Don’t be afraid of Dracula orchids, they need your help! : TreeHugger

CC BY 2.0 Andreas Kay. Dracula trigonopetala.

Dracula orchids may be named after a powerful vampire from Transylvanian, but these strange and rare flowers are native to Central America and the northwest Andes. “Dracula” applies to a whole genus of orchids, including some species that are blood-red and and have long, pointy sepals.

Sadly, several newly identified species of Dracula orchids are threatened by deforestation in Ecuador. That’s why conservation groups are calling for the creation of a new nature reserve in the Chocó region of northwestern Ecuador.

Species: Dracula lafleurii. Photo by Andreas Kay/CC BY 2.0

The Rainforest Trust and Fundación EcoMinga have the opportunity to purchase a 650-acre area of land where two species of orchid, the Dracula terborchii and Dracula trigonopetala, were recently discovered. These species have not been found anywhere else.

The unique climate of the Chocó region is created by clouds rolling off the Pacific ocean and meeting with the western side of the Andes, creating constant mists. “The area where we’re proposing the new Dracula orchid reserve is of great importance for biodiversity,” said Rainforest Trust CEO Paul Salaman. “It’s got some of the wettest tropical forests in the world.” This type of rainforest is also sometimes called the cloud forest.

Species: Dracula felix. Photo by Andreas Kay/CC BY 2.0

Although there are thousands of orchid species around the world, a third of them originate from Colombia and Ecuador. “The Chocó is the richest area,” Salaman told TreeHugger. “It’s possible that this small reserve of just 650 acres could hold five percent of all the orchids on Earth.” On a single branch of a tree festooned with epiphytes, there may be dozens of species of orchids. It’s likely that there are additional undescribed species is this area.

Although this area has been sparsely inhabited historically (“It’s so wet, it’s not really very nice for humans”), a recent wave of colonization has lead to habitat loss. The Chocó region has few environmental protections and has a high rates of deforestation, due to logging for timber, mineral extraction and agriculture. Salaman said there are no native people living in the area proposed for the reserve. If other buyers acquire the land, it’s likely it will be converted for ranching.

Rainforest Trust/via

Other endangered species will benefit from the creation of the reserve, such as the the Long-wattled Umbrellabird and the Banded Ground-Cuckoo, as many amphibians, insects, and mammals. “Even large mammals are being discovered in this area,” said Salaman. One can imagine that there is still much to be learned about this unique biome.

To create a long-term revenue stream to fund future protection, The Rainforest Trust and Fundación EcoMinga hope to help establish a small ecotourism site at the reserve, where researchers and travelers can stay. “That doesn’t work in all cases, but because this location is so special, we’re hopeful it will work,” said Salaman.

The Rainforest Trust is trying to raise $58,994 to buy the land for the Dracula reserve. So far, they’ve raised $32,720 towards this goal. You can learn more and contribute here.

“We’ve got a very narrow window of opportunity,” said Salaman. “It would be great if there was more attention to this region.”

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