While the Children’s Eternal Rainforest is home to spectacular wildlife such as jaguars, tapirs, monkeys, quetzals, boa constrictors, hummingbirds and sloths, the forest hosts an even greater variety of plants, including 500 species of orchids and 800 types of trees. These numbers are impressive, but it helps to have images to visualize this diversity.
Plants represent many things in the forest: they are food and shelter for animals, soil stabilizers, oxygen producers, and water filterers. They are the pillars of the ecosystem.
Compared to plants in temperate zones, plants in the tropics are more dependent on animals for reproducing. Whereas the seeds and pollen of many temperate plants are spread and transported by wind, a greater proportion of tropical plants use animals for these services. Important pollinators in the forest include hummingbirds, bees, moths, butterflies and other insects. Birds (such as quetzals, bellbirds and umbrella-birds) and mammals (such as monkeys, agoutis, and bats) play important roles in the dispersing seeds through the forest. This means that protecting wildlife and safeguarding plants are inseparable as goals.
In addition to the tangible benefits of rainforest plants, such as water-cycling and pharmaceuticals, rainforest flora provide an array of sensory wonders and aesthetic values that are hard to quantify. We live in an age of astounding technology, but as long as rainforests stand, strangler fig trees and orchids will be able to compete with 3D animation as sources of awe.
As we enter December, the trade winds are blowing across Costa Rica, marking the transition from rainy season to dry season. While wreaths made from fir branches may be adorning houses in the United States, a different type of plant is decorating the communities around the Children’s Eternal Rainforest. Vivid patches of pink are appearing in trees as a common local species of orchid begins to bloom, bringing into focus the cultural value of rainforest plants.