Pop Quiz #7

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…

Q: How many species of wild orchids are there in Costa Rica?

A. 30,000               B. 1,600                C. 600

Answer: B. 1,600 wild orchids decorate Costa Rican canopies!

Step aside all other flora: With 30,000 wild species in the world, orchids, family Orchidaceae, are the largest plant species worldwide. In Costa Rica alone, 1,600 have been identified.

Orchids are bilaterally symmetric, meaning they can be divided into two equal parts, similar to a human face or body. They can be found growing terrestrially, as epiphytically (on other plants and trees), and even in subterranean environments.

There are typically six parts to an orchid flower. The outer three are called sepals, and the inner three, which tend to have an ornate coloration, are petals. Each orchid has a main petal, a landing strip so to speak, for the insect meant to pollinate it.

Although not visible to the human eye, the petal resembles a female insect’s color and shape. It’s a slightly cruel trick on behalf of Mother Nature, but it fools the male insect into thinking it is seeing a female of its kind, therefore helping to pollinate the orchid.

This also serves as an example of the interconnectedness in nature; if a particular orchid’s pollinating insect numbers are dwindling or disappear, that species of orchid will be threatened by extinction as well, as there are no other insects in the wild capable of pollinating the flower.

Another interesting structural part of the orchid is the part of the stem that looks like a snake after it has swallowed a mouse. That’s called the pseudobulb, and no there’s no mouse inside, but it is full of water. Plants, like epiphytic orchids, whose root structures are above ground, use pseudobulbs for water storage.

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My favorite fact of all: Orchids live harmoniously without attempting to outcompete one another. Like my garden guide mentioned, humans can certainly learn a thing or two from orchids.

If you take a picturesque 25-minute cab ride from our UGACR campus to Santa Elena, you can visit the Orchid Garden, and see up to 600 species of orchids lining, winding, and threading their roots around trees along a thin stone garden path.

Sources: Rainforest Alliance, the Orchid Garden, and resident naturalists!

Blog post contribution by Alex Fylypovych, UGA Costa Rica Photojournalism Intern

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