Because the mountain weather and associated strong winds and heavy rain at the Preserve, many tree branches and occasional entire trees fall down along with their epiphytes, including orchids. These must be cleared along the system of trails in order to maintain forest access. Exceptional falls occurred, for example, during Hurricane Mitch in September of 1998. Mr. Federico González-Pinto and his son Federico González-Sotela conceived the idea of relocating these plants to make them more accessible to the visitors of the Reserve. They began salvaging and relocating air-fall orchids to the branches of small trees near the Lodge in the mid 1990's. The resulting 75-m-long Botanical Trail was opened in 1996. An open orchid garden was also created in the year 2000 by relocating plants to trees surrounding the then new assembly building. Eye-level relocations of orchids elsewhere along the system of trails also provide interest for orchid enthusiasts in seeing these plants that are making a living in a nearly natural state. The garden adjoins across a narrow road the forest of the Preserve.
The success of these relocations speaks for itself. These plants generally have survived, produce new growths, usually blossom, and often are pollinated, judging from the production of seed capsules and spent seedpods that are evident. Some seedlings can be observed growing in the garden's trees, meaning that some germination also occurs. In a way, these relocations represent a large-scale open-air botanical experiment in which many potential pollinators and symbiotic fungi of those orchid species are shared with the adjoining forest.
In 2004, the garden was officially named as “Dr. Stephen H. Kirby Orchid Garden” , in recognition of his huge enthusiasm and his important intellectual and economic support. About the same time, M.Sc. Melania Muñoz started working in the orchid project, collecting, describing, photographing and identifying the orchids from the garden, in order to learn about which species are living there, if they are common or not and to demonstrate to visitors the botanical diversity of the Reserve.
From the beginning, hundreds of orchid plants have been rescued from trails and relocated in the Orchid Garden. The orchid plants are attached to live trees, mainly “güitite” ( Acnistus arborescenes , Solanaceae) and “poró” ( Erythrina sp., Fabaceae). Easy access to the paths in the garden allowed us to study the orchid blooming and diversity in the Reserve, which includes more than 200 species. The fact that it is an open garden and it is located just next to the forest where they come from has several advantages:
Sharing the same weather. Sharing the same rain rate, temperature and humidity conditions helps the cultivation and management.
Sharing the pollinators. Capsule production can be observed in many species of orchids inside the Garden. Taking in account that orchid`s seeds are dispersed by wind, this is an advantage because it allows some reintroduction of seeds in the nearby forest, which could help keep wild population in their natural habitat.
Sharing mycorrhizal fungi. It is known that orchid seeds do not have any nutritive material (endosperm), and hence they need an initial symbiotic relationship with mycorrhizal fungi in order to germinate in nature. In the Orchid Garden it is possible to observe plantlets germinated in situ , which is direct evidence of this symbiosis.
It is worth mentioning that we do not use any synthetic chemical as a fungicide, bactericide, insecticide or fertilizer in the Garden. It is as close to a natural forest environment as we can make it.
Besides the orchid inventory, more research, in charge of Dr. Stephen H. Kirby and M.Sc. Melania Muñoz, is going on in the orchid garden. There is a herbarium , in which most of the orchid species from the reserve are represented in dry collection and with flowers in alcohol, a very good collection of photographs is available, a complete collection of scans of dissected flowers is being created A pollinaria collection is under development and one pollination event has been registered. Some international master or doctoral students have done part of theirs projects in the Reserve. National university students had also visited the orchid garden and visited the collection. Some speeches about the project have been delivered at several Costa Rican universities. The construction of the Bosque de Paz Orchid Flora and Website is one of our biggest challenges.