Costa Rica: Astounding high altitude "Grandfather Oak"

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#1)  Costa Rica: Astounding high altitude "Grandfather Oak"

Postby Bart Bouricius » Wed Apr 16, 2014 4:28 pm

Costa Rica’s astounding huge “Grandfather Oak”:  The High Altitude Old Growth forests of Villa Mills

At 9,500 feet (2,900 m) in the Talamanca Mountains along the continental divide there are three large parks and several adjacent forest reserves that make up a corridor with the countries’ largest park, the International Amistad Park.  These parks are Quetzal National Park, Tapanti-Macizo Cerro DeLa Muerte National Park and Chirripo National Park.  

   In the Cerro De La Muerte park area is the town of Villa Mills with 200 residents, more or less. This is where Connie and I stayed on a 3 day tree hunting/birding trip.  After a first cold night in a cabin, we spent the next day driving the dirt roads in the area stopping at likely spots for birds and cataloging the ones we identified.  The second day, I contracted with Olman, a young man who works part time in the charcoal business (turning trees into charcoal for cooking).  Olman agreed to take me to a particularly huge tree that his family was familiar with.  
As we started out on the trail head at about 6:45 am, we were surrounded by towering oaks laden with orchids, ferns and other epiphytic plants including pendant moss, a true moss, which resembles the bromeliad Spanish Moss that commonly drapes the branches of Live Oaks in the Southeastern US.  As we walked we could hear a multitude of bird songs, particularly the ethereal flute like refrain of the Swainson’s Thrush, a bird that winters here and practices in the early spring for its North American debut.

   There are two species of oaks here, the “Encino” oak and the “Roble blanco” which is the larger of the two.  Both oaks are emergent species growing above the other trees including some magnolia trees, which are among the 94 odd tree species that are known to thrive in this high cloud forest environment.

               
                       
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As we drove into the mountains, at a little over 7,000 feet (2135 m) we started seeing the oaks.
               
               


               
                       
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The constantly shifting clouds at this high altitude produce often beautiful effects, but sometimes just dense fog.
               
               


               
                       
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Connie stands among the high altitude poor man's umbrella Gunnera genus species that have been chewed by beetles. Biologist Lynn Margulis had a special interest in this genus because these species all form a symbiosis with nitrogen-fixing cyanobacteria whereby the bacteria enter the plant through glands at the base of the petiole, and provide nitrogen to the plant while obtaining carbon compounds from the plant. http://evolution.berkeley.edu/evolibrary/article/history_24
               
               


               
                       
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This tree in a clearing not far from the trail entrance is Podocarpus costaricensis, a conifer that is rare and considered critically endangered as a result of logging and habitat destruction.  Little is known about its natural history because of its rarity.  I believe this young tree was planted by a park employee.
               
               


               
                       
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Oaks tower into the mist behind Olman as we set out on the trail to the Grandfather Oak.  On this hike I carried my measuring kit consisting of my Nikon 440 rangefinder for straight up shots to obtain minimum heights, and a 50' (15.24 m) circumference tap which was nearly too short.
               
               


               
                       
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As we walked on the Grandfather of the Oaks trail, beautiful ferns and foliage of many plant species surrounded us.  Here is Polypodium macrolepis, somewhat resembling our temperate polypodium ferns.
               
               


               
                       
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A forest anolis lizard with an appealing cryptic pattern looks warily at the camera.
               
               


               
                       
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This Roble Blanco Quercus bumelioides was 153' (46.6 m) tall and 20', 1" (6.1 m) in circumference.
               
               


               
                       
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The Roble Blanco competes with other tall oaks in the canopy, or perhaps cooperates with them, as some researchers suggest.
               
               


               
                       
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Leaf mimic katydid is almost invisible in the leaf litter on the forest floor of the trail.
               
               


               
                       
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This smaller species, the Encino Oak was 126' (38.4 m) tall and had a circumference of 14', 3" (4.4 m).
               
               


               
                       
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Olman with the majestic Grandfather Oak measuring 198' (60.4 m) tall by 18', 9" (5.8 m) in circumference above the buttresses and 14' (4.3 m) above the ground.   It was humbling to be in the presence of an oak that is taller and probably has a larger volume than any oak tree of any species in the US or Canada, and which competes with the largest Kapok trees I have measured, for height.  This tree along with two equally tall Ceiba pentandra trees begs for a tape drop measurement and comprehensive volume measurement.  Next year I will attempt to get a research permit allowing a team to climb and precisely measure these trees and 3 even taller, though thinner Pterygota excelsa trees. Amazingly I have a lead on a supposedly bigger taller oak of the same species from a young woman who has seen both trees and is a forest ranger in the Quetzal National Park.  Will this search ever end? I think not until I do.
               
               


               
                       
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The thick trunk of the Grandfather Oak pushes above the other tall trees around it over the top of the regular canopy.
               
               


               
                       
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This great tree has a strange resemblance to a Redwood when viewed at this angle.
               
               


               
                       
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Here the tape shows a CBH of 46', 5" (14.2 m). This, of course is just for those interested in the statistic, which can not be properly compared to trees with no buttresses.
               
               


               
                       
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This double waterfall was only 10 minutes from the Grandfather Oak, which seems only fitting in this magical place.
               
               


               
                       
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Leaves of Quercus costaricensis are on the left and those of Q. bumelioides are on the right.
               
               


               
                       
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Olman holds an acorn of the Encino tree. The seed of the larger Roble blanco is narrower, but longer.  The Encino tree may require one or two years to produce
its seeds depending on annual weather conditions, while the Roble blanco generally produces every year, though the mast (quantity) will vary in size from year to year.
               
               
Last edited by Bart Bouricius on Thu Apr 17, 2014 6:44 pm, edited 6 times in total.

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bbeduhn, eliahd24, John Harvey, Larry Tucei, Matt Markworth, mdavie, pattyjenkins1, pdbrandt, pierce, Rand, tsharp
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#2)  Re: Costa Rica: Astounding high altitude "Grandfather Oak"

Postby Will Blozan » Wed Apr 16, 2014 4:40 pm

Holy Mother of all things Quercus!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

WOW!!!

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#3)  Re: Costa Rica: Astounding high altitude "Grandfather Oak"

Postby dbhguru » Wed Apr 16, 2014 7:46 pm

Bart,

  Man, what a post! Repeat what Will said!! Bart, you da man! Costa Rica rules!  

Bob
Robert T. Leverett
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Native Native Tree Society
Co-founder and President
Friends of Mohawk Trail State Forest
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#4)  Re: Costa Rica: Astounding high altitude "Grandfather Oak"

Postby Rand » Wed Apr 16, 2014 8:27 pm

I think I just heard all the oaks in Congaree let out a collective wimper for mercy...

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#5)  Re: Costa Rica: Astounding high altitude "Grandfather Oak"

Postby Bart Bouricius » Wed Apr 16, 2014 8:57 pm

Thanks Will and Bob,

Regarding the amazing oak, Quercus is bigger than I thought possible only a couple of months ago.  I did see a few huge trunks back from the trail that are probably of much taller trees than the few I measured other than the Grandfather Oak.  I would have measured more, but I had to walk very very slowly at between 9,000 and 10,000 feet (2,744 to 3049 m) as altitude sickness is a real danger when walking up and down hills for 10 kilometers.  I believe there are several oaks here over 20' in circumference that have significant height and at some point I will have to return to this area again to measure another known giant tree and to find new unrecognized ones to measure.  I have been putting off my post from the lowlands because it is easier to quickly get something up about a location with only two species that get really tall, than to post on a location where there are probably at least 20 or 30 species that have great height potential.  I will be doing a separate short post about the natural history of the oak dominated forests, and will then be getting back to posting on my recent trip to the Osa Peninsula by next week.
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#6)  Re: Costa Rica: Astounding high altitude "Grandfather Oak"

Postby Bart Bouricius » Wed Apr 16, 2014 9:16 pm

Rand,

I think so and it may get worse, as I was told by a young woman who saw the Grandfather Oak that there is a bigger probably taller oak adjacent to Quetzal National Forest where she works as a park ranger.  This is the tree I will be measuring when I return to the high oak forests.
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#7)  Re: Costa Rica: Astounding high altitude "Grandfather Oak"

Postby mdavie » Wed Apr 16, 2014 10:22 pm

Uh, when you get permits and you're assembling your "team", just let me know! Whoa! That's an amazing find!
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#8)  Re: Costa Rica: Astounding high altitude "Grandfather Oak"

Postby Bart Bouricius » Wed Apr 16, 2014 11:31 pm

Will do Mike. It's going to be a while getting the permits etc. but I think I can include several locations on one permit.
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#9)  Re: Costa Rica: Astounding high altitude "Grandfather Oak"

Postby John Harvey » Thu Apr 17, 2014 11:21 am

Bart, amazing stuff! I've always wondered what could be hiding in some of these rainforest. The only sub tropical places I've been able to explore were Haiti and Jamacia and neither in depth, more just passing through. Keep it up!
John D Harvey (JohnnyDJersey)

East Coast and West Coast Big Tree Hunter

"If you look closely at a tree you'll notice it's knots and dead branches, just like our bodies. What we learn is that beauty and imperfection go together wonderfully." - Matt Fox
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#10)  Re: Costa Rica: Astounding high altitude "Grandfather Oak"

Postby bbeduhn » Thu Apr 17, 2014 11:44 am

Bart,
That oak is querctacular and oakpendus!  It is the Grand Pubah of oaks as far as we know.  Perhaps a 200' quercus?  Very niiiiiiiice.
Brian
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