Costa Rican Rain Forest Teaches Employees about Orchids and More .....
Earlier this month, the staff of Chadwick & Son Orchids Inc embarked on a company trip to Costa Rica to educate everyone on orchid growing in the wild.
Costa Rica, which is located in Central America between Nicaragua and Panama, is home to around 1500 orchid species including Cattleya dowiana and skinneri (my personal favorites) and close relatives Laelia rubescens and Brassavola nodosa as well as a Schromburgkia, 2 Encyclias, 2 Epidendrums, 4 Oncidiums (including a mule ear type), a Miltonia, a Brassia, a Catasetum, a Gongora, a Stanhopea, a Dracula, a Masdevallia, a Lycaste, a Phragmipedium, and a Sobralia.
Our destination was Monteverde (‘green mountain’ in spanish) cloud forest – a tropical forest that grows at high altitudes and is often immersed in fog and harbors its own collection of plants and animals that are found nowhere else on earth. The ultra high humidity is perfect for epiphytes which live on top of the plants and rely on the moisture for growth.
Our first night was memorable! After traveling all day on bumpy roads, we were unexpectedly treated to an authentic dinner by our bilingual tour guide Marcos’s parents which included tamales (rice and chicken rolled in a banana leaves), dulce de leche (milk and sugarcane), and fresh mangos picked from the tree. Later that evening while playing cards in our villa, screams could be heard in all directions as we discovered a scorpion had walked in the front door and was now under our table ready to strike. It was hard to sleep that night!
The next morning we awoke to find tens of thousands of leaf cutter ants in the front yard carrying large pieces of greenery in a single file to their huge nest. They looked dangerous but were too focused on their job to even notice us. It was amazing how they worked together for a common cause – truly team players. We, humans, can learn a few things from those ants!
Then it was off to the cloud forest in search of orchids. The best way to fully understand how epiphytes grow is to view an entire ecosystem 200’ high on a tree limb. There are hundreds of different plants all living side by side and on top of one another - mosses, ferns, bromeliads, heliconias, anthuriums, begonias, and, of course, orchids. (Sometimes the weight of the fauna can break off the branch or cause the tree to fall over.) What do these epiphytes live on? Water droplets, nutrients from dust, fallen leaves, insects, and bird droppings.
In order to see the old growth forest at this level, we followed Marcos across a series of narrow swaying platforms at or above the tree tops called suspension bridges. It is here that we saw the higher light orchids that bloom in the tree tops such as yellow Oncidiums and orange Epidendrums. Though not in bloom, we identified Cattleya skinneri plants (the National Flower) that had been pollinated a month or two earlier and now had large seed pods.
It was fun to see the diverse tropical birds which visit the epiphytes for food, nesting material, and shelter. The Three Wattled Bell Bird (makes an eerie ‘bonk’ sound), flamboyant bright billed yellow Toucan (aka Flying Banana), and perhaps the most beautiful bird in the world, the Quetzal were spotted. Marcos had been looking for the elusive Quetzals all day using a telescope and bird calls and having little luck when suddenly a colorful male with long iridescent green tail feathers and a dazzling blood red breast landed 6’ away. There wasn’t time to take a picture as we stood paralyzed for a few minutes before the bird returned to its favorite Avocado tree.
Later, we walked thru the forest on ground level where we observed the lower light plants and saw all sorts of interesting creatures – bats, snakes, beetles, frogs, and Morpho butterflies. Oh and one very large furry tarantula who was sound asleep. Yikes! The entire monkey family (white faced, howler, spider) was well camouflaged and not visible until later in the week.
This trip was not just about work, however. There was Salsa dancing night, zip lines across gorges, rock climbing down waterfalls, a three hour horseback ride to an erupting volcano, geothermally heated pools, white water rafting, and white sandy beaches. Along the way, we learned about orchids, each other, and how every living thing, no matter how small, has an important role in the survival of the rainforest.