Hiking in paradise

Monday, May 27, 2013

Heliconia orthotricha.

Podocarpus National Park, covering 1,400 square kilometers or more than 900 square miles, in southern Ecuador, has spectacular plant and animal diversity -- more than 600 species of birds and 4,000 species of plants, 40 percent of which are endemic.  So biologically rich, the park is called “the botanical garden of the Americas.” Hiking here is one of life's great pleasures if you are nature nut like me.

Butterfly on Miconia leaf.

Philodendrons, ferns, bromeliads, orchids, flowering shrubs slather the understory, twine and crawl up trees and delight you if you can even name the genus, much less the species.

Heliconia orthotricha burnishes its vermillion bracts edged in green against ferns of a thousand patterns. Philodendron sodori, silver-white patches marking its rippled, heart-shaped leaves, grows in profusion, often tickled at its feet by the green and white species Caladium bicolor. Peperomias, begonias, selaginella and moss of every description fill in the blanks. Oil

Hot lips, Psychotria

palms emerge from the canopy as giant fountains of fronds.

A cascada thunders so mightily that it can be heard half a kilometer away.

A cool cascade.

On a different scale, a carnivorous Utricularia holds out flowers as beautiful as orchids, but each only about a quarter inch in length.

We had great fun posing with flowers of Psychotria poeppigiana held between our teeth, its two curled bracts serving as phony red lips; chasing butterflies to photograph, and finding make-believe vistas so we could catch our breath. Learning to identify orchids and aroids here is learning in one of the planet's best classrooms.