The Orchids - a report by Glynn Brook from the current trip
I will not duplicate the detailed descriptions of locations in the main site but just give some general impressions of what it is like to travel to Costa Rica; and with only a copy of Bob Dresslerís excellent book start orchid hunting (1).
Walking on the wild side
Despite appreciating all orchids, there is something special about finding orchids out there for yourself.
Details of habitat and seasons can only go so far and then it is down to perseverance, and getting ones eye in.
In the dense forest, all the stories are true: there are no orchids to be seen except in the clearings where a tree has fallen and there some epiphytes can be found. The other main chance is when there have been high winds and the ground can be littered with small and not so small branches, which again carry epiphytes.
Towards the top of trail C from the Savegre Lodge at almost 8,000 feet I was having to watch where I trod because of the large number of orchids scattered across the path from above. It grieves an orchid grower to leave barrow loads of orchids to die.
Interestingly on the way up along track A, the road cut carried what I thought were large numbers of Sobralia seedlings, but later found out were Elleanthus. Small trees to the side of the cut were also covered in epiphytes.
In more open forest the plants still seem to prefer the top branches and several Catasetums were seen, although only through binoculars. Apparently the other reason for the plants being so high is that the ones lower down have been stripped out by materos, illegal orchid collectors.
The conditions in the cloud forest only emphasised what a poor substitute greenhouse cultivation is for a lot of epiphytes. One minute the forest was bathed in strong sunlight, and the next a warm mist covered everything and then was gone as quickly as it appeared.
The paramo at the top, or nearly, of the Cerro de la Muerte (the mountain of death) was yet another different habitat and although only one dried plant with three seed capsules was found I am sure that in season this would be a very worthwhile area.
One of the entrances to the Braulio Carrillo National Park sported a large clump of Sobralia, probably leucoxantha, and despite seeing no other orchids on the 1.6km trail there were clusters of Sobralia lips on the path suggesting that something higher up in the trees was finding them equally attractive.
A more cultured approach
Many of the hotels visited, for what was always a very good buffet lunch for under $10, had lots of orchids in their grounds.
The Buena Vista had Cattleya skinneri, Arundina graminifolia and others growing in the owners garden next door to the hotel.
The Savegre Lodge has several Encyclia and Cattleya growing in the gardenerís lock up, although in the trees around the hotel were thousands of epiphytes, and as mentioned earlier the trails were well worth the effort, although at nearly 8,000 feet effort seems too small a word.
The hotel at Punta Leona had Cattleya skinneri growing on a post at reception, and nicely in flower, and several other orchids including Trigonidium.
La Quinta at Sarapiqui had a great display of Encyclia fragrans, Sobralia chrysostoma, which opened its buds on the morning of our departure, Epidendrum, Nidema, and Maxillaria.
La Paz waterfall gardens had an outstanding orchid area, with friendly and knowledgeable staff, and grew lots of miniatures. As well as Phaius tankervillea bedded out, Arpophyllum was in flower, as was Tricophilia suavis, Cattleya, Maxillaria, Encyclia, Epidendrum and lots more. A branch containing dozens of miniatures could have kept me happy for hours. Well worth the $25 entry fee, even without the waterfalls, butterfly house and endless hummingbirds.
La Selva run by the OTS (Organization for Tropical Studies) was too eager to separate me from my dollars, and very busy, but still yielded Nidema, and two species of Sobralia, but both so high up as to have to remain un-named.
The grounds of the Hotel Bougainvillea were full of Cattleya and Vanda and the reception area was full of orchids.
After an apprehensive first day wondering whether a 27 hour journey was a mistake, Costa Rica opened up her orchid flora for me, and left me with an overwhelming desire to return and watch the seasons change and the vast number of orchids bloom.
The people are very friendly and many are knowledgeable about orchids, reflected in the number of orchid shows held throughout the year.
Guide to the Orchids of Costa Rica and Panama. Dressler, Robert L.