Thursday, February 24, 2011

Plants of Ecuador

                                            Plants of Ecuador
Ecuador, which only occupies 0.2 % of the planet's area but blessed by its tropical location and other important characteristics, like its altitudinal ranges and a climate devoid of winter conditions for the most parts, has a very diverse vegetation with more than 25 000 species of plants present in the country, which represents approximately 10% of all plants known in the world One of the most diverse in plants of its many bio-geographical regions are the tropical rainforests, where often 300 different species of trees are found in one hectare alone. Many of those tropical trees and palms reach heights of up to 30m and support by themselves a multitude of many other plants like epiphytes and vines. Some of them have medicinal value figured out by trial and error over thousand years by the indigenous people. Moving higher up the mountains you encounter another rich nature zone, the vegetation-dense cloudforests, which is especially diverse in Orchids and Bromeliads and many other flowering plants. There you also find a high variety of ferns and mosses. Trees abound but do not reach the immense heights of the lower tropical rainforests of the Amazon. Reaching the Inter-Andean valleys, we find more natural diversity but also a region, which was completely changed by man and where now many exotic plants are dominant.

This holds also true for the agricultural rich coastal plains where imported fruits and crops took the place of the native tropical forest and changed completely the bio-zone. The higher we move up the less species per hectare you find but even the diversity in the high alpine region of the paramo of 4000m is amazing. You find there flowers like the colorful gentians and woody shrubs of the aster or composite families. Another very distinct characteristic of Ecuador's flora is its high percentage of endemic plants, which are by definition only found in Ecuador or even only in a particular region of the country, like a small and isolated valley. Those endemic plants represent 20% of all plants of mainland Ecuador and reaches a much higher percentage in Galapagos. The insular region of Galapagos is the poorest in species numbers with only 600 native and around 260 introduced plants by colonists Worldwide only a small percentage of plants are cultivated by man for agricultural purposes but these few plants play a big role in the feeding of the ever-growing world population. When the Spaniards arrived on the American continent, a big exchange of food plants took place around the world. Old world crops like wheat and rice were introduced in the Americas and New World crops like corn and potatoes were exported. But not only crops but also fruits were interchanged, with the banana and coffee coming to tropical America and the avocado and pineapple moving from here to other parts of the planet. Also the settlers brought with them their favorite flowers, which they introduced into a new system. Trees like the eucalyptus and pines were imported and presently are the dominant ones in the Andean valleys, having replaced the native forest, which only exists in a few pockets but otherwise had to yield to the imported species and cultivated fields and pastures.


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