Showy purple orchids at Lankester Gardens — Photo courtesy of The LEAF Project
Recognized around the world for its noteworthy collection of plants, Lankester Botanical Gardens in Cartago, Costa Rica, was established in 1973 as a center for the exhibition, conservation and research of tropical epiphytic plants, with a special interest in orchids.
On your own, looking for orchids in the forest may be daunting and fruitless, considering their epiphytic nature. (In other words, they grow high up or in hard-to-spot nooks and crannies.) But seeing these showy flowers is a breeze at the Lankester Botanical Gardens.
Occupying 11 hectares, this garden site is comprised of field collections and collections in greenhouses and secondary forests, together hosting over 3,000 species of plants.
Heliconia flower at Lankester Gardens — Photo courtesy of The LEAF Project
The Lankester Botanical Gardens came to be after many years of collaborations, beginning in the 1940s. A British naturalist and orchidologist named Charles H. Lankester dedicated his life's work to the study and culture of Costa Rica 's epiphytic plants. A botanist, he worked alongside some of the most recognized orchidologists of his time and created his dream of a private garden on his farm.
After his death, a collaboration between the American Orchid Society and the Stanley Smith Horticultural Trust led to the garden being donated to the University of Costa Rica in 1973, under the conditions that it become a botanical garden and research center. It was to be open to the public, as per Mr. Lankester's wishes.
Pink Moth Orchid at Lankester Gardens — Photo courtesy of Arden
Orchidaceae is one of the two largest families of flowering plants with blooms that may be as fragrant as they are colorful, with between 21,950 and 26,049 currently accepted species. This amounts to more than double the number of species of birds, and about quadruple the number of mammals. The orchid family includes the vanilla plant, as well as many commonly cultivated orchids such as Phalenopsis and Cattleya.
Cattleya is a genus of 42 species recognized for their giant flowers, which vary in size from five to 15 centimeters or more. They occur in all colors except true blue and black.
The White Cattleya is one of the orchids on display at the Lankester Botanical Gardens. The species was introduced in the 19th century. Since then, horticulturists have produced more than 100,000 hybrids and cultivars.
Giant Cattleya orchid at Lankester Gardens — Photo courtesy of Jun Acullador
The Lankester Botanical Gardens can easily be visited on a day trip from San Jose, Costa Rica. Many hotels will be glad to arrange transportation. If you're driving, find them at 4 kilometer from the Cartago highway. Turn right at the sign for Paraiso Derecha, 300 meters south and then turn right in 200 meters.
The Gardens are open daily from 9:00 a.m. with last entry at 3:30 p.m. The entrance fee is approximately $3, with discounts for students.