Bromeliads and rainforests in Costa Rica
By Iris Otto-Knapp
In July/August 1998 I went on my Travel Scholarship to Costa Rica to visit several National Parks and study Bromeliads and associated epiphytic flora in their natural habitat. Costa Rica is a small country in Central America of 51,100 square kilometres, bordered by Nicaragua to the north and Panama to the south, the Pacific Ocean to the west and the Caribbean Sea to the east. A series of volcanic mountain ranges runs through the whole country. The location between the oceans and the topography, created a wide range of habitats and rich species diversity.
My trip started in the capital, San Jose, where I visited the National Biodiversity Institute (InBio). InBio’s main task is to survey the national flora and fauna, to increase knowledge on biodiversity and monitor losses, due to deforestation and other human impact, on the ecosystems of Costa Rica to help their conservation. InBio is just establishing a new Botanic Garden close to their main quarter in the suburbs of the capital. I had the opportunity to visit the garden in the middle of its development. It will display different Costa Rican habitat types for educational purposes and will introduce Costa Ricans as well as tourists to their natural surroundings and increase their awareness of environmental issues and the importance of habitat protection.
After two days in the capital, I spent a week on the research station Pitilla, in the Area Conservation Guanacaste (A.C.G.), working with two Canadian ecologists on bromeliad interactions with insects. Pitilla lies at 1,700 metre elevation and is surrounded by wet tropical rainforest. The time was spent hiking around the extensive trails systems of the station, helping the two ecologists to identify some of the bromeliads they were working on. My main interest lay in the epiphytic Bromeliad genus Guzmania. I managed to observe G. monostachya, G. lingulata and G. stenostachya in flower at Pitilla.
On my last day in the A.C.G., I visited their main quarter, the research station Santa Rosa, learning about their conservation, education and research programmes. Santa Rosa, just 40 miles away from Pitilla lies next to the Pacific Coast, where the climate is much drier resulting in a vegetation of dry deciduous tropical forest.
The next part of my trip was a visit to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. A private reserve managed by the Tropical Science Centre. It is located in the centre of the country in the Cordillera de Tilaran at 1,500 metre elevation. It lies on the continental divide, so that it extends to the Caribbean and the Pacific side of the country. The high elevation creates a much cooler environment with very high humidity and rainfall. Premontane, montane and elfin forest are found in the reserve. The high humidity in the forests resulted in a very rich epiphytic flora of mosses, lichens, ferns, orchids and bromeliads. The main genera of Bromeliaceae found in Monteverde are Vriesea, Guzmania and Pitcairnia. A lot of Bromeliads were in their fruiting stage, unfortunately the flowering peak must have been four to six weeks previous to my visit.
From Monteverde I moved on to the Biological Field Station, La Selva, run by the Organisation for Tropical Studies (O.T.S.).The O.T.S. is an organisation founded by several north and central American universities to create research facilities in tropical countries. La Selva was their first research station built in the Caribbean lowlands of Costa Rica. It encompasses an area of 1,600 ha of tropical, wet rainforest bordering on the south the Braulio Carillo National Park, the largest National Park in Costa Rica. It offers an entirely topographical surveyed area with a variety of wetland and forest habitats, an extensive well developed trail system and accommodation, library and laboratory facilities for researchers and visitors. Being located in the Caribbean lowlands, La Selva lies in an area with no distinct dry season. The average rainfall of 400 millimetres spreads evenly throughout the year.
I spent my last week in the Orosi Valley, near Cartago, located in the Central Highlands, to visit the Tapanti National Park, a very wet area due to about 150 rivers originating in the area. In Tapanti a lot of endemic Bromeliads, mainly Vriesea and Guzmania species are found. Some species like Guzmania skotakii are endemic to this particular area. Unfortunately, due to the constant rainfall during my visit, I was only able to see Guzmania desautelsii in flower, another species endemic to Costa Rica.
On daily trips from the Orosi valley I managed to visit Lankester Botanic Garden, which holds a large collection of epiphytes. It was formerly a private garden, but today is run by the University of Costa Rica. Another trip involved climbing up Volcan Poas and Volcan Irazu, the 246 latter being the highest volcanic mountain in Costa Rica, with 3,432 metres above sea level displaying a paramo (alpine) vegetation close to the peak.
I highly appreciated and enjoyed this opportunity to travel to Costa Rica and learn about tropical flora and fauna, which have been a main interest during my horticultural career. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Kew Guild for their financial support of my trip.