Monday, September 7, 2009

The Inundation Forest

Inside the inundation forest
Perhaps one of the most exciting aspects of afforestation and reforestation in the Orinoco plains of eastern Colombia is the inundation forest. Just like it sounds the forest is flooded. But this is no ordinary flood, instead it happens every year for as much as 3 months at a time during the height of the rainy season, from June through to August and maybe even September. All the rivers rise above their banks as torrential tropical rains occur. Only the tree tops remain above the waters, which in many instances are as much as 15 feet or 5 meters deep. The effect is absolutely magical, as access to the rainforest is only possible by boat and canoe.

Canoe ride in inundation forest
These conditions have caused the tropical trees of the inundation forest to evolve to be flood resistant. Their roots go deep and straight into the ground, so that the trees are not affected by the massive flood waters all around them. Once the flood waters recede the jungle returns to normal, though tell tale signs remain. Certain fungi and some types of lychen mark the high water points on the trees. Species include Caraipa llanorum commonly known as Saladillo, Acosmium nitens commonly known as Congrio, Ocotea cymbarum commonly known as Sassafras, Aceita maria commonly known as Aceita, and numerous others.

Tough Congrio withstands floods
Needless to say the trees that live through the inundation cycle provide some exotic, strong and colorful hardwood. One of the toughest customers is the Congrio, the lumber of which is so dense that even left untreated it remains sturdy for 30 years or more, and is more than a match for ants and termites. Amazonia Reforestation is actively working with the Omacha Foundation to preserve many of these native tree species. Considerable effort is going into determining the best way to commercialize some of these species in a plantation setting. During the wet season is one of the best times to see wildlife, because many creatures leave the inundation forest for the drier plains. But others move in to feed, like pink dolphins, manatees, sting rays, giant otters and anacondas, to name a few.

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