Trees of Monteverde's Pacific slope seasonal forest
Scientists estimate that
Costa Rica is home to about 9,000 vascular plant species, and the
Monteverde area alone houses over a third of these species.
I'm used to trees being the easy way to edge into the study of plants,
but even a focus on Monteverde trees is daunting. With 755
species to choose from, I spent my first few weeks in Monteverde
wandering in a haze of beautiful, intriguing, but endlessly
Weeks later, I tracked
down the local plant experts (William Haber and his wife Willow
Zuchowski) who patiently worked their way through my sketchbooks and
identified my findings. That night, I wrote in my journal:
and William were awfully nice, once they figured out I wasn't one of
the typical students who brings them a crushed plant without even
bothering to see whether it was in their book [An
Introduction to Cloud Forest Trees: Monteverde, Costa Rica].
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hard work, combined with a plant list from Nalini Nadkarni
and Nathaniel T. Wheelwright's Monteverde:
Ecology and Conservation of a Tropical Cloud Forest, came together to produce
this quick overview of some of the most indicative trees of the Pacific
slope seasonal forest in Monteverde.
or Trumpet Tree (Cecropia obtusifolia) (pictured at the top of the
page) is one of the easiest Monteverde trees to pick out of the
forest. Its palm-tree-like trunk is topped by distinctive,
palmately-lobed leaves. Cecropia is widespread throughout Mexico,
Central America, and northern South America where it quickly colonizes
disturbed areas. I'll post more about the Cecropia later because
it comes with an ecological story too good to miss.
Strangler Fig (Ficus tuerckheimii)
(also known as F. aurea) can be found from Florida
south to Panama. Although the species is not the only strangler
fig in the Monteverde area, strangler figs in general are easy for
even the most inexperienced botanists to recognize since their trunks
are made up of a woven network of roots. Their colorful, pointed
buds --- like the one shown above --- are also
quite distinctive. Once again, stay tuned for the tale of how the
strangler fig got its name.
or Popcorn tree (Croton
mexicanus) is a member of a pantropical
genus, but the species itself is one of those trees that I can't find
any information about, even in the current digital age. My notes
from Costa Rica, however, make it clear that Popcorn Tree was
widespread in the Pacific slope seasonal forest. I
always knew the Popcorn Tree was around when I saw leaves the color of
orange caution tape littering the forest floor.
(Inga sp.) --- My
plant experts couldn't identify this Inga leaf beyond the genus level,
but I don't blame them since there are literally hundreds of Inga
species scattered through the tropics. Like many other members of
the bean family (Fabaceae), Inga trees can fix nitrogen out of the air
using a symbiotic relationship with soil bacteria. As a result,
the trees have been widely used in tropical agriculture to restore
fertility to soil. This particular species has extrafloral
nectaries set between each pair of leaflets. Ants are attracted
to the sweet liquid and, in exchange, they chase away any animals who
might want to nibble on the leaves.
matudae --- You
would think that a plant with such huge fruits would at least have a
common name, but the English-speaking world doesn't seem to know
one. Nevertheless, this species is one of the diagnostic features
of Monteverde's Pacific slope seasonal forest.
another diagnostic tree of the Pacific slope seasonal forest.
This flower definitely comes from the right genus (and location) to be S. limoncillo, but with 250 Symplocos species spread across
the world's tropical areas, the exact identity of this bit of
Monteverde detritus is hard to pin down.
arboreus is found
throughout Mexico, Central America, and South
America, and there are so many common names listed in Spanish
publications that I don't know which one to pick. I was intrigued
to discover that the
trees have two different leaf shapes, a bit like our Sassafras.
However, the leaves of Dendropanax
uniformly lobed in the shade and uniformly simple in the sun ---
doesn't that make you itch to dig into the whys and hows?
Quakers were quite nice to me when I volunteered to help in the
library. But I did hear them talking about the hippy tourists that
flock here that annoy them.
in a library is by no means work. I benefit from touching books more
than the books from me, I am sure. Also I benefit greatly from
hearing the voices of the other librarans at work. They are fun,
friendly, (naturally and religiously) wise, and very interesting. Often
I imagine that they are talking on and off about me.