed jungle following the canal construction. It was possible to float down the Chagres River channel from Madden Dam to Gamboa in a cayuco, seeing caimen along the way.

    Panama also had it attractions. The San Blas Islands on the Atlantic side were part of coral atolls and had a largely isolated native population in the 1950’s. Even more isolated native populations were living along the Pacific coast of the Darien Gap. These areas had jungle that had been undistrubed for centuries. You could reach them by flying on a DC-3 prop plane and landing on a dirt strip. You could be stepping into the jungle almost immediately after leaving the plane.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *