Costa Rica Orchids

Wild Orchid from the Montezuma area

A photo of wild orchid blooming in the Montezuma jungle.

Costa Rica is famous for its more than 1400 species of orchids. The Southern Nicoya Peninsula area is composed mainly of dry forest, most of which was chopped down in the early 20′s and 30′s, wreaking havoc on the flora and fauna of the area.

Thankfully, the tree chopping didn’t extend into the depths of every canyon, and many large trees were saved as shade for cattle. On these trees lived many types of epiphytes such as orchids and bromeliads.

How many species survived the destruction and still live in the area? That’s what I’ve been trying to determine, by searching for and photographing as many species as possible. So far it’s more than 20 native orchid species, most of which I only have photos for the bulbs and leaves – not the flowers.

Over time I will update this site as I and other contributors find, photograph, and identify these orchids. If anyone knows anything about these orchids, please help me out! For those of you who really love orchids, you should visit Lankester Gardens, near San Jose, where they have more than 800 species on display, and are leading the fight to protect orchids and educate the public.

Orchid Thieves

Why are so many people obsessed with orchids? I can’t speak for others, but for myself, I think it goes back to the thrill of hunting for eggs and candy on Easter. Unlike animals and birds, which often fly away before you can photograph them, Orchids do us the courtesy of staying still while you take a photo. The hard part with orchids, besides finding them in the first place, is catching them while they’re flowering. Some of the flowers bloom only for a day each year, others for a week or two. Some orchids are common, and some are very rare, or possibly extinct, or the “living dead”, which means they are alive, but there aren’t enough of the species left, with enough genetic diversity to continue the species much longer.

As for orchid thieves, it’s common for Costa Ricans to chop orchids out of their native habitat and take them home to grow in the garden. Just like putting wild parrots in cages, this is illegal in Costa Rica, but common practice. I personally only take orchids that have fallen off their trees, from fallen branches, or from fallen trees. I’ve even found them floating in rivers! Even with this restriction, I’ve amassed a pretty good collection at my home in Montezuma, and consider myself an orchid rescuer rather than a thief. This adds to the challenge and pride of creating my collection.

–Geoff McCabe

Orchid Facts:


–Only one type of orchid fruit is regularly eaten by humans: Vanilla! This amazing flavor was first introduced to Europe by Cortez, after he was given a taste by Mexico’s Emperor Montezuma. It quickly became popular among European royalty. Vanilla is the second most labor intestive food crop in the world after saffron.
— Orchids are not parasitic. They are air plants who simply attach themselves to a tree’s bark.
— Each type of orchid has a special fungus which is an essential part of its lifecycle. Without this fungus, the orchid seed cannot grow.
— Over 50 orchid species have been found growing in a single tree! The most I’ve seen is 6 species in a tree in Montezuma.

Identification of Species

Special thanks to Dr. Thomas Pátkai for being the first to help to identify many of the species above. Visit his website at Orchid Nights.

Thanks also to Prof. Franco Pupulin for identifying most of the rest and making a few corrections. Prof. Pupulin works for The University of Costa Rica’s Jardín Botánico Lankester.

Wild Orchids:

The following are orchids that I’ve seen personally growing wild in the jungle, as opposed to the other type that is from people’s gardens who claim they’re from the local jungle. As I’m able to verify that they really grow in this area, I’ll move them from the “garden” category to the “wild category”.

Montezuma Orchid

Orchid Type 1
Spikey-shaped orchid which is all over the area, often growing in large patches on trees. Although it’s very common, I’ve never seen it bloom, except this one time for the photo. It was blooming while on the ground, because this was an orchid rescued off a fallen branch.
Very Common
Name: Brassavola Nodosa

Montezuma Orchid

Orchid Type 2
This orchid is living on one of the largest Guanacaste trees in the area, on a farm behind Malpais. Blooming Feb/March.
Common
Name: Epidendrum cf. amparoanum

Montezuma Orchid

Orchid Type 3
“Torita” orchid, so called because the flower reminds one of the shape of a bull. I’ve also recently learned that there are at least three color varieties here (white, yellow, and purple), often growing on the same tree even though they’re different species. I’ve never seen any of the colors bloom though.
Common
Name: Catasetum maculatum

Montezuma Orchid

Orchid Type 4
Blooming in March, this orchid has a bulb that looks like many others, which are difficult for an amateur like me to tell apart.
Common
Name: Encyclia cordigera

Montezuma Orchid

Orchid Type 5
This orchid looks like a bromiliad because of the way the leaves sprout out from the center. This one is living on a very huge old tree next to Quebrada Buena Vista in Delicias.
Uncommon

Montezuma Orchid

Orchid Type 10
This orchid had large, thick, strong, broad leaves. I don’t remember where I photographed it.
Rarity??
Name: Epidendrum stamfordianum

Montezuma Orchid

Orchid Type 11
These are common in the area, and the flowers are a little disappointing… small yellow-green. This bloomed in late February.
Common
Name: Encyclia stellata

Montezuma Orchid

Orchid Type 12
I’ve only seen this type once, high up in a very old tree. The leaves were large and curled.
Rare
Name: Laelia rubescens (Probably)

Montezuma Orchid

Orchid Type 15
This is a wild orchid growing in a finca in San Isidro, which is 8 minutes or so from Playa Carmen. This area has many orchids and ancient trees, but I could only find a single specimen of this type.
Rare

Montezuma Orchid

Orchid Type 26
This unusual orchid I found floating in Quebrada Buena Vista (a jungle stream in Delicias near Montezuma), still rooted to the bark. It turned out that upstream an ancient tree had fallen into the river and died, and many orchids had fallen off. The plant itself consists of many long streamers, 20-30 inches long, with several small bulbs attached to each. It has yet to bloom.
Rare
Name: Maxillaria cf. neglecta

Montezuma Orchid

Orchid Type 33
This orchid was blooming in December, and was high in a tree on the Rio Negro in the southern Nicoya Peninsula. It was well shaded, so difficult to get a clear photo.
Rarity??
Name: ???

Montezuma Orchid

Orchid Type 34
This orchid is very much like type 15 above, but it was much larger. It was found growing on a tree in the Rio Negro, near Manzanillo.
Rarity??
Name: ???

Montezuma Orchid

Orchid Type 35
This is wild Vanilla, and is the only edible orchid. The process for making edible vanilla from the pods is supposedly a very complex and involved process, making real vanilla the world’s most expensive food.
Rarity??
Name: ???

Montezuma Orchid

Orchid Type 36
This orchid is blooming in Dec, and is on an old “Ardillo” tree in front of my house in Montezuma.
Rarity??
Name: ???

Montezuma Orchid

Orchid Type 37
This flower is hardly noticable when it blooms because it matches exactly the color of the orchid plant itself. It was blooming in October.
Rarity??
Name: ???

Montezuma Orchid

Orchid Type 38
I forget where I found this orchid. It was blooming in December. The center of the white flower is purple.
Rarity??
Name: ???

Garden Orchids:

The following are orchids that I’ve seen in the local area in various gardens. In every case, these are orchids that I’ve been told by the owner or gardener is from the local jungle. Any orchids that I’ve been told were brought from other climatic zones or parts of Costa Rica aren’t included in this guide.

Montezuma Orchid

Orchid Type 6
This orchid has a ribbed bulb, and large, long leaves. I’ve only seen it once, at a Tica woman’s house.
Common
Name: Oncidium stenotis

Montezuma Orchid

Orchid Type 7
I’ve seen this one time, at the same Tica woman’s house. She said she found it in the jungle on her farm in Malpais.
Rare Dimerandra cf. emarginata

Montezuma Orchid

Orchid Type 8
I’ve seen this one time, at the same Tica woman’s house. She said it was very rare and also from the jungle on her farm in Malpais.
Rare Name: Epidendrum sp.

Montezuma Orchid

Orchid Type 9
This one was attached to a tree at a farm in Delicias. Apologies for the blurry photo.
Rarity?

Name: Schomburgkia lueddemannii

Montezuma Orchid

Orchid Type 14
This orchid was recently strapped to a palm tree at the Sunset Reef Hotel. A staff member told me it was taken out of the jungle in Malpais. I haven’t seen it anywhere else.
Rarity?

Montezuma Orchid

Orchid Type 20
This orchid was recently strapped to a palm tree at the Sunset Reef Hotel. A staff member told me it was taken out of the jungle in Malpais. I haven’t seen it anywhere else.
Rarity?
Name: Prosthechea chacaosensis / Prof. Franco Pupulin

Montezuma Orchid

Orchid Type 24
This is called “Orchidia Arana”, by the locals, which is Spider Orchid in Spanish. It’s also from that private garden in Delicias. The flower was blooming in late March, and was approximately 5 inches wide. This may also be Brassia gireoudiana. I have two books on Costa Rican orchids and they have conflicting names on the photos.
Rarity?
Name: Brassia verrucosa

Montezuma Orchid

Orchid Type 25
This amazing orchid, blooming in late March, I was told is from the local jungle, and is also the national flower of Costa Rica, called “Guardia Morada”. The owner gave me an old 5-colon bill which indeed has this flower on it. The bulbs look like others I’ve seen, such as type 9 or 12.
Rare
Name: Guarianthe skinneri

Montezuma Orchid

Orchid Type 28
This is the first orchid that I’ve encountered that is native to the area and has a very strong and wonderful smell, similar to Jasmine. I was able to identify it from a photo in a book.
Rare
Name: Encyclia cordigera

Montezuma Orchid

Orchid Type 29
This was from a local Tica’s garden, and she said it was from the local area. Note that this orchid is blooming, and the flower is in the upper left – not a very exciting flower shape or color.
Rarity?
Name: ???

Montezuma Orchid

Orchid Type 30
This one I haven’t seen bloom yet. The gardener who had it says that it’s a different type from type 3 above, although it looks very similar. He said one of them has a yellow flower, and the other, purple. I don’t know which is which.
Rarity??
Name: ???

Lilies

Montezuma Lily

Lily 1
This lily was a very lucky find. It was growing just behind the beach north of Montezuma, almost in the driftwood. It was at the small cove that’s just before Playa Grande. It was blooming mid-December
Rarity?

Montezuma Lily

Lily Type 2
This lily was blooming in late March, in a private garden in Delicias. The owner said it’s from the local jungle.
Rarity?
Name: Amaranth

Montezuma Lily

Lily Type 3
This lily was blooming in late March, in a private garden in Delicias. The owner said it’s from the local jungle.
Rarity?
Name: Amaranth

Montezuma Orchid

Orchid Type 13
This was recently strapped to a palm tree at the Sunset Reef Hotel. A staff member told me it was taken out of the jungle in Malpais. I haven’t seen it anywhere else.
Rarity?

Further Info:

Anamayaresort.com – Yoga retreat center in Montezuma with an orchid rescue garden.
Costa Rica Scuba Diving – Scuba diving / Buceo en Costa Rica
Orchids Wiki – Orchids Wikipedia article.
Tropisphere.com – Real Estate in Costa Rica, including Montezuma, Mal Pais, and Santa Teresa

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