Vascular plants of Las Orquídeas National Park (Colombia)

The New York Botanical Garden (NY), Universidad Nacional de Colombia, and Herbario Nacional Colombiano (COL) are working together to produce a specimen-based checklist of the vascular plants of Las Orquídeas National Park, in Antioquia, Colombia. To date, at least 2,476 species of vascular plants have been documented within the park and links to the herbarium records and photographs of most of them are found in this website.

Las Orquídeas National Park is nested on the western slopes of Colombia’s Western Cordillera. It boasts an enormous altitudinal gradient (300–3,450 m) and consequent range of vegetation, from lowland rainforests (ca. 300–1,000 m) to premontane (ca. 1,000–2,000 m) and montane forests (ca. 1,000–3,200 m) and, as recently confirmed by our botanical expeditions, scattered high-altitude páramos (ca. 3,200–3,450 m). True pluvial forests cover most of Las Orquídeas National Park (29,118 ha), with an annual rainfall of 3,000-4,000 mm, dropping to 2,500 mm in the páramo. In general, the forests below 2,000 m are considered to be part of the Chocó phytogeographic region (Rangel-Ch. et al. 2004) while the remainder is Andean.

Regional biodiversity and floristic inventory

Las Orquídeas National Park is strategically located at the confluence of Colombia’s Western Cordillera and adjacent Chocó region, which have the highest angiosperm diversity in N South America. The Tropical Andes have the highest plant diversity in the world; unfortunately, this and the Chocó biodiversity hotspot are also the world’s top and fifth priority areas for conservation, respectively, due to their accelerated deterioration.

The ongoing floristic inventory targets remote areas along the park’s altitudinal gradient that have never been explored before or which are undercollected. Collecting is equally focused on tree and non-tree plants; among the latter, epiphytes account for much of the species diversity of tropical pluvial forests, like those of Las Orquídeas National Park.

This project aims to document all the vascular plants of a region that is key to the understanding of plant biodiversity and plant conservation in the Neotropics. We will also assess which plant species are most important for conservation. The National Science Foundation (NSF) funds this research through a grant (DEB-1020623).