fog among trees

What Is a Cloud Forest? Definition, Destinations, and Destruction

Steve Russell - June 11, 2024

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When people say you’re walking around with your head in the clouds, you don’t imagine yourself walking in a dense forest shaded by tree canopies. It sounds like a fantasy, but a cloud forest is a real ecosystem designation. It is one of the most complex and prolific on the planet. Where are they, and what sets them apart from regular forests?

What Is a Cloud Forest?

A cloud forest is found in mountainous areas in tropical climates. Lots of rainfall paired with the high elevations of anywhere between 3,000 and 8,000 feet generate clouds among the naturally occurring green canopy. This type of cloud cover is called a silvagenitus. This obscures and prevents much sunlight from hitting the forest floor. Instead, the clouds fall to the ground as a fog, nourishing species that thrive on the constant humidity and moisture.

Because cloud forests require these specific conditions, they are not found in many places around the world. Places like Southeast Asia, east Africa, and Central America are several locations that have the right metrics to form a cloud forest.

Though the cloud cover is what gives these forests their name, other characteristics include a lot of moss coverage. The excess moisture from the clouds foster this rich environment. The lush and thriving plant life also provides a home to countless other species, making cloud forests some of the most biodiverse habitats on Earth. 

They comprise less than 1% of environments worldwide and contain over 3,700 species of mammals, birds, amphibians, and tree ferns. Many of these species are exclusive to cloud forests. The tree species may be less varied compared to drier forests, but the amount of other flora living there still makes it unique and fruitful.

fog over forest

What Are the Most Well-Known Cloud Forests?

As of 2020, there were 736 cloud forests around the world in 59 countries. You can visit some of them, as they are popular tourist destinations similar to national parks. They are often located in protected reserves, in which visitors should practice eco-conscious tourism and Leave No Trace principles to maintain the sanctity of the habitat. 

Costa Rica is the most popular destination for enthusiasts, with four major cloud forests to explore. The most popular is the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. Others include the La Paz Waterfall Gardens, and the Bajos Del Toro and Los Angeles cloud forests. People can hike and interact with species in a respectful manner with the help of the knowledgeable staff.

Where are some other notable and accessible cloud forests?

  • Yakushima Island in Japan
  • Bosque de Fray Jorge National Park in Chile
  • La Gomera in the Canary Islands in Spain
  • Harenna Forest or Bales Mountains National Park in Ethiopia
  • The Sholas in India
  • Peruvian Cloud Forest in Peru
  • Yunnan Plateau in China

How Are Cloud Forests Doing Amid Climate Change?

Climate change is shifting how low the clouds hang. As temperatures and precipitation patterns shift, cloud layers ascend to higher elevations, changing the moisture content and sun penetration of these delicate forests. 

The biggest change would be in the heat and hydrological cycle. More water will evaporate, leaving species without a reliable, concentrated water source. Regions will become more arid and, therefore, unsustainable for the plants and animals that have made their homes there.

This is seen in areas like the Monteverde Cloud Forest in Costa Rica. The rising clouds are warming the ground, displacing species like local warblers and bats. They migrate to higher altitudes to reach more suitable climates for their needs. However, they can only go so high until there is nowhere left to go.

Another concern is the rise in natural disasters, specifically hurricanes. Modern research is taking hurricanes more seriously, as experts explore a tropical forest in Puerto Rico to develop more accurate models to predict changes caused by torrential weather. For example, Hurricanes Hugo and Maria destroyed countless young trees, changing the height and age of forests by allowing older trees to grow beyond expectations. Cloud forests can recover from destruction, but the biomass quantity and quality shifts.

fog over forest

Wait, Isn’t There a Cloud Forest in Singapore?

The Gardens by the Bay are a globally known fixture in Singapore which includes a human-engineered cloud forest. This nature park is an ecotourism marvel, with the goal of rewiliding and decarbonizing the country. The park includes conservatories and greenhouses, as well as the signature Supertree Grove infused with solar panels.

However, the Cloud Forest simulates the effect of being in the real thing at lower elevations. The facility is equally misty and covered in similar vegetation. Visitors can walk on aerial walkways to view the forest from another perspective. You can also plan your visit during the misting sessions, which show the forest at peak humidity and fogginess — which reaches up to 90%.

Inside, there is a 35-meter-tall waterfall, carnivorous plants, and a gorgeous view of the waterfront. The facility is larger than a football field, and allows people to interact with these special environments without needing to tread on their actual grounds. Structures like this signify a positive future for ecotourism, allowing individuals to simulate the experience without taking the risk of harming native species.

cloud forest singapore

Where Sky Meets Forest

The fantastical name may suggest cloud forests are fiction, but they are critical habitats that must receive humanity’s full attention — especially in light of the advancing climate crisis. Because they require specific conditions to flourish, they are vulnerable to any changes incited by global warming and anthropogenic influences. Just like any other environment, cloud forests deserve more awareness and regulated protections to maintain their strength until humanity can reverse its negative impact.

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About the author

Steve Russell

Steve is the Managing Editor of Environment.co and regularly contributes articles related to wildlife, biodiversity, and recycling. His passions include wildlife photography and bird watching.