Our first stop of the day was at Jardín Botáníco Lankester. This garden, maintained by the University of Costa Rica, is internationally known for its collections of epiphytes, including many orchids. The orchid collection includes over 15,000 accessions from nearly 1,000 species, most of which are native to Mesoamerica. We looked at a few of these, but didn’t spend nearly as much time in the shadehouse of miniature orchids as in some past tours (see blogpost from last year’s trip for more about those). After taking pictures of the national orchid of Costa Rica, the guaria morada (Guarianthe skinneri), forced into bloom with their purple cattleya-type flowers with a white throat (normally they bloom in April), and briefly looking in the shadehouse we headed off to spend more time in the rest of this garden.
One of their other collections is of Heliconias, one of the most showy, distinctively tropical flowers with beautiful, brilliant colorful flowering bracts. There are 200-250 species that are mostly native to the neotropics (tropical America), but some are from the Pacific Islands west to Indonesia. Formerly classified in the banana family (Musaceae) but now in their own Heliconiaceae family, the leaves and their general shape do resemble banana and bird of paradise (Strelitziaceae), but the flowers are very different.
Each shoot on a mature plant can produce a single inflorescence which may be either erect (bracts pointing up) or pendent (hanging down with bracts pointed toward the ground). The fairly inconspicuous green, yellow, or orange flowers are enclosed by the spectacular, long-lasting waxy bracts that are usually bright red, yellow or both, but sometimes are green, orange, purple or pink, and may be smooth or fuzzy. Each bract has up to 50 flowers, the number depending on the species. The flashy colors of the bracts attract the hummingbirds that pollinate the flowers. The flowers come in a variety of lengths and shapes, which correspond to the length and shape of the bill of their pollinator. Curved flowers are pollinated by hummingbirds such as hermits and white-tailed sicklebill which have long, curved bills, while straighter flowers are pollinated by different hummingbirds with straighter beaks. Different hummingbird species pollinate different Heliconia species, which deposit pollen on different parts of the bird making transfer of the pollen to the next individual of that species likely to occur.
In the afternoon we drove to the area of Tres Rios, Curridabat to visit the private home of Ms. Ileana Terán. The Terán family has owned and farmed the land for 160 years, and is now the single remaining coffee farm in the San Jose area. There are still 200 hectares of land in coffee, but the family is gradually developing the land because the land is more valuable than the coffee. She has been interested in gardening and plants since she was young, and has long been an advocate for the protection of Costa Rica’s natural areas in general, and orchids in particular. She is a founder of the SACRO Foundation, an organization to protect these plants in their natural habitats. She hosts groups such as ours to discuss her conservation efforts (and social improvement projects) and to help raise funds for their projects. We visit Ileana every year on this tour, but usually for dinner. This time we enjoyed lunch with her and her husband Fernando before touring the lovely garden
The Terán home overlooks the city and is beautifully landscaped, with a magnificent orchid collection throughout the grounds as well as in special shade houses and greenhouses. Ileana led us through the grounds, pointing out various plants to discuss and answering questions from the group, while Fernando brought up the rear, chatting with others about the plants and other things.
After our tour we gathered in their livingroom to view a video produced by the SACRO Foundation (watch it yourself on YouTube – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-tGhhxIW6Y0) before we had to say goodbye in order to fight heavy traffic (on a Sunday!) crossing the Central Valley to get to our next hotel in the Naranjo area after dark just about the time the Packers were finishing off the Cowboys.