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Lankester Botanical Garden – #EcoCostaRica

lankester botanical garden
Vanda tricolor

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I’m a sucker for flowers and gardens of any kind. My dreams are full of them.

Just outside Cartago, Costa Rica is an 11 hectare (27 acre) garden created by Charles H. Lankester in the 1940’s. The native of Southampton, England was never formally educated in biology but his obsession with orchids led to the addition of thousands of orchid species to science.

lankester botanical garden

Totally by chance, I arrived at Lankester on December 1, 2013 at the exact moment the festivities were kicking off for the the 40th Anniversary of the garden.  Kids were racing about on the grass between the trees, a series of food stands were set up near the gift shop and a quartet of strings were walking the paths playing some very gentle Baroque pieces.  It wasn’t a huge party – maybe just around 50 people or so – but everyone was laughing and chatting and it all sounded much bigger than it actually was.

The orchid house was the most popular spot of course.

The Orchidaceae family is the largest in the plant kingdom. Throughout the world there are some 28,000 species according to the American Orchid Society. Lankester hosts about 1,000 unique species the large majority being endemic to Central America. On top of the orchids the garden preserves another 2,000 species of epiphytes.

In his lifetime, Lankester collaborated with the famous Harvard orchid specialist Oakes Ames.

lankester botanical garden
Lycaste deppei

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lankester botanical garden
unknown spp

Lankester, like many heroes of conservation was in horrible financial condition when he died in 1969. With the garden for sale to cover his debts, the American Orchid Society and the Stanley Smith Horticultural Trust stepped in to protect what the naturalist had created. In 1973 it was donated to the University of Costa Rica under an agreement that the land was to be preserved as a botanical garden and research station.

And there I was.  Strolling the garden exactly 40 years later.

Since 1973, Lankester Botanical Garden has grown into one of the more important botanical institutions in the American tropics. Since 2001 the researcher staff have published Lankesteriana, a scholarly, peer-reviewed journal focused on epiphytic plants, orchids and tropical plant evolution and physiology.

lankester botanical garden
Paphiopedilum insigne

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Beyond the orchid house, past a pond and through a tunnel of bamboo lies a small, regenerated area of secondary forest described by the garden managers as:

…one of the few recovered areas in the urban zone of Costa Rica’s Central Valley . In 1973, the year the Garden was inaugurated, most of the land was pasture land and abandoned crops. The natural succession received human assistance through planting native and very varied introduced species. With an area of approximately six hectares, visitors can find native species adapted to the secondary forest; tree species from the country’s lower lying, humid areas; ornamental ground plants; numerous epiphytes; and climbing araceae. The secondary forest is also home to a large number of bird species, small mammals, reptiles, and insects.

I roamed the forest with a young biology student who was volunteering at the garden for the anniversary.  The new stand, rapidly healing the land under and around it was cool and dark.  Even the children running through on the way to a little creek below went silent in the forest.

Lankester is a hub for reforestation, regeneration and future research on tropical forest and species conservation.  Its the perfect place for a relaxing and inspiring afternoon.

Lankester Botanical Garden
Secondary Growth Forest

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lankester botanical garden
Cattleya spp

Jardín Botánico Lankester
Universidad de Costa Rica
Apartado 302-7050
Costa Rica


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