August 17, 2010

Lancetilla - A real garden of Eden

the impressiveBAMBOO TUNNEL
theCASHEW NUTin the cashew fruit of a cashew tree
Biologists, photographers, students and nature lovers alike, will fall in love with Lancetilla. We are talking about one of the most impressive botanical gardens in the world and perhaps the largest in Latin America, located just a few minutes away from Tela in the north coast. The 1600 plus hectares house a diverse collection of exotic plants from all over the planet, where hundreds of species of animals and insects roam freely and feed off the abundant fruit and flowers growing in the area.
can you spot theYELLOW BUTTERFLY?
It was founded in the mid 1920s by Wilson Popenoe, who turns out is also the founding director of the Escuela Agricola Panamericana Zamorano (a private university near Tegucigalpa which main focus is agriculture). Lancetilla began as a research and development station for the United Fruit Company, one of the foreign companies exploiting bananas during the 1900s in Central America. Their main goal was to study the effects of diseases and other factors affecting the cultivation of bananas and other tropical fruit. It was until the mid 70s that the botanical garden was handed over to the Honduran Government and is now run by ESNACIFOR the National School of Forest Sciences.

Fascinating plant life inhabit this natural sanctuary, in areas such as the arboretum (a collection of living trees for scientific study) and herbarium (a collection of preserved plant specimens), a number of which are indigenous to Honduras as well as others coming from distant parts of the world such as Malaysia, Philippines, Brazil and Polynesia. I was surprised to see so much diversity including many varieties of palm trees on display; they sure do come in all shapes and sizes, short, tall, fat, skinny and some of which I never even knew existed. Other rare and strange looking trees stand tall in this area; some with no bark as if being naked, others with thick foliage covering the entire tree including the bark, and a very odd one with big round fruit dangling not from the branches, but from the bark itself.

Many flowers proliferate in Lancetilla highlighting the mostly green backdrop with subtle tones of red, orange, yellow, and blue creating a rich and colorful landscape; the smell of citrus fills the air as well as the sounds of buzzing bees, fruit flies and tiny blue dragonflies. One can also catch a glimpse of different species of butterflies which are naturally attracted by the fruit and flowers and are also an important part of the pollination process.
A section I particularly found interesting was a spot where all of the national trees from every Central American country were on display, including the Honduran national tree, the sturdy pine. Let’s not forget about the Brassavola digbyana one of Honduras’ patriotic symbols and national flower, more widely known as the orchid, which surprisingly is grown in-house in a special lab. A curious and dark fact about one local plant is that of the camotillo which is poisonous and if ingested can cause death. It is famous in Honduran folklore as a plant which has supposedly been given to someone who turns up dead. This gives rise to the popular phrase in Spanish “le dieron camote” after a person passes away under strange circumstances. Translated, it means that the person was given camote. Ironically, and according to rural myth it can also be used as a potion to make someone fall in love.

These are just some of the few things I could observe from my last visit to Lancetilla! There is definitely more to learn and see in this beautiful garden of Eden on earth; reason why it attracts so many locals and tourists alike with more than 45,000 visitors a year (including many school students from all levels), making it one of Honduras’ most visited tourist attractions.

Lancetilla is open 7 days a week year round from 7 am to 4 pm.
There is a minimal entrance fee upon arrival at the front gate.
Once you have entered the main gate you will take a very long and extremely rocky dirt road that takes you deep into the reserve until you get to the visitors building.
There you can pay for a guide to give you a tour, which is also very inexpensive as they charge only L. 100.00 Lempiras or about $5.00 dollars. It is highly recommended as it only lasts about 30-40 mins and it can be very educational.
The tour can also come in handy as you need to watch out for them poisonous fruits. Go ahead and try some, but just the edible ones and only with advice from the guide.
They save the best for last as they take you through rows of towering bamboo trees which form a magnificent tunnel about the size of a football field. Perfect panoramic photo opportunity.
Don't forget to bring bug repellent, it will be very useful!