Flora and Fauna
Misiones’s high rainfall (about 2,000 mm per annum) and subtropical temperatures create a luxuriant forest flora on relatively poor soils. Unlike the midlatitudes, where fallen leaves and other plant litter become part of the soil, here they are almost immediately recycled to support a dense, multilevel flora with diverse faunal habitats. The roughly 2,000 identified plant species are home to almost innumerable insects, 448 bird species, 80 mammal species, and many reptiles and fish.
The tallest trees, such as the lapacho and palo rosa, reach 30 meters above the forest floor, while the guapoy (the appropriately named “strangler fig”) uses the larger trees for support and eventually kills them by asphyxiation. A variety of orchids use the large trees for support only.
Lesser trees and shrubs grow in the shade of the canopy, such as yerba mate, the holly relative that Argentines, Uruguayans, Paraguayans, and Brazilians consume as tea (grown mostly on plantations in Misiones and Corrientes). Ferns are also abundant in the shade thrown by the large trees.
For most visitors, the most conspicuous fauna will be colorful birds such as parakeets and parrots, the piping guan, the red-breasted toucan, and the lineated woodpecker in the trees, while tinamous scurry along the forest floor. The tufted capuchin monkey is a fruit-eating tree-dweller.
The most commonly seen mammal, though, is the coatimundi, a raccoon relative that thrives around humans (do not feed it); the largest is the rarely seen tapir, distantly related to the horse. Like the tapir, the puma and yaguareté (jaguar) avoid human contact, preferring the forest’s denser, more remote areas; barely a dozen-plus jaguars remain.
The most common reptile is the innocuous iguana; venomous snakes, while they generally avoid humans, deserve respect in their forest habitat.
© Wayne Bernhardson from Moon Argentina, 3rd edition