Le Pays De France - UK's Kew tribute to Costa Rica at annual orchid fest

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UK's Kew tribute to Costa Rica at annual orchid fest
UK's Kew tribute to Costa Rica at annual orchid fest

UK's Kew tribute to Costa Rica at annual orchid fest

Britain's Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew unveiled its annual orchid festival Thursday, turning a sliver of southwest London into a riot of tropical colour and flora celebrating biodiversity hotspot Costa Rica.

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Kew's 26th orchid showcase, opening Saturday, has this year been themed around the central American country hailed for conservation and features more than 5,000 orchids, some native to the nation on the Panama isthmus.

They include the national flower, a critically endangered orchid -- named Guarianthe skinneri -- bearing pink-purple petals and found in humid forests on tree trunks and branches or on granite cliff banks at some altitudes.

The month-long exhibition, housed in Kew conservatory set to tropical temperatures and conditions, also promotes Costa Rica's famed fauna, with handcrafted sculptures of some of animals made from natural materials and nestled in amongst the plants.

"Through the glass house we tried to bring in as much colour to just transport people into that sort of feel good world of Costa Rica... to make it really pretty and smashing," florist and Kew volunteer Henck Roling told AFP.

The Dutchman, who in keeping with the orchid theme had dyed his hair and beard bright colours and was adorned with an orange garland, said the team had spent much of the past two years thinking about the festival.

It is returning to Kew after a one-year hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Around 6,000 plants have been brought in for the showcase, including the 5,000 orchids originating from around the world.

- 'Amazing array' -

Various individual displays of the different orchid types are dotted around Kew's expansive and misty Princess of Wales conservatory, interspersed between water features, ferns, monsteras and other greenery.

The colourful host of plants began arriving in January and took dozens of volunteers and staff weeks to assemble by hand into their immaculate displays, said Alberto Trinco, acting supervisor of the conservatory.

"It's one of the biggest plant families and they are such an amazing array of shapes, colours, and other adaptations and co-evolution with their pollinators, which is quite mind-blowing sometimes," he added.

A section of the exhibition delves deeper into orchids, explaining everything from family tree and anatomy to their use for celebrations in Costa Rica.

Trinco noted the organisers chose the country, which is home to more than 1,600 orchid species, to "celebrate its biodiversity, its effort towards conservation and its culture".

The Central American nation covers just 0.03 percent of the planet but is home to six percent of the world's flora and fauna species and has been praised for how it manages the natural environment.

Costa Rica was last year one of the inaugural winners of Prince William's UN-backed Earthshot Prize, in recognition of its efforts to tackle environmental degradation and promote sustainability.

Alex Munro, a botanist at Kew specialising in discovering new plant species in the tropics, said he and colleagues had worked with the Costa Rican ambassador in London to help inform some of the science behind the exhibits.

"They have lots of species in Costa Rica which you wouldn't find anywhere else," he told AFP.

"They capture fully the diversity of orchids in the Americas," he added, stood aside one of the main displays.

Other countries previously as a theme for the yearly showcase include Indonesia, India and Colombia.