What is a cloud forest?
Accounting for just 1% of global woodland, these rare and beautiful forests enjoy incredibly high biodiversity levels. According to Rainforest Rescue, Ecuador’s cloud forests are considered the single richest hotspot on the planet, containing approximately 15-17% of the world’s plan species including thousands of species of orchids and nearly 20% of its bird diversity.
Cloud forests occur within tropical or subtropical mountainous environments, where the atmospheric conditions allow for a consistent cover of clouds. More correctly termed pre-montane/subtropical rain forests, Ecuador’s cloud forests cloak the slopes of Andes Mountains from between around 900 and 2500 meters.
More lush than a rainforest
For first time visitors, often the most striking thing is how the trees in cloud forests are almost always covered in ferns, bromeliads, mosses and other plants. Although cloud forest trees are shorter than in a rainforest they can often appear lusher.
Cloud forests are swathed for much of the year in cool mists formed as the humid air (from the Pacific to the west and Amazon to the East) chills as it hits steep slopes of the Andes. This mist and cloud provides up to 40% of the water the cloud forest receives (compared to rainforests who receive almost all their water from precipitation). This means large amounts of water is deposited directly onto vegetation, providing an almost constant source of above ground water and creating a perfect habitat for epiphytes (sometimes known as air plants) that is plants that grow on other plants.
According to the New York Botanical Gardens, the diversity of epiphytes (the plants that grow on other plants) is higher in the cloud forests of Ecuador, Colombia and Peru than anywhere else on the planet. Since it is located on the equator, the plants of Ecuador’s cloud forests areas bloom year round.
As well as a wealth of bird species Ecuador’s cloud forests are home to iconic species such as the Spectacled Bear, Jaguar, Sloth, Howler Monkey, puma and many other species.