Looking upward toward the sky the first thing I see in Monteverde’s cloud forest is a hotel and restaurant. Contrary to human-made restaurants, this one grows from a tree-top down to the ground around another tree. Intertwining its roots until they reach the ground, it kills what once was its host and becomes refuge and a source of life for many plants and animals.
The strangler fig (Fiscus aurea) is as irresistible for fauna as candy is to a child. Like a living Garden of Eden that takes place in the canopy of the trees. The reason the tree grows like this is because it needs to adapt to the competition for light.
There’s a difference in size of the trees surrounding me as I continue on my hike through the forest. The trees age from 100 to 500 years or more, and make cloud forest to be a jungle in the clouds. They provide oxygen, food and shelter for all the life. For instance, when the avocado trees are in season, the Quetzel could not be more delighted.
Every year, the Quetzel visits the high mountains in search for the ideal place to build its nest and reproduce. Between January and June, this bird will frequent cloud forest in search for wild avocados.
Similar to a farmer preparing its terrain and planting seeds to obtain a good harvest, the Quetzal, along with the Black Guan and Emerald Toucanet, likewise swallow these fruits and plant the seeds – working to secure their future and obtain a good harvest.
Identical to ropes, aerial roots hang from the crown of trees in cloud forest. They absorb water and nutrients which upon uniting, run up through their inner parts allowing for an explosion of life, surging from the roots to the leaves.
The death of one tree in the forest means life for the rest. When this giant tree fell, it opened space for the sun’s rays to reach the soil, in turn simulating the birth of seeds that have waited many years for this exact moment to begin their life. Observing the tree in decomposition, one will notice that it feeds the larvae of thousands of insects – from ants to metallic scarab beetles. Feeding on the rotting wood, these insects return all of the nutrients to the soil, strengthening the growth of future plants.
Death does not exist in the forest; only life in transformation.
When the biological reserve was founded in 1972, the landscape was completely different. One would be looking out at the edge of a pasture with grazing cows and a low cloud cover that nothing could convert into water so it would quickly pass by. Consequently, birds and other wildlife were scarce because of the lack of food and shelter.
And so 1972 was a life-altering year as the forest was allowed to return. Conservation grants the forest a new life, painting the flowers and birds an impressive, lush colour. The cloud cover amidst the landscape no longer passes by the embrace of the trees. Nature has reawakened the spirit of cloud forest with the help of conservation.
In search of light in the sky, woody vines ascend from the soil, otherwise known as lianas. Here, their long arms are like bridges, connecting many inhabitants of the forest. From tiny ants to large white-throated Capuchin monkeys.
Lianas are commonly used in artisanal products as to reduce their presence in the forest. As noted by Charles Darwin, since lianas are supported by other plants, they may conserve resources that other plants need to use for growth and reproduction.
“As the gleams of sunshine penetrate the entangled mass, I was forcibly reminded of the two French engravings after the drawings of Maurice Rugendas and Le compte de Clavac. – In these is well represented the infinite numbers of lianas and parasitic plants and the contrast of the flourishing trees with the dead and rotten trunks. I was at an utter loss how sufficiently to admire this scene.” – Darwin, 1887.
Forest bats and amphibians take refuge under a plant called Heliconia, which looks like a banana plant but in fact isn’t closely related at all. Moreover, the Heliconia cannot be found outside of the Monteverde area.
“Kiss me!” the small shade-loving shrubs seem to shout out as you observe their pursed lips. Abundant in cloud forest, false flowers belong to the family of the most popular beverage in the world – the coffee family. Their lips however are no more than modified leaves that grab the attention of its pollinators, which are confused by their colour and beauty. The sweet reward of nectar isn’t found in the lips but rather in the small, overlooked white flower that surfaces from the interior.
Among the most common in the cloud forest and only found in the Americas are what the Indigenous ancestors – the Nahua people of Mexico – coined tepejilote. These palms are a vital food source for birds and humans in certain regions of Honduras and Limón, Costa Rica.
Unopened, the flowers look like an ear of corn and are sold on the market as a vegetable for the preparation of some dishes.
Only 15 years ago it was easy to hear the calls of frogs in cloud forest but near impossible today. The forest is transforming at a rate of acceleration that some of its inhabitants have simply not been able to adapt to at such rapid change. It’s what happened the legendary Golden Toad. In 1987, more than a thousand Golden Toads could be seen. In 1989, only a few. Today, none.
Epiphytism is the relationship of plants that grow and live on other plants, which is very common in cloud forest given the ongoing cloud cover that provides water for all the life.
In Monteverde, the biomass of epiphytic plants is greater than the biomass of leaves, shrubs and bushes in the interior of the forest.
Like a giant sponge, the cloud forest absorbs the low cloud cover and captures rain to be stored in its interior, where life flourishes. One can hear as many sounds in the forest as there are shades of green. Senses open, my naturally optimistic expectations are exceeded as I discover and archive as many sites and sounds as possible.
Continuing to the continental divide, there are three lookouts towards La Ventana.
The continental divide is a geographic line that is drawn over the earth, marking the boundary between two hydrographic watersheds on a continental scale. To understand this, the water that falls on your left hand will lead into the Atlantic Ocean, and the water falling on your right hand into the Pacific Ocean.
Source – Tropical Science Centre of Costa Rica