Pop Quiz #2!

Test your knowledge on the flora and fauna growing along UGACR campus trails and throughout the Monteverde Cloud Forest here in Costa Rica. You never know when a trivia night will call for tropical ecology facts…

True or False?

These are two different species of trees:

True. That was a tough one, but after a closer look, you could be one step closer to becoming a resident naturalist on the UGA Costa Rica campus!

One of the most telling differences is the growth pattern of each tree. Notice, the first tree, a strangler fig, resembles a vine and weaves around a host tree. The ebony tree on the other hand, has no host and, although its trunk resembles thick vines, it’s merely the trunk growing predominantly upward.

Many plants struggle to establish themselves as seedlings in the dark, nutrient-poor soil of the cloud forest floor. In order to survive, hemiepiphytes start from the top and work their way down. Strangler figs, of which there are a number of different species within the genus Ficus, are one such canopy-born plant. Birds often disperse the seeds high in the canopy, atop branches reaching for sunlight.

While the fig germinates in the cloud forest’s natural awning, its roots begin a journey of descent. For approximately 20 years, the host tree serves as a GPS system for the fig, guiding the roots downward. Slowly, the roots twist and tangle their way around the trunk of its host, forming a lacework of crisscrossing vines. Once rooted in the thin layer of soil, the fig inhibits the host tree from extracting vital nutrients. Strangled and starving, the host tree rots and what remains is the hollow corkscrew trunk of a fig tree.

HollowFig

The ebony tree, Diospyros sp., grows wide and high, from the ground up. Although its outermost trunk may look like thick individual pipes, the tree is entirely connected. During its growth the trunk forms deep crevasses, mini-caves where snakes, birds, spiders and bats are know to nest. Ebony wood is black and sturdy, once a popular material for creating black piano keys. If it were to be cut down, and ebony tree could remain as is for nearly 50 years without decaying, an indication of its durability.

Blog contribution by Alex Fylypovych, UGA Costa Rica Photojournalism Intern

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