Most of Costa Rica’s forests can be primarily classified into three groups; rainforests, cloud forests and topical dry forests. And while rainforests are the most common habitat, the cloud forests of Costa Rica are a magnificent sight to behold. Rainforests can be found in the southwest of the country as well as in the Atlantic lowlands, with towering trees and looping vines that create a magical wispy environment. Receiving a high annual rainfall, these dense forests are characterized by a wealth of plant and animal life. Rainforests are located at lower elevations, and as a result, they tend to be much warmer, especially during the dry season. Cloud forests, on the other hand, are usually located at much higher elevations, and are much cooler. This difference in temperature contributes to the mist and fog that is often visible in cloud forests, as the milder temperatures slow the evaporation process. However, despite being a little cooler than rainforests, cloud forests are very humid. Cloud forests generate water by capturing water from fog (surface clouds). Water condenses on the leaves and branches of cloud forest trees, epiphytes and lichen, drips to the forest floor, and enters streams. The tropical evergreen cloud forests on the slopes of the Cordillera de Talamanca in Costa Rica’s southern highlands is of vital importance both as a source of drinking and irrigation water to the main cities in the Valle Central and as a bastion of many endemic species. This is not meant to be a comprehensive survey of the plants in the cloud forest, concentrating instead on important and noteworthy plants in this ecosystem.
The genus Bromelia, as well as the total family Bromeliaceae, the “pineapple” family, was named in honor of Olaf Bromel, the Swedish botanist. There are about 3,000 species of bromeliads (and more being discovered nearly every week, it seems.) This is one of the most colorful of all the plant families in terms of both foliage and flower varieties. Bromeliads come in an unbelievable variety of colors; some are nearly fluorescent, and many are unique among the plant kingdom. Humans have been using bromeliads for thousands of years. The Incas, Aztecs, Maya and others used them for food, protection, fiber and ceremony, just as they are still used today. European interest began when Spanish conquistadors returned with pineapple, which became so popular as an exotic food that the image of the pineapple was adapted into European art and sculpture. Because many of the individual members are quite rare, I have used the New Zealand Bromiliad Society collection as the base of the pictures and I have added others as I found them mostly in New Zealand.
The Conservatory of Flowers is a greenhouse and botanical garden that houses a collection of rare and exotic plants in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, California. With construction completed in 1878, it remains the oldest building in the park, and the oldest municipal wooden conservatory remaining in the United States. It is also one of the first municipal conservatories constructed in the country. The Conservatory was bought as a kit by James Lick, an eccentric businessman, piano maker, and successful real estate investor. It was intended for the City of San Jose where Lick had built a mansion surrounded by exotic plants imported from South America and around the world. Lick died in 1876 before constructing the conservatory on his estate, and it was put up for sale by his trustees. The kit was then purchased by a group of prominent San Franciscans, including Leland Stanford and Charles Crocker, who offered it as a gift to the City of San Francisco for use in Golden Gate Park. The Parks Commission accepted the gift and hired Lord & Burnham, a greenhouse manufacturing company from New York, to supervise the erection of the structure. Once open, it contained a large variety of rare and tropical plants, including a giant water lily, Victoria Regia, which at the time was the only known specimen in the United States.