This unique field guide is useful throughout the montane forests of the neotropics.

Based in the Andean Choco of northwest Ecuador it illustrates almost 400 species, representing over 100 families of common plants.

Bilingual, with almost 700 photos, it is a useful reference for students, botanists, naturalists, guides, scientists, and tourists.


Ecuador is a country of microclimates. Its position straddling the equator and the large elevation range provided by the Andes, bestow Ecuador with a wealth of ecological diversity with altitude ranging from sea-level to over 6,000 meters. It is a small country (256,370 km2) (44) occupying a mere 0.2% of the earth’s land mass (44), yet traveling a short distance can take one from the lowland jungle to the stunted growth of the frozen alpine region. The geographic diversity provides niches for an estimated 20,000 – 30,000 plant species (1) representing some 10% of the species in the world (44). The ‘Catalogue of Vascular Plants of Ecuador’ lists 17,058 recognized species with more being named every day (21,33,49). 
     Due to its equatorial location, all sites in Ecuador receive approximately the same amount of solar radiation throughout the year, varying no more than 30 minutes in any part of the country (21). This results in relatively constant mean temperatures month to month. Most areas record 3°C variation, at the most (21). For a given site, the daily temperature fluctuations are generally more pronounced than the changes throughout the year.
     The significant annual cycles are the precipitation patterns (21). Any given region will have distinct wet and dry seasons. That said, certain regions experience more than one wet season each year, and it is not uncommon to have some rainfall even during the “dry” season (21).
     Most of the photographs included in this guide were taken during the local wet season. This meant that certain groups (like the orchids) were more likely to be in bloom, but that others were less likely to have flowers. However due to the constancy of solar gain, the tropics experience an apparent lack of seasonality and a tendency for things to bloom throughout the year (except when one wants to see them!). A definite contrast to the concentrated floral displays of temperate springs.

Andean Chocó
The Chocó region extends from the Panama Canal in the north down through Colombia and into northwestern Ecuador (17). The region spans an elevational range from sea level to 4,000m or more (17). It is considered by many to be one of the most biodiverse areas on the planet (3,17,31).
     Occurring at the northwestern tip of South America, it is where the warm Panama current from the north converges with the cold Humbolt current coming
up from Antarctica. As the warm, moisture laden air from the north collides with the colder, drier Humbolt system, the moisture is precipitated as rain. This abundant rainfall combined with the elevational range of the region contribute to its biodiversity. Mindo and the surrounding area represent the Andean portion of the region.

The town of Mindo is located just north of the equator, northwest of Quito. It is on the western slope of the Andes at ~1,300m elevation and enjoys close proximity to both higher and lower elevations.
     The ecosystem is “cloud forest” which is also termed “lower montane forest” by some authors (21). The ecogeographic hallmarks of the cloud forest occur between 700 - 2,500m on both sides of the Andes. They include nearly constant high humidity, frequent mist, and dense loads of vascular epiphytes and mosses on tree branches and trunks (21). Despite a lack of quantitative data, it is widely accepted that the diversity and density of vascular epiphytes are actually higher in the cloud forest than in the lowland rain forest (21).
     It should be noted that intact primary forest at this elevation is under serious threat from logging, agriculture, mining and other human activities.

Guide Format
I have arranged this guide according to plant habit (tree, shrub, herb, etc), this was a new attempt, since the first edition, to make the information more accessible to those with limited botanical training. This will be vexing in instances where the fine line between tree and shrub is not so obvious, however I do hope that the ease of access will ultimately outweigh this issue.
     The emphasis is on species that are native or naturalized and occur without human cultivation. However I have included a section at the end: “Cultivated Plants” where I include a number of interesting species that may not be familiar to visitors from temperate climates.
     I have included the family name, the Latin or scientific name, and the English and Spanish common names when they were available.
     The number of species in Ecuador for each genus and the number of endemic species are given. I have used the abbreviations ‘inc.’ for ‘including’ and ‘endem.’
for endemic to facilitate the layout. All information on Ecuadorian species and endemics comes from the ‘Catalog of Vascular Plants of Ecuador’ (21).

Botanical Conventions
I have followed the taxonomic designations used in the ‘Catalog of Vascular Plants of Ecuador’ (21,33,49) particularily for family level determinations. Where I am uncertain of the exact species I have used the short-hand “cf.” or “circa forma,” meaning – “it is likely this species, but I was unable to definitively confirm.” 
     Sometimes I know the genus but not the species (even to the level of “circa forma”). In this case I use “sp.” to designate “a species in this genus.” Other times I present several species from the same genus. In this case I use the designation “spp.” meaning “several species in the genus.”

Erythrina cf. smithiana – it is definitely an Erythrina, and likely E. smithiana.
Erythrina sp. – it is definitely some species of Erythrina.
Erythrina spp. – several species of Erythrina.

     Convention allows the abbreviation of a genus to the first letter if the full word has already been used in a paragraph. Thus Erythrina smithiana becomes E. smithiana.
     Because scientific names can change over time, I have also included the authority or author of all scientific names used. Erythrina smithiana is more properly written Erythrina smithiana Krukoff. This lets the reader know that the name being used is the one that was assigned by Krukoff. This makes it possible to track the use of scientific synonyms. Carolus Linneaus, considered the father of modern nomenclature named so many plants that when he is the authority it is noted by the abbreviation “L.” To prevent the text from becoming overly cluttered, all authority information has been provided in the index.

WARNING: The information provided about the uses of the various species is a result of a literature search and is presented for educational purposes only. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any medical conditions and is not a substitute for proper medical attention.
     An estimated 80% of the population of the humid tropics rely on traditional medicines for their daily health care needs (44). Most of these traditional remedies are derived from plants. It is estimated that 5,000 – 8,000 species in Ecuador, roughly 25%-40% of the flora, are useful (44). I have included information on uses ranging from food and medicine, to construction materials and ritual uses to help illustrate the multiple ways that we incorporate plants and plant products into our lives.