P. N. Podocarpus (I): A Natural Gem in the South of Ecuador

The National park Podocarpus it is one of the natural jewels of Ecuador and one of the places with the greatest biodiversity on the planet.

It is included among the 10 best places in the world to watch birds (the other place this list in Ecuador is the P. N. of Mindo, next to the city of Quito). 

Despite its natural wealth and singularities, the P. N. Podocarpus continues to be a place quite unknown to both the surrounding communities, such as by tourists who visit Ecuador.

In this first article on the P. N. from the Podocarpus, we describe some of their main features.

In the Spanish colonial era had already identified the territory of Loja, in the south of Ecuador, as a place of special importance due to the presence of forests of Scale (also called "machine"). These plants are known for their medicinal importance. Of them is removed quinine and other alkaloids used to treat malaria. In 1753 it was determined the scientific name of the scale (Cinchona officinalis) with a specimen collected precisely in Loja.   

This interest in protecting the forests of Scale it was the the source for the creation of a natural reserve working, among other resources, to Scale. In the year 1976, we performed the study of the Extended system of Wild Areas Outstandingwhere identified 90 areas with this potential. Six years later, in One thousand nine hundred eighty two creates the Podocarpus National Park, with an approximate extension of 146.280 hectares. However, his name makes no mention of the “Mill”, but takes its name from the tree Podocarpus (or blackfish), which is the only conifer native to Ecuador.

The P. N. from the Podocarpus it is located between the provinces of Loja (30%) and Zamora Chinchipe (70%). Its altitude ranges between 900 and 3600 ms.n.m. with temperatures between 8 and 24 ° C

The importance of the P. N. Podocarpus

The National park Podocarpus it is the main area of life, water and pure air of the populations of the south of Ecuador. It is considered the protected area more important in the Southern Region of Ecuador. Among its benefits are:

  • Stabilization hydrological functions
  • Climate stabilization
  • Protection of the floor in front of agents and natural and human
  • Protection of genetic resources and genetic biodiversity
  • Conservation renewable resources (wood) and not the secondary growth (gold and other minerals)
  • Tourism development, recreational use
  • Generation of local employment
  • Opportunities for research projects
  • Educational resources and generation of territorial connections
  • Preserving traditional values and cultural
  • Improvement of quality of life in general

Types of Forests in the P. N. Podocarpus

The traditional classification in Ecuador to characterize the variety of ecological and climate is: Sierra, Coast, East, and Galapagos. A system of ecological classification more successful is presented by Cañadas, which defines, in 25 different types of ecosystems (so-called “areas of life”).

According to this classification, in the P. N. Podocarpus houses 6 of these areas of life, which are:

  • Forest humid Pre-Montane
  • Forest, very humid Montane
  • Bosque húmedo Montano-Bass
  • Montane rainforest
  • Forest, very humid Montane
  • Bosque húmedo montano-bass


As this classification is a bit more complex, we will describe the forests most well-known and representative of the P. N. Podocarpusand that are located in these areas of life. These are:

Cloud Forest

Always covered in mist, are very humid which provides that are covered trees very lush and is the preferred place for many species of fauna. Its altitude is in the range of 2700 meters above sea level.


At higher altitudes, between 3000 and 3600 m.s.n.m., are the fells that contain plants, shrubs and herbaceous plants that give a look of sponge to the landscape, also known as “pajonal”. The soils are very rich in organic matter, but the altitude, the cold, heavy rains and winds do not allow the growth in general of the plants. However, the wilderness is the place of greatest water reserves. It is here where some rivers that supply water to surrounding communities.

Tropical Moist Forest

It is located in the amazon region of the Podocarpus National Park: In this type of forest we can find 3 main layers:

  • Tall trees, that stand in the general level of layered vegetables
  • The vault that forms a mat of continuous evergreen, 24 to 30 metres high
  • Bottom layer, especially dense in this type of forest

The altitude of these forests varies between 900 and 2000 m.s.n.m, with temperatures between 20-24Cº and rainfall of 2000 to 2250 mm per year.

                In this forest we find: Podocarpus, Husk, Cedar, Laures, Balsa, Oak, Bromeliads, Orchids, Mosses, Ferns, Locopilios or Vines, among others.

The Tree Podocarpus

The only conifer to a native of Ecuadoralso known as Blackfish or Tree Centenary because of their longevity. It can reach up to 45 meters in height and a thickness of 3 meters. Its wood is extremely thin, which has led to its cutting, harvesting timber, and today, there are not too many copies that remain in the park.

The Mill, a history linked to Loja

This plant used by Avocados (entity with preinca) who knew his virtues before the arrival of the Spanish. It is believed that its discovery by the Spanish was in the town of Malacatos. From the mid-EIGHTEENTH century, the mill was used in Europe. Its bark is used as a remedy for malaria or malaria. Later, the growing demand of scale to become one of the most important medicinal plants in the world. Is declared The National tree of Ecuador.

Fauna of P. N. Podocarpus

The ecosystem diversity allow a varied existence of insects, birds, amphibians, reptiles, fish or mammals.


In Ecuador there are about 1600 species of birds, of which the National park Pococarpus there are some 650 species. Protruding tanagers, toucans, hummingbirds, guan, parrot, rooster of the rock, ducks torrenteros or trogons, among others. Logging, burning of forests for agricultural use, hunting or lack of knowledge, they have threatened the survival of some of these species.


Among the most important we have: spectacled bear, ocelot, otter, mountain tapirs, deer, deer, dwarf, armadillos, monkeys, among others.


It is the only species of bear in South America. Also called andean bear by their habitat. The basis of their diet are bromeliads, and small animals such as rabbits, mice or fish.


These species play an important role in the conservation of the environment, to be cleaners and pest control of environmental impact indicators Of the venom of some of their species can develop different antidotes.

Did you know that one of the frogs largest of the andean mountain range was discovered in the Podocarpus? It is called “Cutín Giant Wasteland” and it was discovered in the year 2019 in the wilderness of the park.

Problems of the P. N. Podocarpus

Between social problems recurring in the P. N. Podocarpus found: level of poverty, migration, lack of education and awareness-raising. This generates a series of destructive actions in the park such as:

  • Colonization
  • Deforestation
  • Hunting
  • Mining
  • Agriculture
  • Forest Fires
  • Species trafficking

Solutions to the P. N. Podocarpus

Although it would be necessary to study more exhaustive about the threats and weaknesses of the P. N. Podocarpus, the following are some possible general solutions that would help to minimize their different problems.

  • Participation of key stakeholders: Researchers, Teaching, communities, Managers of GAD Provincial and parochial
  • Implementation of Sustainable Productive Activities: Community-based tourism, Identity Products, generate added value or improvement of supply chains.


Practical handbook of Environmental Education Foundation Rainbow
UTPL Research
Ministry of the Environment in Ecuador