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Field Botany in Costa Rica

In any tropical country field botanists should be a common sight. Even in Costa Rica, which is relatively well-known botanically, the basic task of finding out what grows here (and often describing species new to science), is far from done. With about 8,500 species of flowering plants accounted for, we believe that 80 to 90% of the flora is known. In most tropical countries with large areas of natural vegetation that percentage is much lower, but in temperate regions, like the United States, where fewer species grow together, more like 99.9% of the flora is known.

The job of the tropical botanist can be physically demanding but emotionally rewarding. Since well-over half of the species in the wet-lowland tropics are large trees, epiphytes growing high in their branches, or high-climbing, woody vines, special methods for collecting them are needed. The best and most difficult method is climbing, the least efficient and easiest is waiting for the trees or their branches to fall. In between, lie equipment and methods such as long, extendible aluminum clipper poles, high-power rifles, and sling-shotting fishing line to hoist rope and chainsaw blade for cutting down very high branches. The specimens thus produced are pressed in newspaper, their field notes taken, eventually dried, mounted, and filed in the herbarium for further study.

© Barry Hammel 1996