At the Pacific Slope of Costa Rica, next to the known Tarcoles River, there is an important protected area of 5000 hectares called Carara, which means “river of alligators” The name comes from the Huetar language. Therefore, Huetares was an indigenous group that was living in the area a long time ago, however, in this country, there are just crocodiles and caimans.
The zone of life of this national park is very special because it is a transitional forest. Basically is the transition between the dry forest that starts in Texas USA and ends in Guanacaste province in Costa Rica, so from the Carara area to South Pacific, there is a wet forest that becomes more humid at Peninsula de Osa. Therefore, this region of the Pacific is where both ecosystems overlap, and that contributes to having an interesting biodiversity of flora and fauna.
This conservation area is well known because of the great diversity of birds, but talking about plants in general also is impressive. The different species that can be found are fantastic. Some of them are very common but others are rare and even endemic from the Pacific side of the country.
Next, there will be mentioned some of the interesting common plants that you can expect in Carara National Park.
Scientific name:Ceiba pentandra
It is one of the biggest trees in Central America, it can grow up to 50 meters tall. Its trunk is cylindrical and straight, it develops a big buttress root at the base and a compressed crown. Also, its leaves are alternate, palmately compound with seven leaflets. It produces pink flowers but the blooming season is irregular, not annually.
It is native from Africa but this magnificent tree can be found in the Neotropical regions of America. It can grow in dry or wet forests, in several kinds of habitats such as farmlands, Secondary forests or a primary where it may be the emergent tree of the canopy level. Besides, it is very common in riparian forests where they have more humidity next to rivers or creeks.
Their seeds are inside a kind of cotton that grows in the pots, so in this way, they are dispersed by the wind.
Scientific name: Anacardium excelsum
It is another big tree in the rainforest of Costa Rica. It can reach 40 meters tall and its diameter is more than 2 meters. The wild cashew is common from north to south in both slopes in the country, but is more common in the Pacific, growing along the river sides. This one is closely related to the cashew tree (Anacardium occidentale) the one that develops the nuts that you can find in the supermarket, both belong to the same family as well as the mango tree.
It produces the fruits at the end of the dry season, around March and April. There are several species of bats that like to feed on the fruits, therefore they disperse the seed around the forest, contributing to the natural reforestation.
Moreover, the popular name in Spanish is “Espavel” which comes from “Es para ver” (In order to see) which refers to when the indigenous or explorers were lost in the forest and used to climb this tree to use it as a lookout point or a watch tower.
Scientific name: Ochroma pyramidale
It is one of the pioneer trees when a forest is disturbed, that is why it is mostly found in open areas where they get good sunlight. It can measure around 25 meters, sometimes more, the bark is gray and the leaves are heart-shaped. One of the most popular trees due to this one has one of the lightest woods in America. The wood is very used to make different stuff because it is very easy to craft. In Costa Rica, some indigenous people such as Borucas and Malekus, craft stunning masks with amazing wild animals like Jaguars, frogs, toucans, flowers, and butterflies among others.
Along tropical America, people commonly make rafts from this wood to travel through the river, here is where the name “balsa” comes from.
The flowering of balsa starts in the dry season, they are big like a bell or trumpet and white, they are pollinated by some mammals for instance, the bats as well as the Kinkajous love this nectar too.
Scientific name: Schizolobium parahyba
This is a common tree of the legume family, it grows to about 30 meters, easy to recognize because it has a smooth, light grey and a straight bole that many times presents white lichen. Also one of the remarkable characteristics is the big buttress roots, due to this is known as “Gallinazo” which means “big hen” in Spanish because the roots look like a hen foot. Always walk next to these trees, and try to be careful because some venomous snakes like the famous Fer de lance (Bothrops asper) prefer to be coiled between these buttress roots waiting for the next prey.
The scarlet macaws look for natural cavities on these trees for nesting at the beginning of the dry season. This deciduous tree starts blooming when all the leaves drop in January, and some animals like the Mantled Howler Monkeys (Alouatta palliata) and Crested Guans (Penelope purpurascens) love to feed on these flowers.
Scientific name:Cecropia peltata
This is another pioneer tree, known as “Guarumo” by costarican people. It is a common tree that can be easily spotted next to roads, secondary forests, along the river and in open areas. It is a fast-growing tree, usually growing less than 25 meters. Its leaves are hand-shaped like umbrellas, with rings along the main trunk.
The Cecropia has a symbiosis with Aztec ants, it will provide a house for these tiny invertebrates and they will defend the tree from other herbivores that will try to feed on the leaves. Also, the tree gives food to the ants with Mullerian bodies, a sugar-like resource that develops at the base of the leaf stems.
Many other animals, for instance, bats, birds, monkeys and some other arboreal mammals like monkeys, feed on Cecropia fruit.
Three-toed sloths are very often spotted on this tree because they are common in open areas where sloths go to sun themself, but actually, they also like to feed on new cecropia leaves because they have fewer toxins, less fibre and more protein.
In Costa Rica there are five species of Cecropia but Cecropia peltata is the most common in lowlands forests.
Author: Yostin Rojas- Nature Group Naturalist Guide.