Echoes of temperate latitudes


Monotropa sp.

Sometimes it is not the exotic that inspires but rather the familiar that one finds in exotic places. For those familiar with the more temperate forests and mountain habitats of North America it is not hard to recognize the familiar echo of more northern latitudes in the flora, fauna and fungi of the neo-tropical cloud forest. Here at Mount Totumas Cloud Forest we are at the very southern range of the Talamanca mountains that extend northward for a couple hundred kilometers into Costa Rica, a large part preserved in La Amistad National Park which borders our site. In some of the highest peaks of the Talamancas that exceed 3000m there is clear geological evidence of glaciers during past ice ages. Most likely forests similar to those found today in temperate North America once extended down to the Talamancas here in Central America. The oaks that dominate the forests here for example are descended from more northern forests.

Monotropa uniflora is a unique member of the blueberry family (Ericaceae) that has no chlorophyll and nourishes itself exclusively from rich forest soils. In North America this species is white with a common name of Ghost Plant or Indian Pipe. Emerging in spring and early summer it always evokes something of the mystery of the forest underworld and here at Mount Totumas Cloud Forest it appears in a more gawdy tropical attire, bright red, in oak forests above 2000m

A Common flower of prairie meadows in North America and alpine and subalpine habitats in the Canadian and North American Rocky Mountains is the Indian Paintbrush, genus Castilleja. Several species and hybrids range in color from yellow to pink to orange to red. Here on the pastures at Mount Totumas Cloud Forest one comes across a more diminutive species that looks almost sub-alpine, perhaps some relic of the past when at these same elevations we would have found ourselves above tree line on alpine meadows instead of today’s manmade pastures used to graze cattle.

Did the Castilleja found here migrate down to these elevations from paramo habitat above tree line once humans opened up the forest for grazing?

In eastern temperate forests in North America following heavy rains chanterelle or oyster mushrooms emerge on rotting deciduous hardwood branches and logs on the forest floor. It was not a surprise then after the first rains after several weeks of dry weather here to see what appears to be a member of the oyster mushroom tribe. If it wasn’t for the flies and larvae that arrived first I would have taken them home to fry up with butter. Seeing the fallen oak log draped with these fungi awakened strong memories of the Appalachian mountains in late spring.

Epiphytic orchids far outnumber terrestrial species here. In the deep shade of the understory here at higher elevations one comes across a terrestrial orchid species that resembles those found in more northern mountain forests.

Mountain lions roam these forests as do White-Tailed Deer. Hairy Woodpeckers are here at the most southern extent of their range. And at this time of year winter residents like the Swainson’s or Wood Thrush can be found on understory branches. Summer Tanagers, Northern Orioles, Blackburnian Warblers foraging in trees draped with epiphytes cause our provincial heads to spin. For here they winter in their ancestral homeland from where these families of birds migrated northwards. Tanagers and warblers migrate as far as the boreal forests of Canada to breed in the summer. Their breeding songs ring out in the northern forests in late spring just as the white Monotropa uniflora Ghost Plant is emerging from thawing soils.

One Response to “Echoes of temperate latitudes”

  1. Joyce says:

    These were abundant in the area near the water collection site. They were red and also purple and looked like candy canes when they stuck into the jungle floor. Joyce

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