10 new orchid species discovered near Costa Rica-Panama border

May 19, 2011

Researchers at the University of Costa Rica’s Lankester Botanical Garden in Cartago, a colonial city east of San José, discovered 10 new orchids species last week. The University of Costa Rica’s (UCR) botanical garden discovered the orchid species in a government-protected area known as Las Tablas in San Vito de Coto Brus. The region is part of La Amistad Biological Reserve in Talamanca, in the southern Caribbean.

Costa Rica is home to more than 1,300 orchid species, including the large, purple guaria morada (Cattleya skinneri), the country’s national flower. Franco Pupulin, a UCR associate professor and researcher, said the discovery of the orchids was made in places that had not been explored in the past. He called Talamanca one of the richest regions in the world in terms of plant diversity. But lack of access to certain areas has left it partially unexplored.

Orchid 2

A newly discovered orchid in Costa Rica. Courtesy of Lankaster Botanical Garden.

“When comparing the species of orchids known in Costa Rica with Panama’s known flora, there are many species only known in Panama and not in Costa Rica, and vice versa,’’ Pupulin said. “But many of these species have been collected in the border area closer to Costa Rica, so we decided to test the area to look for species not yet found in the country… We found orchids never before discovered in the entire world.”

Pupulin believes that researchers have discovered up to a dozen new species. He was most impressed that the orchids were found in an area of three square kilometers, by three researchers during a four-hour expedition.

Costa Rica has 6 to 7 percent of all the orchids in the world, and Pupulin believes the country actually has many more. But orchids are difficult to research due to their small size, and the most recent finds still have to be compared with 28,000 other species.

Orchids are also an important commodity in Costa Rica, especially given the country’s booming wedding industry. Wedding planners here say orchids are the most popular flower, and centerpieces that include the flower can sell for as much as $3,500 (TT, July 16, 2010).

“These discoveries are a product of a system created by the University of Costa Rica and developed more than 10 years ago,” said Jorge Wagner, director of the Lankester Botanical Garden. “This system has enabled a greater understanding of the biodiversity of orchids in the country and the concept of species. Years ago we didn’t have the knowledge, expertise or an information source.”

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