Lankester Orchids Botanical Gardens

Lankester OrchidsLankester Gardens has a world class collection of nearly a thousand varieties of orchids displayed at eye level. The huge number of plants means you can see blooms year round, although Feb. through April is the most spectacular time to visit. The 26 acres of gardens are home to nearly 3,000 species in all.

Orchids are surprisingly difficult to see in the wild. Even with a qualified guide you’d be lucky to spot a dozen during a full day in the forest. The majority are epiphytic, growing high in the canopy on trunks, branches or in crotches out of sight.

Orange orchid Lankester GardensAdditionally, many are rather mundane until they flower, and might only flower for a day or two a year. The same is true for many of the other interesting epiphytes in Costa Rica. Fortunately Lankester Gardens has a world class collection of nearly a thousand varieties displayed at eye level, and the huge number of plants means it’s likely that hundreds will be blooming when you visit.

Other Collections

While there is no question which family of plants steals the show at the garden, there are several other important collections. Many people are surprised to discover that cacti and other succulents are common in Costa Rica. Many species are from the Tropical dry forests of Guanacaste. Others thrive in the treetops where constant drying winds, scorching sun, and the lack of soil to trap rainwater create an unexpectedly arid environment.

Cactus Garden - Lankester Botanical gardens, Paraiso

Other families that are well represented in the garden are palms, bamboos, heliconias, bromeliads, palms, and conifers. The surrounding tropical premontane forest is some of the best preserved in the area, and attract animals, birds, and insects to this protected haven. Hummingbirds in particular frequent the garden, and especially the nectar rich flowers in the butterfly enclosure.

Quick Facts Lankester Botanical Gardens

The gardens are 10.7 hectares and the elevation at Lankester Botanical Gardens is 1371 meters (4498 feet).  British orchid enthusiast Charles Lankester West established the gardens in 1917. In 1973 his family donated the plants, and the American Orchid Society, and the Stanley Smith Foundation (U.K.) purchased the grounds and donated them to the University of Costa Rica to perpetuate for research, and the enjoyment of the public.

When to visit

Lankester Botanical Gardens Location
Lankester Botanical Gardens Location

Anytime is a great time for a visit to Lankester, but it can be particularly rewarding as a first stop. The identification tags and interpretive materials provide an easy way to start familiarizing yourself with some of the things that you’ll see in the wild.

Do you know what a sloth’s favorite food is? There is a myth that they love Cecropia leaves above all others, because one of the easiest ways to spot sloths is to know the shape of Cecropia tree leaves, and when you see them on the ground, look up. It’s not a myth that most sloths are spotted in Cecropia trees, but it is a myth that they prefer them.

Some sloths actively avoid Cecropias for the same reason it’s the most likely place to see one; the tree has an open structure with large leaves that only cover the end of the branches.  When a sloth is hanging out in a Cecropia they’re easy to see.

In many other trees it’s nearly impossible to spot them.  Even scientists with tracking gear who know exactly where a particular animal with a brightly colored radio collar is hanging out they sometimes cannot see them from the ground. Visit Lankester and learn more about the natural world before you start your exploration and you’ll be richly rewarded. Not only will you know where to look for sloths, but you’ll know the real reason you’re looking there.