Commercial orchid growers from America are working with Costa Rica’s Monteverde Conservation League (MCL) to re-introduce native orchid species to the wild.
We found both Cattleya skinneri (the national flower) and Cattleya dowiana in full bloom as we traveled the countryside, and it was nothing short of a religious experience. …Much to our surprise, however, the orchids were not growing in the cloud forests along with the other impressive and diverse biological varieties as we were expecting. Instead, the cattleyas had been removed from the jungle trees and were now blooming in local residents’ yards
…In Costa Rica, laws have been passed recently that make it illegal to collect wild cattleyas. This action, though well-intentioned, is too late, because the plants are almost extinct in the forests.
Kudos to Chadwick & Son Orchids Inc. They’re in business to make money, to be sure, but also because they love orchids.
Project will help restore Costa Rica’s cattleyas
Nov 27, 2004
On a visit to Costa Rica in Central America last spring, we saw firsthand the fate that has befallen native orchid species around the world.
We found both Cattleya skinneri (the national flower) and Cattleya dowiana in full bloom as we traveled the countryside, and it was nothing short of a religious experience. It is one thing to grow these wonderful plants in captivity using clay pots in climate-controlled greenhouses but quite another to see them hanging from trees and subjected to the elements.
Much to our surprise, however, the orchids were not growing in the cloud forests along with the other impressive and diverse biological varieties as we were expecting. Instead, the cattleyas had been removed from the jungle trees and were now blooming in local residents’ yards. It seems orchid growing is a popular hobby even in the developing world.
In Costa Rica, laws have been passed recently that make it illegal to collect wild cattleyas. This action, though well-intentioned, is too late, because the plants are almost extinct in the forests. We were quite moved by this shocking realization and motivated to somehow improve the situation.
We approached a major conservation group in Costa Rica, the Monteverde Conservation League (MCL), and asked what we, as U.S. commercial orchid growers, could do to help bring back the cattleya species.
We looked at a number of options, including donating hundreds of our mature plants as well as raising a new crop of seedlings just for MCL to reintroduce into its 54,000-acre protected forest, which about 70 kilometers northwest of San Jose. There was local concern, though, that the commercially grown species were not from the exact gene pool as the remaining jungle plants and would display artificially improved flower characteristics of shape, color and size. The reintroduced seedlings had to be created using local plants.
It was decided that a new orchid production facility in Costa Rica was needed and would be partly funded through donations and the sale of plants. The money would be used to build a small seed-sowing laboratory and several greenhouses near Monteverde where seedlings would be grown to maturity. When close to blooming size, the plants would be taken to the forests and tied to the trees by the MCL volunteers. The seedpods themselves would be made using the few plants remaining in the wild.
Cattleya skinneri, which has been Costa Rica’s national flower for 65 years, will be reintroduced first, with Cattleya dowiana to follow.
It will be of great importance to keep the problem of overcollecting from happening again once the new plants are introduced. To address this issue, local people will have to be involved in the project from the beginning so that they will have a stake in a successful outcome. Many employment opportunities will develop, including construction of the lab and greenhouses, growing the plants in all stages, and guarding the forests.
One possible source of revenue could be selling a portion of the young seedlings to tourists, an action that is especially attractive since it also lowers the demand for plants collected from the wild. Since there are a million seeds in a single pod, there should be plenty to go around.
Overcollecting of orchid species is a threat all over the world. It is our hope that this cattleya recovery project also will serve as a model for other such endeavors.
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The Monteverde Conservation League is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the conservation of the tropical forest. Its mission is to conserve, preserve and rehabilitate tropical ecosystems and biodiversity. Founded in 1986 in Monteverde, Costa Rica, the group has purchased through donations 54,000 acres of primary and secondary forest. The Children’s Eternal Rain Forest is the largest private reserve in Costa Rica. For more information, visit http://www.acmonteverde.com.
Consider spending your next vacation in Costa Rica, a nation that has 12 distinct ecological zones that are home to about 5 percent of known species on Earth, including 1,400 orchid species. The country has one of the world’s best conservation records; nearly 25 percent of its land is protected.
Arthur Chadwick is president of Chadwick & Son Orchids Inc. Reach him at 1240 Dorset Road, Powhatan, VA 23139; 804-598-7560 or by e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.