Cloud forests

Cloud forests | A simple explanation

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(Last updated on: 20/04/2021)

The first time that I encountered cloud forests was on my travels through Costa Rica. I was fascinated by these unique ecosystems and I really enjoyed learning more about them. So, I thought I would share some of the things that I have learnt about cloud forests on my travels with you in this article. Below I will explain what a cloud forest is, why the are called ‘cloud forests’, where these forests come from and why they are so important. I will also give you some examples of famous cloud forests around the world and talk about the animals that you are likely to encounter here.

What are cloud forests?

Cloud forests
Cloud forests are unique forests that are often filled with cloud.

A cloud forest is a forest full of clouds (and moisture!) essentially. There are various characteristics that make cloud forests what they are. These include clouds, of course, as well as various mosses and tropical or subtropical weather. Cloud forests are very humid. The conditions are difficult to replicate in a glasshouse for example, meaning a visit to a cloud forest is a fairly unique experience! You’ll mainly find these forests in Latin America and the Caribbean as well as Africa and South East Asia. Check out our list of famous cloud forests around the world further down this article…

Cloud forest definition 

A cloud forest is described as being ‘generally tropical or subtropical, evergreen, montane, moist forest characterized by a persistent, frequent or seasonal low-level cloud cover, usually at the canopy level’. They are formally described in the International Cloud Atlas as silvagenitus. 

Trees in cloud forests are often short and crooked. They tend to be located in high altitude areas, and have their own climate and ecosystem within.

Why is it called a cloud forest?

The name (or nickname, perhaps) comes from the presence of clouds. You can literally walk with your head in the clouds when visiting one of these forests; the low-hanging mist, full of moisture, is where cloud forests get their name.

Cloud forests
Cloud forests are usually found at high altitude.

How do cloud forests form?

Cloud forests are always at a high altitude – usually at an elevation ranging from 850 to 2500 metres. Rainfall is heavy in these areas. Clouds form here when warm air full of moisture starts to cool and condense, being pushed upward. The forests themselves have fairly cool average temperatures, and the condensation (which forms the clouds) is persistent due to being deflected upwardly mountains. The forests are completely natural, and an important part of biodiversity.

Why are cloud forests important?

Cloud forests are under threat from climate change and also because of the ever-changing way in which populations use land. They have so many benefits, though. Cloud forests are really important to local communities for several reasons. They provide water, of course, and have a huge role in climate modulation and carbon sequestration. Another benefit of a cloud forest is that it helps to prevent landslides in areas where this is a possibility!

Cloud forests are culturally important for various ethnic groups, who act as shepherds towards these beautiful spaces. The forests have plenty to give. Humans are able to source timber and firewood from cloud forests as well as other building materials. Some highly valued tropical timber trees are harvested from cloud forests, although this calls into question the ethics of taking these trees from natural habitat especially when the forests are becoming somewhat endangered. Local communities are also able to source medicinal plants from their nearby cloud forest, to aid in sustaining the health and healing of their population. Wild fruits and honey are found in these cloud forests, too.

As mentioned, the forests are under threat. Cloud forests currently make up just 1% of the planet’s woodland. There are a few things that are having a negative impact on these particular forests – timer extraction, as mentioned above, as well as clearing the land for mining. This is so disruptive to the delicate ecosystem. Illegal poaching and unsustainable harvesting of the aforementioned medicinal plants also endanger cloud forests.

What animals live in a cloud forest?

There are so many beautiful animals to be found in a cloud forest. From tiny insects to larger mammals, the range of species in cloud forests across the world is incredible. These animals make the forests their home, and they complement each other perfect. The forests need the creatures as much as they need their habitat. Some of the animals you might be able to spot in a cloud forest include:

  • Jaguars (the presence of these apex predators can be used measure the overall ‘health’ of a forest)
  • Long-limbed salamanders 
  • Orchid bees (when it comes to ecosystems, bees are ALWAYS important)
  • Geoffroy’s Spider Monkey
  • Fer-de-Lance vipers
  • Resplendent quetzal
  • Bare-necked umbrella birds (an interesting name!)
  • Mantled howler monkeys
  • Vampire bats
  • Pumas
  • Three-toed sloths

These are just a tiny selection of the 1000+ species that have been sighted in cloud forests across the globe. The unique ecosystem of a cloud forest makes for a really interesting and diverse population of animals!

Cloud forests
Wr found a sloth on our walk through the cloud forest in Monteverde, Costa Rica.

Famous cloud forests around the world

You’ll find cloud forests on various continents. Obviously they thrive in a certain type of weather that just doesn’t exist in some places – but where it does, you will find beautiful cloud forests. Some famous ones include:

Monteverde, Costa Rica

You can find out a bit more about this particular cloud forest below, but this is probably the most famous one. Costa Rica is situated between two oceans, providing the perfect climate for cloud forests to thrive. The whole country is very humid, and the mountainous area of Monteverde is home to one of the most dramatic-looking cloud forests in the world!

The Sholas, India

With a lower altitude than many cloud forests, the Sholas are at 5000 feet and are much warmer than other cloud forests. This also means the humidity is way more intense! With climate change soon to have an irreversible impact on this beautiful area, you should visit them soon if they’re on your travel to-do list. There is a huge number of endanger species here, too, at home among the thick clouds that shroud the area.

Yakushima Island, Japan

This forest radiates pure serenity. The island is readable only by ferry or air, and the forest is like something out of a Disney movie – thick misty clouds fill the forest, muffling all of the sounds of the area. It is so beautiful. Home to deer and monkeys as well as bird and insects galore, this should be on your list of cloud forests to visit on day…

Bale Mountains National Park, Ethiopia 

This cloud forest (Harenna Forest) has fallen victim to a lot of deforestation, which has devastated the area. The world-famous ‘forest coffee’s grown here, and you can visit the coffee plantations. That’s a definite bucket list item for many, but sadly the forest is quickly disappearing. It’s a huge shame as the cloud forest is beautiful and, like the others, home to some amazing creatures big and small.

Bellavista Cloud Forest, Ecuador

Again, you can read more about this particular cloud forest below. Located on the slopes the Andean mountains, the Bellavista cloud forest is home to a huge number of bird species. It is a truly beautiful location!

Gardens by the Bay, Singapore

In the Gardens of the Bay in Singapore there is one of the world’s best known artificial cloud forests. It is a pleasure to visit and is easily accessible as you don’t have to travel to a physical forest! There are information plaques, a large waterfall and plenty of walkways to teach visitors about the typical flora and fauna found in a cloud forest.

Cloud forest: Costa Rica

Monteverde in Costa Rica is one of the most famous and most popular cloud forests in the world. It draws around 70,000 visitors per year and you can stay here, too. There is plenty of conservation work that goes on here, and they aim to reconnect people with nature by showcasing the beauty of this area. It is a living laboratory with so much to see and discover.

The white background behind us here in entirely cloud.

The cloud forest is around 5 hours away from Arenal and La Fortuna, so possibly a bit far for a day trip, but La Casona Lodge is an ideal place to spend the night in the cloud forest itself. It is one of the most peaceful places to sleep in the entire world…

You can go birdwatching, or explore the forest at night with a guide who will tell you everything you need to know about this special little ecosystem and the impact is has on Costa Rica as a country. Monteverde is a beautiful location, one that will give you an incredible sense of fulfilment upon visiting.

Cloud forest: Ecuador 

The Bellavista Cloud Forest Reserve covers 2000 acres in Ecuador, in the Andean mountain range. You’ll find the cloud forest around 52 km from the Ecuadorian capital, Quito. This means it isn’t too far away for a day trip during your trip to Ecuador.

You can stay in the forest itself, however. There is a lodge with 10 guest rooms , various walking trails covering 10 km, and a 4-storey geodesic dome. This contains a restaurant as well as viewing platforms and even more accommodation. But the reserve has so much more than this – it has its own research station, and an incredible ecosystem. If you’re interested in birdwatching then a trip here is ideal. Here are just some of the birds you might spot in Ecuador’s beautiful cloud forest…

  • Purple-throated woodstar
  • White-faced nunbird
  • Buff-tailed coronet 
  • Speckled hummingbird
  • The Andean cock-of-the-rock
  • Beautiful jay
  • Swelled-Tailed nightjar
  • Purple-bibbed whited tip

The plants here are notable, too. There are around 4200 species of orchid to be seen at Bellavista! The diversity of ‘air plants’ (epiphytes) is higher here than anywhere else in the world, too.

Cloud forests

As I have explained in this article, cloud forests are important parts pf the global ecosystem. They provide valuable homes for a variety of nature and impact positively towards limiting climate change. If you enjoyed reading this article you mat also like:

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