New Orchid Species Found in Costa Rica


Vanilla karen-christianae, in honor of the Costa Rican scientist Christiana Figueres Olsen, is the name of the new species of orchid discovered by a student researcher—Patricia Lehmann Calderón—in the Corredores region, southern Costa Rica. La Nación reports:

The plant, which is in danger of extinction, belongs to the genus Vanilla (popularly known in Costa Rica as vainillas) and has never before been registered in the country.

Patricia Lehmann Calderón was in charge of the finding. She is a student of Natural Resources Management (MARENA) of the Universidad Estatal a Distancia (UNED), and she worked alongside researcher Adam P. Karremans, of the Lankester Botanical Garden of the University of Costa Rica , where it was finally concluded that it was a new species. The results obtained were recently published in the scientific section of the Orchids magazine of the American Orchid Society (AOS).

There are wild vanilla species in all the tropical regions of the planet, but only those native to Mexico and Central America have vanillin, the compound that gives fragrance to the fruit.

Vanilla is a genus of 110 species, and it belongs to the Orchidaceae family, which comprises about 30 thousand species worldwide. According to the website of this teaching institution, the species found by the UNED student belongs to the subgenus “Xanata,” which includes all commercial vanilla species.

However, the Vanilla karen-christianae is easily distinguished from all other Central American species by the combination of very narrow leaves, with a recurved apex and ridges on the rim of the flower, characteristics that, according to the researchers, are found only in the most closely related species, Vanilla helleri, Vanilla insignis and Vanilla odorata.

According to Lehmann and Karremans “the vast majority of new plant species are discovered, either by exploring remote areas or by careful reexamination of previously collected specimens.”

The researchers explained that, with this discovery, they hope to draw attention to the need for biological research financed with public funds and to emphasize the importance of conserving the biological biodiversity of the country before it is lost forever.

[Translated by Ivette Romero. See original article, in Spanish, at

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