Heliconias of Colombia: The Best Collections You Should Visit

Heliconias are plants of great ornamental beauty due to their colors, strange geometric shapes and their banana tree shape. The heliconias are known throughout the world as exotic tropical plants, for their variety of colors, shapes, sizes, and long durability.

What is a Heliconia?

Heliconias are plants whose height varies from 1.2 to 1.9 meters, sometimes more. Their roots are strong and reach up to four meters, therefore, the heliconia is resistant to erosion.

As well as heliconias, birds of paradise, achiras, gingers, bilbos, and other plants known as platanillos are botanically grouped in the order Zingiberales.

Georeferenced records of Heliconias ©OpenStreetMap contributors, ©OpenMapTiles, GBIF
Georeferenced records of Heliconias ©OpenStreetMap contributors, ©OpenMapTiles, GBIF

The order Zingiberales is composed of eight families: Musaceae, Heliconeaceae, Strelitziaceae, Lowiaceae, Zingiberaceae, Cannaceae, Marantaceae and Costaceae.

Among these, the best known are the gingers and the birds of paradise (Betancur and Crees, 1993).

The family Heliconiaceae is represented only by the genus Heliconia and has about 250 species, of which 98% are distributed in Central and South America, and the Caribbean (Kress, 1994, cited by Maza and Builes, 2000).

Heliconias of Colombia

Of the more than 250 species of the genus Heliconia, 110 are distributed in the wild in Colombia, and 48 of them have been reported as endemic. Among these species, many have some degree of threat.

Most of the species are distributed in the Andean and Pacific regions, between sea level and 2400 m of altitude.

The regions of Colombia with the highest proportion of endemic Heliconias are the Andean with 75% and the Pacific with 20%.

Moreover, the regions with the highest concentration of species are the more humid regions, such as the western Andean slope (35%), the Atrato river valley (25%), the Magdalena river slopes (25%) and the eastern Andean region (25%) (Betancur and Kress, 1995, 1999).

Thus, Colombia is the largest center of Heliconias diversity in the world (Abalo and Morales, 1982).

Heliconia Flowers are Exported from Colombia

Casa Oropendola, Minca. Heliconias in the center of the table.

Heliconias are used worldwide on various occasions and special dates throughout the year.

The colorful heliconias we know are inflorescences. The real flower is white, small, and is inside. However, what is marketed is the inflorescence, even, the inner flower must be removed in post-production, otherwise it generates a bad smell in the plant.

Heliconia vellerigera ©Tinamu Birding

Colombia is an exporter of heliconias with destinations such as the United States, Canada, Germany, Switzerland, Aruba, Holland, and some Asian countries like Japan.

The market for Heliconias is very demanding. This is due to the special care that this type of flowers requires both in its production process and in the handling after it, and to the different attributes to which great importance is attributed by the trader and the final consumer (color, size, shape, quality, etc.)

Heliconias as a Tourist Attraction

Recently, ornamental flora and fauna such as Heliconias, orchids, butterflies, etc. is becoming a potential tourist attraction, especially in Colombia, a country of high biological diversity.

Nature tourism is a good option when you want to get to know these exotic plants in their natural habitat.

In Colombia, there are several places where you can find heliconias. Here I recomend you three places you can visit to see the exuberance of the heliconias.

Quindio Botanical Garden

Butterfly Garden (Mariposario) of the Botanical Garden of Quindío

This place is known for its great butterfly farm, but it is also an excellent destination to see the largest collections of palms and heliconias in Colombia. It also has an insect zoo and three sites for bird watching, among many other things.

The National Collection of Heliconias

The National Collection of Heliconias is located in the Quindio Botanical Garden. This collection has been made thanks to the support of Professor Gustavo Morales in terms of the supply of specimens and their curatorship.

The collection currently holds 45% of the 115 species estimated for Colombia, and its objective is to achieve 100% representation of this family.

The collection includes species of the family Heliconiaceae and the genus Heliconia. 13 of the species contained have some category of threat. In particular,H. abaloi, H. berryziana, H. foreroi, and H. oleosa are critically endangered (CR).

The National Collection of Heliconias is located in the Quindio Botanical Garden

How the collection works

Field trips to different locations made by the scientific staff of the Quindio Botanical Garden are made to collect native heliconias. The scientists take the plants to the Quindio Botanical Garden, and other botanical gardens, for ex-situ conservation purposes.

The specimens are taken to their final place in the National Collection of Heliconias after treatment with a process of acclimatization and propagation. Once in the collection, they acquire an accession number and are monitored and managed agronomically.

Visiting the Collection

Visitors can enter the ecotourism service through the modality of reservation or scheduling.

Only a maximum of 15 people are allowed per group and they will have an exclusive guide who will give them a special tour, full of knowledge and new experiences.


Kids (3-12) ~9 USD – Adults ~15 USD

How to get there

The botanical garden is located at Av Centenario no 15-190 Km. 3 Via Valle Calárca, Colombia. It is 15.5 km from the city of Armenia, which translates to 25 minutes by car.

If you are on the coffee axis, the Quindio Botanical Garden is a destination you can add to your route.

COVID-19 Crisis

The Botanical Garden of Quindio is an NGO. Today it needs your support to sustain itself, so visiting it is a good option.

However, you can also contribute from where you are with their tree sponsorship program or through donations directed to the collection of palms, heliconias, among others.

Tinamu Birding Nature Reserve

Golden-collared manakin (Manacus vitellinus)

The Tinamu is a Natural Reserve and Birdlodge, where up to 260 species of birds have been registered, distributed in 47 families, the most numerous families being flycatchers with 35 (Tyrannidae), tanagers with 21 (Thraupidae), queens with 16 (Parulidae) and hummingbirds with 16 (Trochilidae).

It is also home to +260 species of birds, mammals, reptiles, butterflies and a great variety of plants and trees. Tinamu is a place that since 2014 offers a high level of service in bird watching toursim.

Heliconias of the Tinamu Reserve

In the Tinamú Birding Natural Reserve, there are 7 species of Heliconias and 3 other Zingiber species: Heliconia wagneriana, Heliconia latispatha, Heliconia rostrata, Heliconia stricta, Heliconia vellerigera, Calathea crotalifera, Zingiber spectabile, and Musa velutina.

Heliconia latispatha ©Tinamu Birding

There, besides the birds, you can walk in the forest and meet these beautiful specimens, as well as the birds that come to feed and pollinate these species. Two of them are the Stripe-throated Hermit (Phaethornis striigularis) and the Green Hermit (Phaethornis guy).

In this forest of heliconias, you can also find an incredible lek of Golden-collared manakin (Manacus vitellinus).

Heliconia rostrata ©Tinamu Birding

How to get here

Tinamú Birding is located in Caldas, 18 km from Manizales (30′), in the San Peregrino sector. It is immersed in the Coffee Cultural Landscape and a sub-Andean forest of 11 hectares, between 1,200 and 1,300 meters above sea level, with a warm climate of 25°C.

Heliconia wagneriana ©Tinamu Birding

Visiting the Collection

You can make your reservation by following this link.

To learn more about the Tinamu I recommend you read our entry The Nicest Bird-lodge of Colombia: Tinamu Birding Nature Reserve.

Paraíso Andino Reserve

Paraíso Andino Glamping

The Ecoglamping Reserva Paraíso Andino is a family project that highlights the restoration and conservation of a fragment of sub-Andean forest.

For more than 12 years, they have actively and passively restored the forest and, today they have an excellent infrastructure for ecotourism, such as bird watching, butterfly watching and ethnobotany. And it is very close to Bogotá!

Heliconias of the Paraíso Andino Reserve

The reserve has a collection of heliconias of approximately 60 species. There you can enjoy a guided walk through a trail that takes you through the entire collection.

It is the best option if you want to know these plants in their natural habitat, very close to Bogota. You will also be able to learn about native forest plants and medicinal plants, their uses and history.

How to get here

Paraíso Andino is located in La Vega Cundinamarca (Colombia) Km 12.5 via La Vega-Sasaima.

Visiting the Collection

The entrance to the reserve is by reservation.

  • Téllez Jaramillo P A (2018). Colección Nacional de Heliconias. Version 4.2. Jardín Botánico del Quindío. Occurrence dataset accessed via GBIF.org on 2021-01-04.
  • GBIF
About the author

Sara Colmenares

Current director of Sula. Doctor in Biological Sciences. Her main interests are to explore and understand the organism – environment interactions, taking advantage of emerging knowledge for the management and conservation of species and ecosystem services. She is currently working as a consultant in functional ecology, ecosystem services and conservation projects in Colombia related to ecotourism and birdwatching.


The Unique Wax Palm Forests Landscape Destinations in Colombia

Come to Colombia to meet the outstanding Wax Palm! As we mentioned in a past entry, the Wax Palm, Ceroxylon quindiuense (Karsten) Wendl, is an endangered endemic species of Colombia. It is also the national tree and the star of one of the most beautiful and emblematic landscapes of the Colombian Andes.

Tourism is one of the most promising conservation strategies for this species. On the other hand, rural communities prefer it over agriculture, livestock, and mining.

Today there are all-terrain trucks that travel through areas such as Toche. There are even bicycle tours that take you to remote farms so you can enjoy the spectacular landscapes of the cloud forest with wax palms while descending to Toche or Salento.

Where to see Wax Palm Forests in Colombia

Salento and Valle de Cocora

The municipality of Salento is the cradle of the national tree, the Wax Palm, and has a great variety of tourist attractions. Salento is the oldest municipality of Quindío and the oldest among the three main departments that make part of the Coffee Triangle (Caldas, Risaralda, and Quindío). It is a beautiful town, interesting for its typical crafts and its streets full of color and history.

Bolívar Square – Salento, Quindío

Walking around the town will help you get to know the architecture typical of the Antioquian colonization, in which mud and adobe houses predominate, with colorful gates made of wood, and windows and balconies full of flowers.

The best days to visit Salento are during the week, since there are fewer visitors. You will find a varied offer of accommodation among luxury hotels, hostels, camping areas, and glamping.

What to do in Salento

Among its most important attractions are:

  • The Cocora Valley
  • The National Natural Park Los Nevados
  • The Traditional Architecture of the Colonization
  • The Bolivar Square
  • The Royal Street
  • The Church of Nuestra Señora del Carmen
  • The Ecoparque El Mirador and Alto de la Cruz
  • The Artisan’s Village
  • The Bridge of the Explanation “El Amparo”
  • A Coffee Tour
  • The Agro-ecological Park “The Promised Land”

COVID-19 update: most of the restaurants, stores, and tourist sites in Salento have already opened their doors again. However, the increase in cases of coronavirus has caused the Mayor’s Office to consider regulating the entry of visitors.

Valle de Cocora (Cocora Valley)

The Cocora Valley is located within the Coffee Cultural Landscape, a territory declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2011.

The Cocora Valley – Quindío

Thousands of tourists travel every year to the Cocora Valley, in the coffee region of Colombia, to admire its impressive palms.

What to do in Cocora Valley

Here you can enjoy the sighting of one of the most beautiful landscapes of Colombia while having a delicious cup of coffee at the Mirador Aires de Cocora. In this place, you can enjoy not only coffee but also delicacies such as passion fruit, cakes, desserts, and sweets to brighten up the afternoon in the company of your family or friends.

Besides drinking coffee, you can go on a guided horseback ride through the valley and take pictures of the monumental landscapes. Quindío and the Cocora Valley are unique places in the world that deserve to be known, preserved, and admired by all.

Guided horseback ride through the Cocora Valley

But even in this region, the wax palms are scarce. The fact that much of the surrounding forest has been cut down to make way for cattle grazing is part of the reason for their scarcity and, in turn, their threat.

So, if you want to know a real wax palm forest and see the landscape that amazed both explorers, travelers and naturalists, as Mutis and Humboldt, from the eighteenth century to today, I recommend the following destinations below.

Where to stay in Salento

Toche: A Post-Conflict Destination

86% of the wax palm forests are found in Toche, being the largest wax palm forest in Colombia and the world, with around 600.000 individuals!

86% of the wax palm forests are found in Toche, Tolima

Toche is a small village hidden between mountains and fog. It is no longer one of the areas of Tolima most affected by the armed conflict. The armed conflict took this region out of the hands of deforestation, and that is why there are very well-preserved high Andean forests.

Today it is a beautiful example of the community’s effort to position this place as a tourist destination of choice.

How to Arrive to Toche

Toche can be reached from Salento, Quindío, by an open road that crosses a moorland area, and gives you the most spectacular views of the cloud forest with wax palms that you can’t even imagine.

You can also arrive from Tolima, from the municipality of Cajamarca. From there you will have to go up to Toche on a very difficult road. It is only possible to go by off-road transport, to make sure you don’t get stuck on the way. This road is also very difficult due to the constant landslides on the mountain slopes.

Cerro Machín Volcano. In the background the urban area of the municipality of Cajamarca. ©Colombian Geological Service

What to do in Toche

In Toche you have to visit the Cerro Machín Volcano. This is an active volcano, one of the most dangerous in the world. You can walk to its top, while you find hot springs and clouds of gases released to the surface through mini-craters. You can also walk over the main crater of the volcano, which looks like a swampy area, where you can also observe birds and a forest with wax palms around it.

In Toche, you can also take ecological walks, visit and enjoy hot springs, and do bird watching, especially the yellow-eared parrot.

Where to stay in Toche

Another Wax Palm Destinations

There are other regions in Colombia where you can find wax palm forests. These are mainly in Caldas, Quindío, Tolima, and Valle del Cauca. However, here I will tell you the most appropriate ones to visit.

You can even find wax palms in cities like Bogota, or Armenia, at the Quindío Botanical Garden. To know more read our entry The Wax Palm and Why it is a Must to See When Visiting Colombia.

San Félix – Caldas

In San Felix is the Samaria Forest, a forest of wax palms. San Felix is a village located at 2,823 meters above sea level in the north of the department of Caldas, 25 km from its municipal capital Salamina and 96.3 km from the capital of Caldas Manizales. Its climate is cold, with an average temperature of 14°C and the temperatures in the early summer go up to 0°C.

La Samaria Forest at San Félix, Salamina, Caldas. ©La Patria Newspaper

It is called “The Paradise of the North”, a name that is due to its landscapes of unparalleled beauty. It has a natural forest of wax palms to which you will arrive by jeep. There you will be received by the peasant community, hard-working, humble, simple, and committed to the region. You will enjoy typical dishes and a guided walk-through path surrounded by wax palms.

The jeep is the car par excellence to move around the Colombian coffee axis.

Tourism is very important as an economic alternative for the cultivation of Hass avocados in this region. This crop is devastating hectares of forest and destroying the habitat of the wax palm in this region.

Where to stay in San Félix

Jardín – Antioquia

The Yellow-Eared Parrot Reserve was established by Proaves Foundation in order to guarantee the survival and promote conservation actions aimed at the populations of Yellow-Eared Parrot (Ognorhynchus icterotis) and Wax Palm (Ceroxylon quindiuense), in the areas of Jardín (Antioquia) and Riosucio (Caldas) in Colombia.

Jardín, Antioquia

The Reserve is located in the village of Ventanas, one hour from the town of Jardin (Antioquia), on the road that connects this municipality with Riosucio, Caldas. It has an extension of 188 hectares and presents altitudes ranging from 1,900 to 2,600 meters above sea level. It is classified by the Alliance for Zero Extinction as an AZE site.

Yellow-eared Parrot

This place is the only wax palm sanctuary established in Colombia, but its main goal is to protect the endangered Yellow-eared parrot, a species that nests in the trunks of the wax palm.

According to María José Sanín, a botanist at the CES University in Medellín, the problem is that the palms must be dead since that population of palms is old and is dying massively, which is good for parrots and birders, but terrible for the palms.

What to do in the Reserve

In the Reserve, you can go hiking and bird watching. There are also hummingbird watering places, where the Inca Collared comes.

Where to stay in Jardín

You can find another landscape destination in our entry Top 18 Natural Breathtaking Landscapes in Colombia.

If you want to schedule your visit to know the national tree of Colombia, do not hesitate to contact us, and plan your trip with us!


About the author

Sara Colmenares

Current director of Sula. Doctor in Biological Sciences. Her main interests are to explore and understand the organism – environment interactions, taking advantage of emerging knowledge for the management and conservation of species and ecosystem services. She is currently working as a consultant in functional ecology, ecosystem services and conservation projects in Colombia related to ecotourism and birdwatching.

The Wax Palm and Why it is a Must to See When Visiting Colombia

According to the World Biodiversity Ranking, Colombia ranks third in the number of palm species (Arecaceae Family). The Andean region presents the richest flora of the palms in the country, with 43% of the total species of Colombia. Among all the palm species found in Colombia, the Wax Palm is the most special. Here I will tell you why.

Palm trees have been linked to the life of man and his feelings since immemorial times, principally because of their graceful appearance and the innumerable benefits they bring.

For this reason, the term palm is not only applied to palms but also has a connotation of triumph, victory, and applause; it is also used as a title of honor for the great ones of a kingdom.

Colombia is one of the richest countries in the world in terms of palms, with 289 species, 47 of which are endemic.

The Wax Palm Ceroxylon quindiuense (Karsten) Wendl

The Wax Palm under its natural view

The first news about the existence of wax palms is due to José Celestino Mutis. It was found by him in the Andean Mountains, in the passage between Quindío and Tolima departments.

He found them distributed between 2400 and 2900 meters (7930 – 9700 ft) above sea level , within cloud forests composed mainly of native pine trees (Podocarpus) and oaks (Quercus granatensis). The species was validated by a description published in 1808.

Other remarkable explorers and naturalists, Alexander Von Humboldt and Aimé Jacques Alexandre Bonpland, re-discovered the wax palm in 1801, and just like Mutis, they were also fascinated by this plant. Humboldt described the spectacle as one of the most moving of all his journeys:

“The forest upon the forest, where tall, slender palms penetrate the leafy veil that surrounds them”.

Alexander Von Humboldt
The Forest upon the Forest

William Purdie, a Scottish Botanist from that time, also described the characteristics and features of our national tree in these terms:

“The haughty, noble trunk of this tree is covered with a layer of resinous wax, which gives it a whitish marble appearance, providing a lively distinctive feature to the very peculiar scenery of the Quindio moor, where the palm abounds in extraordinary degree without causing any damage to the subordinate forest under its pleasant shade.

To obtain the wax the tree is felled and I was informed by my guides that each tree provides up to 25 pounds… The wax is used mixed with tallow to make candles… to offer to the saints and the Virgin… it is in considerable demand but is abundant and easy to obtain”.

William Purdie

These chronicles and descriptions show the importance of the wax palm since ancient times. Some historians even claim that it was used by indigenous people for the extraction of gold.

Wax Palm Facts

Each Each palm can produce up to nine bunches simultaneously, each with 4,000 fruits or more. ©Makalu Pixabay
  1. Its stem is covered by a layer of wax that can be used to make candles.
  2. It can live up to 200 years.
  3. A seedling takes around 50 years to reach the adult phase.
  4. The wax palm can reach 70 meters in height.
  5. It lives in an uncommon habitat for palms, above 3000 meters above sea level, with low temperatures that are unusual for a palm to resist.
  6. The seedling is shadow dependent, so fragmentation and deforestation are killing these palm populations.
  7. Each wax palm can produce about 24,000 fruits per year.
  8. Each palm can produce up to nine bunches simultaneously, each with 4,000 fruits or more.
  9. Despite the number of seeds and seedling a wax palm produces, less than 8% survive at the end.
  10. In the wax palms, there are females and males, as in humans. This implies that for its reproduction the palm needs some mechanism to carry the pollen from the males to the females.
  11. Wax palm pollination is carried out by several species of tiny beetles of the genus Mystrops.
  12. Pollinators, in turn, depend on the wax palm for their survival, since the adults feed exclusively on its pollen and the females lay their eggs in the small flowers of the palm, where the larvae that are born feed on the tissue of the petals.
  13. The wax palm attracts its small pollinating beetles by the aroma of its flowers, which have volatile chemical compounds specially designed to conquer them. It is a system as precise as a key in its lock.
  14. A well-conserved population of palms can produce more than two billion mature fruits each year, which represents an extraordinary source of food for the fauna.
  15. It is home and refuge of the Yellow-eared Parrot (Ognorhynchus icterotis).
  16. It is an ‘umbrella species’ since its conservation is key to the survival of many others, or of entire ecosystems.
  17. Each stem ring represents a year of growth.

Colombia’s National Tree

The Wax Palm was proposed by the colombian botanist Armando Dugand as the national tree of Colombia. He was the director of the Institute of Natural Sciences of the National University of Colombia and a recognized specialist in palms. In July of 1949, Dugand proposed it as such to the organizing committee of the Third South American Congress of Botany.

The Wax Palm, Ceroxylon quindiuense (Karsten) Wendl, was proposed by Armando Dugand as the national tree of Colombia.

Dugand highlighted the wax palm as a true aesthetic heritage of Colombia and as its most typical plant, not only because it is an outstanding and characteristic element of the Andean landscape, but also because of the wax it produces and the extraordinary nature of its habitat, which goes far beyond the geographical and altitudinal limits common to the palm family.

He also described it as the most beautiful and most developed among the palms, since it can surpass 50 meters in height. Due to the characteristic of these plants to take a long time to decompose and take up to 200 years to complete its life cycle, they were thought to symbolize the capacity to persist and last.

Since then, the wax palm has been considered the national tree, and so it appears in many writings, minutes, documents, and postcards.

Colombia stamp with the Wax Palm
The Cocora Valley and the Quindio Wax Palm, honored in the 100 thousand peso bill issued by the @BancoRepublica on August 8, 2014 and put into circulation on March 31, 2016.

Additionally, in 1985, the Congress of the Republic of Colombia adopted the Quindío wax palm, C. quindiuense, as the national tree with the Law 61 of 1985. It is so valuable and so representative of our country that this law stipulates in its article 3:

“The felling of the wax palm is forbidden under a criminal sanction applicable in the form of a fine, convertible into an arrest, for the benefit of the municipality where the infraction has been committed”.

Law 61 of 1985

Palms as a Sign of Scientific and Botanical Values, as well as Biological Diversity.

Some historians affirm that in the 19th and 20th centuries, palms were planted around patriotic places as a sign of scientific and botanical values and to emphasize that Colombia is biodiverse. The preferred palm was always the Wax Palm.

In Bogotá, you can find wax palm gardens in places such as Universidad Externado de Colombia, the botanical garden of Bogotá José Celestino Mutis, the El Dorado Avenue (26th street) in Bogotá, which is a temple of the wax palm, and the Eje Ambiental in the center of the city.

Wax Palm at the botanical garden of Bogotá José Celestino Mutis

All the important buildings that frame the El Dorado Avenue and the Eje Ambiental in Bogota have in their facilities, or very close to their facades, a wax palm. These are, on El Dorado Avenue: The National Administrative Center (CAN), the Military Forces, the National Registry Office, the Government of Cundinamarca, the Bogotá Police Hospital, the Bank of the Republic of Colombia, the National Health Institute, and RTVC-Public Media System. In the Eje Ambiental, the Colombian Academy of Language, the Icetex, the Icfes, and the monument of the Templete de Bolívar.

The Wax Palm at the botanical garden of Bogotá José Celestino Mutis

The Wax Palm in Risk of Extinction

But it has not been worth so much recognition, nor that many people wrote poems or songs to this plant. The Colombian Wax Palm is under serious risk of extinction, initially due to its exploitation by religious interests, and later by changes in land use such as deforestation for agriculture and livestock.

The Colombian Wax Palm is under serious risk of extinction, among the causes are deforestation for agriculture and livestock.

Recently, it is the cultivation of the Hass avocado that has endangered the survival of the Wax Palm. The situation is worrisome because the area declared as a Coffee Cultural Landscape by UNESCO is beginning to change due to the displacement of the traditional coffee cultivation by the Hass avocado.

This has also led to the endangerment of a species of bird endemic to the Colombian Andes, the Yellow-eared Parrot. The Wax Palm is the plant where it builds its nests and on which it feeds.

Yellow-eared Parrot flying over the Yellow-eared Parrot Bird Reserve in Jardín, Antioquia

Wax palms have special protection because several investigations determined a few years ago that they are dying of old age and the new plants take more than 50 years to grow!

Tourism is one of the most promising conservation strategies for this species. On the other hand, rural communities prefer it over agriculture, livestock, and mining.

If you want to know where to go for visiting the most emblematic landscape of the Colombian Andes, read our entry The Unique Wax Palm Forests Destinations in Colombia.

If you want to schedule your visit to Colombia, do not hesitate to contact us, and plan your trip with us!


About the author

Sara Colmenares

Current director of Sula. Doctor in Biological Sciences. Her main interests are to explore and understand the organism – environment interactions, taking advantage of emerging knowledge for the management and conservation of species and ecosystem services. She is currently working as a consultant in functional ecology, ecosystem services and conservation projects in Colombia related to ecotourism and birdwatching.

The Richest Country in Orchids in the World: Colombia

Did you know that Colombia is very rich in orchids? Not only it is very rich, but it is the richest country in the world in orchids with 274 genera, and 4270 species. Of these, around 1572 species of orchids are unique and exclusive to Colombia. However, this is a small number.

Epidendrum melinanthum Schltr.

Given their size and taxonomic complexity, it is difficult to have an accurate estimate of the number of species of orchids that exist not only in Colombia, but in the entire world.

Some botanists estimate that there are between 15,000 and 22,500 species of orchids, while others consider that there are as many as 30,000 to 35,000 species of orchids in the world.

Orchids in Colombia

In Colombia, each natural region has its own richness and diversity of orchids: 2542 species in the Andes, 533 species in the Pacific, 143 species in the Orinoco, and around 130 species distributed between the Amazon and the Colombian Caribbean regions.

Find out more at http://www.magiasalvaje.org/

Additionally, Colombia’s 42 National Natural Parks have 819 orchid species, representing a quarter of the total registered in the country.

Among the national natural parks of Colombia, the greatest representation of the total endemic and threatened species of orchids is found in the: National Park Las Orquídeas in Antioquia, Tatamá in Risaralda, Los Farallones de Cali in Valle del Cauca, Puracé in Cauca, Chingaza in Cundinamarca, and Munchique in Cauca.

Moreover, the departments (Colombian states) with the largest number of orchid species are Antioquia, Chocó, Cundinamarca, Cauca, and Valle del Cauca.

Finca Romelia Colors of Life

Endemic Orchids of Colombia

In Colombia, 36.8% of the country’s total orchid species are endemic. Most of the endemic species are distributed in very few genera, as about half belong to only five genera.

Thus, Lepanthes, with 239 species, is the orchid genus with more endemism in Colombia, grouping 15% of the species in this category. Other genera with high richness of endemic species are Epidendrum (186 spp.), Stelis (114 spp.), Pleurothallis (106 spp.), and Masdevallia (99 spp.).

The Andean region is the area with the highest number of endemic orchid species in the country with a total of 944, representing 78% of the endemic species registered for Colombia. It is followed by the Pacific region with 98. The Orinoco region has the fewest orchids native to Colombia with 15 species.

Why are there so many Orchids in Colombia?

The high diversity of orchids found in Colombia is attributed to the great variety of habitats generated by Colombia’s broken and discontinuous topography, which gives rise to strong altitudinal and climatic gradients.

As incredible as it may seem, in Colombia it is possible to find trees that can hold more orchid species than an entire forest in a country with seasons.

On the other hand, the genera with the most orchid species in Colombia are Epidendrum, Lepanthes, Stelis, and Pleurothallis.

Importance of Orchids

The orchid family (Orchidaceae), is permanently admired for its colors, smells, shapes, textures, and sizes. Also, for their beauty, their uses, the way they grow, and the contribution they make to the ecosystems.

Ornamental, medicinal, edible, aromatic, aphrodisiac, and ritual uses are some of the best-known use options for orchids since ancient times. In addition, they also play a key ecological role in the functioning of ecosystems as well as an indicator of their state of conservation.

Cattleya trianae. This flower can be seen at Hacienda Combia. Ph. ©Mario Carvajal – Flickr

As a curious fact, and even without knowing the importance of orchids for the country’s biodiversity, in 1936 the Cattleya trianae (endangered) orchid was named Colombia’s national flower emblem.

Also, notable Colombian architects have used these plants as an important element in their works.

Curious Facts about Orchids

  1. Orchids can be terrestrial, and they can also grow on many types of substrates. Most are epiphytes, meaning that they grow on trees or other structures such as power lines, telephone lines, or roofs.
  2. It is estimated that 93% of tropical orchid species are epiphytes and that many of the terrestrial species grow in lowland forest areas, which are characterized by less illuminated environments, higher humidity, and soils rich in organic matter.
  3. The orchids present in their roots a specialization known as “velamen”. This structure works like a sponge, allowing the plant to quickly absorb moisture from the environment. For this reason, the roots of the orchids remain almost always uncovered, looking for good aeration.
  4. The variety in sizes, shapes, colors, and aromas of its flowers respond to its close relationship with pollinators, thus ensuring the loyalty of its visitors.
  5. Its fruit is a capsule that opens naturally and exposes thousands of seeds that are dispersed in the wind.
  6. The seeds can also withstand long periods of freezing and drought without losing their germination capacity.
  7. Most orchid roots have a strong relationship with fungi (mycorrhizae), which is fundamental for seed germination and nutrient absorption.
  8. Rare orchids are worth more than gold worldwide. It is estimated that the global orchid trade is worth at least $6 billion.
Miniature Orchid at Finca Romelia Colors of Life

Where to find Orchids in Colombia


There are many orchid farmers in Colombia. The main orchid crops are in Antioquia, Boyacá, Caldas, Cauca, Cundinamarca, Huila, Putumayo, Quindío, Risaralda and Valle del Cauca.

Orchids Fairs and Shows

There are also many events such as exhibitions and fairs. The main ones are the Orchid Show in Medellin, during the Flower Fair, and held at the Medellin’s Botanical Garden.

The second event is the Annual National Orchid Exposition at the José Celestino Mutis Botanical Garden in Bogotá.

Orchids Tours

Some of the destinations where you can do orchid tours in Colombia are:

Finca Romelia Colors of Life

Discover the amazing beauty of orchids and at the same time, the biodiversity of a unique destination like Colombia. Book your trip with us!


About the author

Sara Colmenares

Current director of Sula. Doctor in Biological Sciences. Her main interests are to explore and understand the organism – environment interactions, taking advantage of emerging knowledge for the management and conservation of species and ecosystem services. She is currently working as a consultant in functional ecology, ecosystem services and conservation projects in Colombia related to ecotourism and birdwatching.