In the field at Páramo de Guamaní outside of Quito. From left to right, Marcelo Arana, Carlos Lehn, myself, Alejandra Vasco, and Jovani Pereira
In October of this year, the XII Congreso Latinoamericana de Botánica was held in Quito, Ecuador, and I was fortunate enough to be invited to give a talk in a symposium focused on Neotropical ferns and lycophytes! I had only briefly visited Ecuador previously, so I was thrilled to get the opportunity to explore the country some more and get to see some colleagues from throughout Latin America. The meeting was wonderful – with lots of interesting talks in English, Spanish, and Portuguese; about 1000 participants attended. The fern meetings were really engaging, and covered a broad range of topics, ranging from floristics to ecology to biogeography. It was a great opportunity to catch up with old friends and also to meet with some promising young students from Ecuador and elsewhere in Latin America who have an interest in ferns and lycophytes! In addition, Lorena Endara - the other postdoc on the project I am working on - organized a wonderful symposium that included diverse talks on plants with flagellate sperm (bryophytes, lycophytes, ferns, and gymnosperms). In addition to providing an opportunity for members of our GoFLAG project to tell colleagues what we’ve been up to (and will be up to), the symposium also had space for several researchers from outside of our project to discuss their research on flagellate plants. I had a great time in Quito (good food!) and am really looking forward to the next meeting in Havana, Cuba in 2022!
Phlegmariurus crassus at Páramo de Guamaní
During and right after the meeting, I got the chance to sneak out for a few day trips with friends to the Páramo de Guamaní in the Cayambe-Coca Ecological Reserve, a few hours (by bus) east of Quito. Situated along the northern edge of the Quito-Baeza highway at the pass in the cordillera, this site was spectacular. Starting at around 4100 m elevation and climbing some 300 meters higher, this paramo is loaded with great lycophytes and ferns! Near the edge of the highway, the paramo is quite wet, and we found tremendous Isoetes(Isoetaceae) and a half dozen species of terrestrial Phlegmariurus (Lycopodiaceae) in the Phlegmariurus crassus species group. Heading upslope, there were fewer lycophytes but lots of ferns; several species of the always diverse genus Elaphoglossum crowded rock crevices all along the access road toward a series of radio towers. Below the paramo, we found nice high-elevation forest dominated by Buddleja and Polylepisand then Lauraceae and Melastomataceae as we winded down towards 3500 m elevation. The fern diversity was exceptional here, as well – in addition to Elaphoglossum, we found Asplenium, Polystichum, Campyloneurum, and Melpomene (among others). Also, don’t miss the hot springs at Papallacta!
Lagunas verdes at the base of Volcan Chiles - a classic collecting locality on the Colombian-Ecuadorean border.
After the meeting and our time in the Cordillera Oriental, I dropped off my collections at the herbarium of the Universidad Técnica de Cotopaxi in Latacunga (2 hours south of Quito) and then headed towards Colombia, with the aim of fulfilling a long-standing collecting goal: to botanize along the Colombian-Ecuadorean border on the flanks of Volcán Chiles. Inspired by an exceptional set of botanical collections made in this region about 30-40 years ago (principally by a group of Danish researchers), I had been planning this collecting trip for the past five years. I had wanted to go during my PhD studies, but was thwarted by permitting issues and second-hand warnings that the region remained unsafe due to the presence of guerrilla groups and drug traffickers. After hearing news of hikers recently summitting Volcán Chiles without incident, I decided to head to the border, get a sense of the current security situation from the locals, and make my decision accordingly. When I arrived in the border town of Tulcán, I asked around and was relieved to hear that the area around the volcano was stable and that I could get there with a short bus ride to the neighboring town of Tufiño, where I could decide to explore the area from either the Colombian or Ecuadorean side (the border straddles ridge leading to the volcano’s summit). I spent the following two days exploring the eastern and southern flanks of the volcano, and had a fantastic time. It is one of just a few areas in Ecuador (the others being the neighboring Reserva El Ángel and Parque Nacional Los Llanganates) where frailejones (Espeletia, Asteraceae) are found, and the paramo is wet (great for ferns) and dotted with lakes and cliffs (also great for ferns). I managed to find a number of ferns and lycophytes I had never seen before, as well as a few taxa that look to be undescribed species. There are hot springs here as well, and the town of Tufiño has developed a nice ecotourism center – if you’re in the area, pay them a visit!
Diphasium jussiaei, a beautiful lycophyte that is common in sub-paramo habitats throughout the Andes.
Having made it to Volcán Chiles, I crossed the border into Colombia and stayed a few days in the Pasto, the capital city of the southern department of Nariño. While there, I made a few day trips to nearby areas with intact bosque altoandino and managed to make some nice collections, particularly of Phlegmariurus and Elaphoglossum, both of which tend to be well-represented in high elevation Andean forests. I had been planning to visit the Páramo de Bordoncillo (apparently the world’s lowest elevation páramo) to look for the giant clubmoss Phlegmariurus hystrix, but with only three days left until my return flight and a 24 hour bus ride to Medellín ahead of me, I had to leave it for another trip. Upon making it to Medellin, I spent some time working in the herbarium at the Universidad de Antioquia, which has been the principal source of logistic support for our ongoing research in Colombia. Best of all, I got to spent the day with Fernando Giraldo, a world class tree fern expert who is based out of Medellin and works extensively with the HUA herbarium. While in the herbarium, I was able to see collections of several undescribed species of tree ferns that Fernando had collected in various parts of Colombia. Due in large part to his efforts, the number of Cyathea species registered for the country now exceeds 100 and continues to climb as new discoveries are made. More work like that done by Fernando and colleagues is desperately needed to document the biodiversity of this immensely diverse country.
The largest terrestrial Phlegmariurus I have ever seen. This P. hippurideus reached more than 130 cm tall!
A nice Puya from the paramo at Volcan Chiles
An undescribed species of Polystichum from the Colombian-Ecuadorean border.