Flora of Costa Rica

Costa Rica has more plant varieties than can ever be described. There are over 9000 identified species, including over 800 more ferns than North America and Mexico combined. Some stands of trees have been recorded as having over 90 separate types growing within them. That is saying anything about the number or variety of flowers that are present. Tropical rainforests, lowlands, cloudforests, and even high elevation spaces offer a unique array of life to take root.

 

Costa Rica Rainforests

Tropical Rainforests

High canopy forests don't allow much light in, so the under brush is frequently not as thick as depicted in popular culture. These canopies, however, can be gardens of the most splendid variety. Seeds will end up 200 feet in the air from birds or other animal deposits and the diversity of life elevation can be greater than on the ground level.

Mosses, lichen, and fungus are three of the most common growers beneath the canopy. These help to break down any organic material that stays stagnant on the ground too long. Decomposition is an active process in tropical rainforests. Shallow root systems are quick to pull the newly digested molecules back into the system.

Air breathing, light needing plants are referred to as epiphytes. Vines, ferns, and flowers are other epiphytes in the Costa Rican tropical rainforest. Orchids are one of the most common, and frequently the most beautiful of these. They come in many sizes, colors, and smells. Some orchids grow to 25 feet long!

Strangler figs can be a menace to other forest trees. They are planted in the canopy through the coming and going of animals, and grow downward until their branches grow into the soil. Nutrients are then stolen from the host tree from the top and bottom, eventually killing the tree that will then decompose and leave a hollow shell of the strangler fig standing in its place. Even the plant fights for survival in a tropical rainforest.

Costa Rica Lowlands

Lowlands

Mangrove forests line coastal reaches of Costa Rica. These are wildly important habitat for all sorts of wildlife from land-based cats to marine fishes. The estuaries are overrun by tangled root systems that are frequently covered with herbaceous growth. Plants on plants is the theme of Costa Rican floral activity. Wherever there is enough space for one thing to grow, nine things will attempt to grow there. Thankfully, most of the remaining mangrove forests are protected by law from being torn out so the land can be developed.

Costa Rica Cloud Forests

Cloudforests

These represent the wettest of wet zones. Moisture moves up from the lowlands to collect in dense clouds that hover against the hillsides. These constantly precipitated reaches are under direct threat from global warming as the difference in one or two degrees is all it takes for evaporation to begin. The elevation of cloudforests today, and their unique floral arrangements of mosses, ferns, and trees, has risen from the recent past, and is quickly running out of real estate to advance higher. There is less diversity here, but there is also more at stake for being lost full-time.

Costa Rica Temperate Forests

Temperate Forests

The northwestern stretch of Costa Rica receives significantly less rain than the rest of the country, and the floral climate is recognizably different. Typical stretches of dense forests, of the highest diversity in the country, have been knocked down for "progress." Only 2% of these forests remain, and thankfully they are protected. Since there is not as much rain here, grasses and other plant life that requires deeper root systems have a chance to survive. The trees are smaller, but the openings they provide for light reaching the forest floor are bigger. Scarily, when a fire hits these regions, it is not forest that grows back, but savanna style grasses and shrubs. Certainly there is a lot at stake in Costa Rica's temperate zone!