Protecting the Orchids of Guatemala
by Tara Tiedemann, photos by Murphy Byrne.
Guatemala—an orchid-lover’s paradise, a gardener’s paradise. Did you know that the Monja Blanca, Guatemala’s national flower, is a member of the orchid family? In Guatemala wild orchids flourish in many microclimates. With climate change and deforestation increasing, local orchid lovers have formed a group dedicated to orchid protection, and I recently had the opportunity to meet with one of its members, Luis Molina.
Molina is a member of the Asociación de Orquideología La Antigua Guatemala (Orchid Association of Antigua Guatemala). The association will be showcasing a variety of beautiful orchids from private collections on May 7-11, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Museo Arte Colonial, 5a calle oriente, No. 5, Antigua. While the event is a wonderful way for the public to view a variety of orchid species and meet the members, the goal of the association is much greater: to promote the conservation of wild orchids in natural habitats.
The president of the association is Estuardo Archila, a biologist with years of experience in orchids. Archila’s two brothers, Fredy and Fransisco Archila of Orquigonia in Cobán, are also involved in the association, and all are well-known orchidologists in Central America.
When asked about the biggest threats to orchids, they listed three main themes: deforestation, reforestation with non-native species, and poaching.
As we all are aware, deforestation is a major threat to the unique animal and plant life that inhabit these areas. Luckily, awareness is increasing and groups dedicated to conserving these environments are taking action. One of the important keys is conferring with a local biologist before replanting a deforested area. Oftentimes, well-meaning groups have come in and replanted with trees that were non-native to the area, and they used only one or two varieties of trees. These areas are often called “green deserts.” In what used to be lush and diverse cloud forests, rows of pine trees or eucalyptus grow, with not much in between. These areas are also void of orchids and other native plants and animals. The good news is this can be avoided with some thoughtful planning with biologists and a diverse selection of trees and bushes for replanting.
The other topic is orchid poaching. I’m sure you have seen vendors on the side of the road, exiting Antigua, or along any of the highways in Guatemala. Sure, these are beautiful specimens that often can be purchased at rock-bottom prices; however, they were harvested illegally and purchasing them contributes to the deforestation and disruption of natural habitat here in Guatemala.
Please buy orchids to brighten your home through authorized dealers who do it right and cultivate orchids in their greenhouses. In Antigua, Vivero Escalonia has a number of beautiful species. You can also visit Vivero Botanik or Orquideas SyM in the capital.
Antigua has a wonderful climate for growing orchids. Attend the expo and ask the experts for advice. You’ll see a number of different varieties – from the exquisite mini-orchids that can present a flower as small as 1 mm to those that produce giant flowers as big as your hand.
If you grow orchids, you can enter them in the May 7-11 show—bring them by Monday, May 5. There will be prizes for the best orchids in a variety of categories and educational workshops on Saturday and Sunday, May 10-11. Learn from the experts and take advantage of this rare opportunity to see an assortment of incredible orchids all in one location.
With about 25 members, the Orchid Association of Antigua Guatemala is open to anyone with a love of orchids. To join, call Ing. Estuardo Archila, 5308-2615 or Facebook at Asociación de Orquideología La Antigua Guatemala.