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The páramo ecosystem
The páramo of El Cajas is located west of the city of Cuenca in Azuay province, in southern Ecuador (map). Páramo is a unique ecosystem dominated by bunch-grasses that has fascinated scientists since Alexander von Humboldt visited them more than 200 years ago; it is found between 8°N and 11°S latitudes above the tree line and up to the permanent snow line, from Venezuela to northern Peru and on a few mountains in Panama and Costa Rica. This ecosystem covers most of the area of Cajas National Park (CNP), but it also extends to the adjacent areas of Angas, Dos Chorreras, Migüir, Río Blanco, and Soldados. The word páramo was probably first used by the Spanish conquistadors when comparing these treeless inhospitable areas with the "parameras" of the Spanish province of Castile. The páramos, along with the Andean forests, function as a buffer in the hydrological cycle, which slowly releases the fallen rain water to rivers and lakes. The water captured in the páramos benefits millions of people that use it for consumption and irrigation. Páramos have high biological diversity and endemism, and constitute a unique biota. The species have adapted to the cold conditions, extreme solar irradiation, low atmospheric pressure, dramatic daily fluctuations in temperature, and seasonal rains. Many plants grow very close to the ground, forming rosettes and cushion-plants, or have reduced hard leaves or are covered with a dense layer of white or silvery hairs.

CNP is one of the most popular sites of healthy recreation for the inhabitants of the province of Azuay, as well national and international tourists who visit the city of Cuenca. It is our hope that through this online publication we provide basic information about the flora for an adequate management of the area and for the pleasure of the general public who will appreciate the beauty of the species and their invaluable ecosystem. Let us not forget that the area of CNP is an important source of water for Cuenca and the Paute hydroelectric plant. The ecological well being of the Park is of extreme importance to the entire country.

The purpose of this project was to explore the páramo of Cajas, to take high quality digital photographs, and to produce an illustrated flora of the vascular plants available through the internet. Numerous botanists have visited the area and information in the data bases are results of expeditions carried out in this area. Nonetheless, it is only from the year 2000 when we started to take high quality digital photographs which are used through these web pages. We explored the Park in the northern and southern areas in 2000 (January), in 2003 (January and September), and in 2004 (February) taking pictures of the plants. For each specimen photographed, we collected at least one voucher specimen. Plants were collected and dried according to the conventional methods. The first and complete set of duplicates is deposited in one of the following Ecuadorian herbaria: Universidad Nacional de Loja, Universidad de Azuay or Herbario Nacional del Ecuador. Other duplicates are at the Missouri Botanical Garden and other Ecuadorian or international herbaria where they were sent as gifts for determination by the specialist of the various groups.

Participants of the expeditions were:

Carmen Ulloa Ulloa and Peter Jørgensen, Missouri Botanical Garden, 2000-2003
Samara Álvarez: ETAPA-Parque Nacional Cajas, 2003
Danilo Minga and Xavier Clavijo: Herbario, Universidad del Azuay, 2003
Edwin Narváez: Herbario Nacional del Ecuador, 2000
Jorque Caranqui: Herbario, Escuela Politécnica del Chimborazo, 2000
Sandra Orellana: Estudiante, Universidad del Azuay, 2000

Carmen Ulloa
Carmen Ulloa

Xavier Clavijo, Samara Álvarez and Peter Jørgensen
Xavier Clavijo, Samara Álvarez
and Peter Jørgensen

Peter Jørgensen and Danilo Minga
Peter Jørgensen and Danilo Minga
Danilo Minga collecting in rocky outcrops
Danilo Minga collecting in rocky outcrops

Danilo Minga and Peter Jørgensen pressing plants at the Universidad del Azuay herbarium
Danilo Minga and Peter Jørgensen
pressing plants at the Universidad
del Azuay herbarium

Data bases
Information presented in the checklist is an integration of the information deposited in the TROPICOS database of the Missouri Botanical Garden and the Herbarium database of the Department of Systematic Botany, Aarhus University, Denmark.

© Carmen Ulloa Ulloa & Peter M. Jørgensen, photographs.
© Missouri Botanical Garden. All rights reserved.

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