Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Monteverde Cloud Forest

We are in Monteverde, Costa Rica, studying Spanish 4 hours a day.  Monteverde is home to a cloud forest.  It gets quite a bit of rain, but it also has a unique location close to the Continental Divide at an elevation of about 4500 feet.    Clouds blow into the cloud forest from both the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans.  So, even when it isn’t raining, it often is misting.

Clouds coming in

The cloud forest is really spectacular.  Stuff grows EVERYWHERE.  Trees generally have incredible amounts of epiphytes growing on them (these are plants that grow on the tree but don’t hurt it).  One guide told us that scientists had weighed the epiphytes from a large tree that had fallen, and found that the tree supported an additional ton of epiphytes.  And the epiphytes host all kinds of other insects and organisms.  The result is that the canopy of the forest is an incredibly rich source of life.  The epiphytes and other organisms wind up creating dirt in the tops of trees that more stuff grows on.

The Canopy

Bromeliads (type of epiphyte) growing on a host tree
Stuff grows everywhere...

One of our favorite trees is the Strangler Fig.  This thing is amazing, and pretty brutal.  It starts as a vine and attaches itself to a host tree.  It winds its way around the host tree, pushing higher as fast as it can to get access to precious sunlight.  It also adds more vines around the tree, until it eventually completely envelops the host tree.  The host tree dies, and what is left is a fig tree.  When the host tree decays, what you have is a completely hollow fig tree.  Jamie and Lauri just went horseback riding and they stopped at a fig tree and climbed inside it.

Strangler Fig

Inside a Strangler Fig

All the different kinds of adaptations in the cloud forest are pretty wild.  The Cecropia tree is another really interesting one.  Take a close look at the trunk of this tree and you’ll see lots of tiny holes.  The Cecropia provides a safe and nurturing environment for a certain kind of ant.  The ants live inside the tree and in return when vines start attaching themselves to the Cecropia, the ants eat the vine leaves, thus protecting the tree from damage from vines (e.g. the Strangler Fig).

Cecropia Tree

Another one we like are Elephant Ears.  There is such a competition in the cloud forest for light, that you get plants like this that grow gigantic leaves to capture as much sun as they possibly can.  These are also referred to as “Poor Man’s Umbrella,” which seems like quite a good name.
Elephant Ears or Poor Mans' Umbrella

Here are photos of a couple of other interesting trees that have developed rather interesting ways of preventing animals from climbing them. 

One could spend hours upon hours investigating all the different adaptations and partnerships of plants and animals in this place.  There is just so much life bursting out everywhere and competing for light, water, and food.

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