Have you ever heard someone say that they can't see the forest for the trees? This might seem like a curious statement, since forests are made up of trees. How could you see the trees and not the forest?

When people use this popular phrase, they mean that they get bogged down in the details (the trees) and therefore can't see the big picture (the forest). Sometimes, though, you might not be able to see the forest because it's obscured by clouds. When would that happen? When you find yourself in a cloud forest, of course!

Also known as montane rainforests, cloud forests are generally identified by their nearly-constant immersion in a thick layer of mist and clouds. They're rare because the unique conditions that create cloud forests can usually only be found in tropical areas with tall mountains.

For example, most cloud forests can be found along the sides of mountains at elevations between 3,000-10,000 feet in tropical areas. Some of the areas where you can find cloud forests include Central America, southern Mexico, South America, Africa, Madagascar, Southeast Asia, New Guinea, and the Caribbean.

How do these unique forests come about? In tropical areas with lots of rain and nearby sources of water, evaporating water continually forms masses of warm air. Winds carry these warm air masses toward mountains, where they're naturally deflected upward because of the natural slope of the land.

As warm air masses rise higher and higher, they begin to cool. Water vapor in the air condenses as it cools, forming clouds and mist. The forests that exist in these unique conditions tend to be very different from the rainforests at lower elevations.

For example, trees in a cloud forest are usually short and crooked. At higher elevations with high winds and cooler temperatures, the trees in a cloud forest don't grow tall and straight like they do in a normal rainforest.

The cooler temperatures and high moisture levels present in cloud forests also lead to unique ecosystems that foster the growth of a variety of mosses, ferns, and lichens. Epiphytes, plants that grow on other plants and get their moisture and nutrients from the air and rain, also thrive in cloud forests.

As a result, the trees in a cloud forest, in addition to being short and crooked, are also usually blanketed in mosses, lichens, and epiphytes. In clearings between trees, you're also likely to find ferns and other plants, such as begonias, growing to huge sizes.

Cloud forests support a wide variety of species of trees, plants, and animals. For this reason, scientists are studying them in more depth than they have in the past. Threats from climate change and deforestation has led many conservationists to focus on cloud forests to prevent their decline.

Wonder What's Next?

Tomorrow’s Wonder of the Day features the baker’s dozen that started it all!