In the cloud forest low-hanging clouds hover around the upper canopy before condensing onto the leaves of trees and dripping onto the plants below. Looking up you can barely see the sky; such is the denseness of the vegetation and the constant dripping of water. With less sunlight comes a slower rate of evaporation; the plants below thrive in the abundance of life-giving moisture.
While rainforests cover just seven percent of the earth’s surface, cloud forests are even rarer, covering just one percent. Yet they are just as crucial. They provide the perfect habitat for a large range of plants and animals, many found nowhere else in the world. More orchid species are found in cloud forests than anywhere else. Mosses, lichens, bromeliads, ferns and other epiphytes cover the trunks and branches of their trees. They are also home to a large number of endemic species, as their unique climates and specialised ecosystems create habitats not found anywhere else on earth.
The distinctive feature of cloud forests is this near-constant immersion in a thick layer of mist and clouds. They’re rare because the unique conditions that create them can usually only be found in tropical areas with tall mountains. The high Monteverde region of Costa Rica straddles the Continental Divide, and its Caribbean side captures the clouds that come in off the Atlantic, providing these perfect conditions.
However because of this delicate dependency on local climate, cloud forests risk being strongly affected by global climate change. Modelling suggests that the low-level cloud coverage will be reduced, leading to a rise in temperatures. This could cause the forests’ water cycle to change and potentially even dry up. That makes a visit to one even more special.
The Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve
We saw the cloud forests at their most atmospheric on a morning walk in the Santa Elena reserve with an excellent guide, Marcela. We experienced for ourselves how the Continental Divide creates these conditions. At breakfast in our hotel on the Pacific side of the divide a mix of mist and sunshine had produced a beautiful rainbow. But this turned into proper steady rain by the time we reached our destination. Fortunately we had come prepared with waterproofs and a plastic bag cover for my camera.
Despite the weather, or maybe in part because of it, we had a fascinating walk with Marcela, spending about three hours in the cloud forest. She pointed out so many small things we would have missed, like tiny subtle-hued orchids and delicate ferns.
And many of the facts she shared intrigued me. Did you know, for instance, that some trees can walk?! She showed us how by putting down their long external roots in different places some trees can inch their way across the forest floor, travelling as much as thirty centimetres in a year!
She showed us a tiny fungus that lives by invading an insect’s body (in this case it was a wasp’s) and somehow manipulating its brain to land in an area where the fungus will thrive. The fungus then kills the host insect and lives off its dead body. I found myself thinking that there could be the plot for a great SF film there, if the fungus were to evolve to attack humans! But I decided that we have enough to deal with at the moment without inventing another threat.
I was fascinated in particular by the many epiphytes that live on these trees: mosses, ferns, bromeliads, vines. A single tree is a mini ecosystem in itself, hosting up to 200 species! Unlike parasites the epiphytes don’t kill their hosts. Some have a symbiotic relationship with the tree but most simply live there as they would on the ground, but much closer to the essential light that all forest plants fight to capture. Here they can collect their moisture and nutrients from the air, rain and surrounding vegetation. However they can eventually damage their hosts as branches snap off under the sheer weight of the plants, soil and water.
I also loved the textures and patterns of the leaves which were emphasised by their wetness. They made for interesting monochrome shots, both colour and black and white.
So I’m sharing this beautiful, mysterious forest with Cee for her celebration of bark and leaves.
My last good …
‘What was the last good …?’ asks Sandy in her Friendly Friday challenge. Of course I have to fill in that blank with ‘holiday’, so among my cluster of posts about our wonderful two weeks in Costa Rica, I offer her this one.
And here to finish are a couple of my other ‘last goods’:
The last good film I saw was Belfast, a moving story of growing up in that city during ‘The Troubles’. Do see it if you can. Jude Hill gives one of the best child’s acting performances I’ve seen for a long time!
The last good book I read (actually am still reading, as I haven’t quite finished) was/is Frank Gardner’s Blood and Sand. Frank is the BBC’s Security Correspondent. In 2004 he was shot and paralysed from the waist down in Riyadh but hasn’t let that stop him travelling the world and continuing to work. Inspirational, and also a fascinating insight into the recent history of the Middle East and the Islamic world.
The last good TV drama I watched was The Tourist, starring Jamie Dornan as a man who loses his memory after a road accident in the Australian Outback. It combines tension with humour in a way that reminded me of Fargo and made it a great watch, although I wasn’t 100% convinced by the ending.
I visited Costa Rica in February 2022