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Wild Costa Rica

Orchid national flower of Costa Rica

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Published on Friday, September 15, 2023

By Victoria Torley

The day Costa Rica celebrates independence from Spain is an excellent opportunity for talk about one of the Pura Vida country's iconic symbols of flora.

Orchids are protected in Costa Rica. The national flower representing the flora is the Guaria Morada (Cattleya labiata). Get yours at the local vivero or feria, not from the wild. The pamphlet is really for those who move an orchid on their own property.

I have a short pamphlet with a lot of pictures called “Orchid Collecting in the Wild” out on Amazon and Kindle. Caught a lot of flack about it from people who think no orchid should be removed from the wild. Here’s the problem. 

People are going to find an orchid on their own property and want to move it to another location, usually closer to their house, so they can see it more often. This causes a problem as they have no idea how to move an orchid so that it will survive being transplanted. Hence the pamphlet which also explains how to attach an orchid to a new location so that it is happy. 

There are times when I buy an orchid at a local feria or outdoor market and need to attach it to a new piece of wood. Sometimes, that orchid is already attached to wood, but badly. A brief lesson here on orchid roots.

When you look at the ‘root’ of the orchid, what you see is not actually the root; it is the velamen that covers the root, protects and nourishes it. Velamen is usually white or grayish but green at the tip where the root is growing. It surrounds something that looks like a piece of thread. This is the actual root. 

String: Using string is a horrible way to attach an orchid to support. The string cuts into the velamen and exposes the root, usually killing it.

Plastic mesh: Even worse than string! String is usually made of a fabric that will rot away over time; plastic is forever. I once spent over an hour with a tiny pair of scissors cutting away the plastic mesh from a newly purchased orchid. The mesh had already cut into velamen in several places, and getting it loose was like performing surgery. 

When it comes to transferring an orchid to a new piece of wood or other medium, buy plant tape (it’s not adhesive tape) to use, although it can be difficult to find sometimes. I have found it in formal nurseries and supply houses in San José and once at Walmart. Who knows? Or make your own.

My method is to take an old sheet and cut it into one-inch widths (okay, I rip it into one-inch widths) and tie it around the roots when I move the orchid. It has the advantage of rotting out at about the same time as the roots take hold of the new piece of wood.

Find more amazing stories about gardening in Costa Rica on 
the Costa Rica Garden website. Regarding questions on this article, Ms. Victoria Torley, gardener columnist, can be reached by emailing victoriatorley1@gmail.com.

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