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Altitude Addicts

Yesterday Brian Kubicki kindly joined us on a trip to look for high altitude toad and moss salamander species at about 2000 metres up Turrialba volcano. The conditions at that altitude resemble typical british weather, with cold temperatures, cloud cover, and rain. However, the flora and fauna to be found there are far from typical, with a wonderful array of specialised costa rican creatures and plants that can only survive there.


Tillandsia spp (c) Andrew Gray

High amongst the clouds, the trees are literally dripping with moss and epiphytes of every size and colour. Wonderful bright red bromeliads dominate the branches and air plants grow on the thinnest of twigs and cover the lichen draped bark of many of the trees. If you are interested in bromeliads, tillandsias, orchids, mosses and ferns then this is surely a plant science mecca.

Not so many biologist have covered the actual area we were in yesterday and there are still many species to be discovered there for sure. Some wonderful butterflies and other unusual insects were found, as well as a beautiful unusual bolitoglossa salamander living amongst the moss. Animals at this place appear to have little fear of humans, simply because many have never even seen a human.

Panterpe insignis

Fiery-throated Hummingbird, Panterpe insignis. (c) Andrew Gray

One example of this was when we came across a beautiful hummingbird that was happily resting on a low branch – it simply sat there watching as I was able to get within half a metre away, and still it looked completely chilled out. The air plants of the genus tillandsia are of growing interest for me and these mini bromeliads appear to have evolved to live almost anywhere in the rainforest. Being an epiphyte they need no soil to grow in and take all they need to grow from the humid air around them. Many of the colourful flowers they produce are simply stunning and clear rivals in the beauty stakes to the array of incredible looking orchids that occur at this altitude. I can certainly see why Brian finds high altitude species so addictive.


Back in Manchester, Tom has been planting out his own mini cloud forest in the shape of a new specially developed plant terrarium which provides conditions that would certainly suit many of these plants. Stay posted to read all about Tom’s super new plant terrarium, and in the mean time maybe check out Tara’s tillandsia tips for the ladies video below – air plants for air crew – I don’t think so! 🙂



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