It doesn't look like much now, but in a few years, this will have a canopy dozens of feet high, and will become habitat for thousands of insects, birds, reptiles, amphibians and mammals.

Las Cruces Reforestation

FedSoft Sponsored Planting

During the last week of May, the PRFRP team, supplemented by volunteers both from the US and locally, Coto Brus, Costa Rica, are planting 2,000 more trees. The reclamation covers 3 hectares or ~4.5 acres, in six different plots (noted in the map above) to transform this back into the rainforest it once was.

This area was cleared for for cattle grazing decades ago. About 10 years ago it was purchased by the Organization for Tropical Studies to expand their 260+ hectares (HA) Las Cruces Research Center.  The 50+ species of native trees we will plant have been sourced locally, mostly through the generous contribution of Osa Conservation. Over the decade this area has been fallow, it has become overrun with grass that is over six feet high.

In September 2022, the first section was cleared and planted. In May of this year, we will return to put in the remaining 2.000+ trees.

Rodo and Tori make it down to the relatively short grass at the base of the hill, before it was cleared for planting.

Trees will be brought in along a steep machete-cut path from the staging area at the nearest 4-wheel-drive-required dirt road (seen in the map photo above) about half a kilometer away. Horses must be used to bring the 2,000+ trees to the planting area. 

Once the plot is cleared, the spots for each tree are marked with a bamboo spike. Each tree is roughly 3 meters from its neighbor, allowing them room to grow, and for the volunteer understory to develop once these trees begin to develop a canopy.

At each marker, a one meter circle is scraped clear of grass stubble with a large, flat bladed shovel to expose the raw soil. A small hole is dug in the center, and the assigned tubeling (the name for a small tree seedling grown in a plastic tube) is carefully placed in the hole, and soil is loosely replaced around it. After the trees are planted, each one is documented – its GPS coordinates, unique ID, species and height are all recorded in the field, then entered into a database later.

We plant during the rainy season (this area gets about 170″ of rain annually –  that’s almost half an inch of rain every day!), so the trees get a lot of water to help them overcome transplant shock and get right to work developing the root structure that will get them growing.

The six plots will each be planted using a different protocol, and the results will be recorded and shared to help develop further understanding of reforestation and the best way to transform a field into second growth rainforest. These results will be shared with the Crowther Lab’s Global Experiments Network (GEN, Zurich) which will add our data to that of 19 other similar planting studies across Central America.

The grass that we cut down has well established roots and regrows quickly, so the seedlings must be cared for until they grow taller than the grass. When that happens the shade they cast will begin to slow, and eventually kill the grass. It then changes from grass-dominant to a tree-dominant area, on its way to becoming a rainforest again. Until then, we will come back regularly to prevent the small trees from being strangled and overcome by the tall grass and other vegetation. Fortunately, the trees here grow incredibly fast.  Once established many of the trees planted will grow more than ten feet every year. In 5-7 years the canopy will be as tall as the trees in many mature US forests. That’s one of the reasons we chose Costa Rica to plant.

The team at the Las Cruces site during the first planting in September 2022
Tree map showing GEN measurement transects


How many tree seedlings can fit in the back of a Rav 4? At least 250, we know that.


Tori Griffin collects tubelings to be planted during the first Las Cruces Planting, Sept 2022.
This balsa will grow 12-15 feet a year to provide the shade that so many rainforest species need. The canopy here will be many stories high in just a handful of years.

We are grateful to all of our collaborators and partners who have helped us: Organization for Tropical Studies; Osa Conservation; Crowther Labs; Green Cross; the volunteers from Coto Brus, and especially to FedSoft, whose generous donation made this possible

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