What is a Tropical Cloud Forest?

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Many visitors ask what the difference is between tropical rain forests and tropical cloud forests. A tropical rain forest receives most of its precipitation from rain. Cloud forests however, receive as much as 40% of their precipitation from moisture that condenses on the leaves of trees from mist and clouds that move through these upland forests.

As large amounts of water are deposited directly onto vegetation from clouds and light mist; the highest elevations of the forest are almost always dripping water from the leaves. This constant supply of above-ground water makes a cloud forest excellent habitat for epiphytes (plants that grow on other plants).

To a visitor accustomed to drier temperate forests, the abundance of epiphytes is the most striking difference. Tree trunks are almost always covered with mosses, bromeliads, ferns, and other plants.

Tropical cloud forests occur on high mountains in the tropics, in Hawaii most commonly between 3,000 and 4,000 feet elevation, and experience very different environmental conditions. The high moisture level and cool year-round temperatures foster unique plant communities.

Major areas in the world where tropical cloud forests are still found include southern Mexico, Central America, and all countries in tropical South America. On the other side of the globe, tropical cloud forests can still be found in SE Asia, New Guinea, tropical Africa, Madagascar, and some islands in the South Pacific.