Aerial Gardens and Aerial Aquaria

Tuesday, June 16, 2015
Caroline Chaboo

Branch loaded with epiphytes at Monteverde
Bromeliads, orchids and ferns
Emma and Hannah on canopy walkway
Looking down at tree ferns in forest understorey
One characteristic of rain and cloud forests are the diversity of epiphytes, life forms growing on top of other life forms. ‘Aerial garden’ is used nowadays to refer to roof-top gardens sprouting on little-used spaces of high-rise buildings around the world. Classically, it has referred to the plethora of plants that assemble on the trunks and limbs of rainforest trees. ‘Aerial aquaria’ are the bromeliads that accumulate rainwater, soil and animal communities at the base of the rosette of leaves.  Canopy walkways, aerial traps, open-air gondolas, and zip-lining are frequently being constructed for scientists and nature lovers to learn about these hard-to-reach forest layers.  

In our daily walks along trails at the Zurqui de Moravia site near San Jose and here in the Monteverde Cloud Forest, we take advantage of fallen trees and broken tree limbs to test out our botany knowledge, add a few more families to our life lists, and poke around for hidden snakes, frogs, and especially insects.  I don’t have the heart to peel off the carpet of mosses, filmy ferns, and flowering orchids to find beetles and bugs.  Documenting the arthropod community living in the phytotelmata of a bromeliad is destructive sampling – tearing leaves apart and using forceps to spread the soil. Fortunately, this is not the focus of my current research nor permitted by my Costa Rica research permit; thus, I am spared the conflict of attacking these gorgeous bromeliads for cryptic insect treasures.