After traveling around Colombia for a month, I am now in Ecuador. Ecuador is known for its natural diversity – and all the fun that accompanies it. It is the second-smallest country in South America, but its range of offerings is no less than astounding. In one day’s drive you can journey from the Amazon Basin across glaciated Andean volcanoes, down through tropical cloud forest and into the sunset for a dinner of ceviche on the balmy Pacific coast. For nature lovers Ecuador has exotic orchids and birds, bizarre jungle plants, strange insects, windswept páramo (Andean grasslands), dripping tropical forests and the fearless animals that hop, wobble and swim around the unique, unforgettable Galápagos Islands. And this is why I am here. For the next month I will volunteering with Ceiba Foundation for Tropical Conservation. Ceiba has operations in the jungle, the Oriente, the coast, the Galapagos Islands, and the cloud forests.
I had orientation today and got my suggested items list and spent the day shopping. I had a lot of the items like a headlamp, water bottle, wool socks, long-sleeved shirts, hiking shoes and pants, but I needed rubber boots, tall socks, and work gloves. I also bought a few souvenirs and shipped them back home. The cloud forest is only about 1 hour north of Quito, and I’ll be living at the Mindo Orchid Reserve. I am not sure exactly what I will be doing there, but it involves photography. Then its off to the Ecuadorian Amazon. From there it is a quick flight over the mountains off to the coast to do some work in the dry forest. I know that I will be working in the EcoCenter for a couple of hours a day, but I am not sure what else I’ll be doing there.
A plant person, I am not, and I’m even less of a flower person. However, Ecuador is a bio-diversity hot spot, and I would be amiss if I didn’t at least check out some of Ecuador’s offering. I would also be de-friended by one of my best friends who not only has a master’s degree in plant pathology [I can’t even], but also grows orchids in one of his many home greenhouses. But as a person who like to be thorough in my writing I did a little bit of research on the beautiful orchid.
Among the biggest misconception about orchids is that they are parasites. Most people will conclude this because in the wild most orchids are found to grow in the branches of trees and some even cling on bushes. Many species of orchids are epiphytes. This literally means “on top of plant”. They are called this because they usually attach themselves to the branches of trees. They are also referred to as air plants because they absorb moisture and nutrients from the air that surrounds them. This is also why most orchids require proper ventilation to thrive.
The orchids that hang from tree branches and birches get the nutrients not from the tree itself but the surroundings. They live “up there” because this is where they can get the best of the best nutrients from its surroundings, such as from dead leaves and bird droppings. That is why to classify them as parasitic because of their chosen location is completely untrue.
Some orchid species cannot create their own food through photosynthesis. So what they do is they rely on the fungi on their roots to create the food for them. These are the more appropriately called “parasitic orchids”.
In reality parasitic plants, like mistletoe, are considered parasites because they cause damage to their host plants. Orchids that cling and hang from trees are actually somewhat beneficial. Their host trees are considered more of a stage for them to thrive rather than a host to steal nutrients from.
Enough of the science lesson…
Whilst in Ecuador I went to not only the Orchidarium in Cuenca, but also did volunteer work at the Mindo Cloud forest about an hour north of Quito where I photographed and catalogued all the orchids on site. My favorite flower by far is the monkey faced orchid. I’m sure it has a fancy scientific name, but I like the monkey face name.
See that cute little monkey face. Talk about a flower with personality! And when it’s in full bloom, it smell like an orange. How perfect! These orchids grow in the cloud forests of Ecuador and Peru at 1000 to 2000 meters above sea level.