The Cloud Forest

San Francisco's summer fog feels especially relentless to me this year. I think it's because I'm working in a foggy micro-climate. Last year, I worked in a different city and spent my days in a cubicle under fluorescent lights. This year, I have an office in the fog belt and my desk faces a giant window. It's not foggy every day, but when it is, the fog obliterates even recent memories of sunshine.

Of course, the regular presence of summer fog influences more than just human moods. It dramatically affects plant life. Gardening in the fog belt presents different opportunities to gardeners than what's available just outside. Some opportunities are sharply limited, while others are dramatically expanded. We struggle with warm season vegetables, but we can grow fuchsias and vireyas like nobody's business.

This San Francisco Botanical Garden webpage explains:
"These plants can grow [in San Francisco] because of striking similarities between coastal California's climate and that of mountainous areas in the tropics. The temperature variation between day and night, and between summer and winter, is not very great in the tropics, even on tropical mountains. Coastal California also has moderate temperatures year round due to the ocean's strong influence...

Cloud forests are found at elevations where water in moist rising air masses condenses creating a shroud of mist and fog. The high moisture levels are comparable to northern California's wet winters, where a cool ocean current off the coast creates summer fog which softens our Mediterranean summer drought to the extent that [the fog] moves inland. Views from atop tropical mountains are remarkable in their resemblance to panoramic summer views of the Bay Area with thick fog advancing and retreating below higher hills and mountains."
Some plants from cloud forests observed today at the Botanical Garden...

Fuchsia boliviana:


Fuchsia glazioviana climbing up Matudaea trinerva:

Matudaea trinerva

The Matudaea:

Matudaea trinerva

Saurauia madrensis:

Saurauia madrensis

close-up, with bee:

Saurauia madrensis

American naturalist and travel writer Peter Matthiessen wrote a book called The Cloud Forest about his long sojourn in the Amazon and high mountains of South America, circa 1960. I finished reading it recently.


Deeply immersive and utterly foreign, I recommend the book to anyone who needs a little escape or adventure. Matthiessen pays close attention to birds and butterflies, and somewhat less attention to plants. The social history he recounts is fascinating and enlightening, although doubtless some modern readers will consider his observations "problematic"...

After it was over, I particularly enjoyed retracing Matthiessen's progress on Google Maps. And many of the small jungle villages he passed through are bustling cities now, with their own entries on Wikipedia.


Christopher C. NC said...

I'm living in an east coast version of the cloud forest. The moisture content from fog, dew, mist and more rain, between my 4000 feet elevation and the dry down in Clyde proper is very dramatic. They are in drought mode for sure and relatively speaking I may be up here too, but coming from a desert in Maui, it sure don't look like drought to me.

lisa said...

Interesting! I like the flowers on the Saurauia madrensis, they remind me of rex begonia blooms. Do you notice problems with powdery mildew during this time of year?

Jon said...

Interesting review of this book...It makes this "armchair traveler" want to read it. Your mention of fog reminds me of Carl Sandburg's poem and how it moves on little cat feet. It is always a treat to visit your lovely and lively blog!

Jon at Mississippi Garden blog on 8-1-08