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Over 800 species of Costa Rica orchids !!

Over the long haul of life on this planet it is the ecologists, and not the bookkeepers of business, who are the ultimate accountants. ~ Stewart L. Udall, former US Secretary of the Interior

In 1917, 40-year-old British botanist Charles Lankester laid out 10 hectares/ 24.7 acres of gardens six km/four miles east of Cartago on the road to Paraíso (. 506/551-9877). Surrounded by tall pines, Lankester worked to catalog and develop new species of orchids, a delicate bloom treasured by flower aficionados.

Costa Rica is world renowned for its beautiful orchids. Exotic blooming orchids are the largest family of flowering plants in the world and they thrive in warm, humid climates. The many varieties have different styles of flowers, from tiny delicate petals running along the stem to bold blossoms and big thick green leaves. Costa Rica claims up to 1,500 different varieties, 75% of which are epiphytes.

Epiphytes (from the Greek for “upon plants”) attach to host trees and gain their nourishment from airborne dust and rain. These are not parasitic relationships because they do not feed on their hosts. In the amazing world of nature, many tree orchids make use of variety-specific pollinators – bees, ants, hummingbirds, wasps and moths – for their fertilization.

By the time Lankester died in 1969, at the age of 90, he had cataloged 80 native species previously unknown in Costa Rica, and developed another 110 hybrid species. Upon his death the gardens were taken over by the University of Costa Rica.

Marked paths point out the over 800 different species on display as well as other flowering native plants. The gardens have orchids in bloom all year, but blooms are most prolific between February and May. Open 8:30 am-3:30 pm; US $3.50.

If you’re on a public bus from Cartago toward Orosí (marked with Lankester as a stop) ask the bus driver to let you off at the gardens. Follow a short dirt road past a go-kart racetrack to the gardens Across the main road at the bus stop is a very good restaurant with hotel rooms, Casa Vieja ( 506/591-1165), in a Caribbean-style main house.

Lost love a t Casa Vieja
This former hacienda was the home of Doña Ana Cleto Arnesto, who had a passionate affair with General Francisco Morazán, one of Costa Rica’s dictators. The Honduran General had seized power from Braulio Carrillo and pushed for Costa Rica to rejoin a Central American Federation. When he was in turn overthrown, 14 September 1842, he fled the capital and spent the night there with Ana. The next day he was arrested and executed by firing squad in San José’s Central Park.

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