An erect, deciduous herb with an epiphytic growth habit that typically grows to 75 cm., although some specimens in nature have been observed as tall as 165 cm. Roots: thickened, terete, long, fleshy, white in color with green tips. Stems: grayish-white, thickened, slightly compressed laterally, 10-25 cm. in length. Older stems are covered with scarious, papery bracts. Leaves: 8-14 ovate-oblong to lanceolate, acute, distichous, coriaceous to subsucculent present only on the newly developing growth and appressed to the stem via an articulated joint. Inflorescence: terminal, erect, raceme (very rarely a compound raceme), from the new growth on an elongated peduncle covered by tubular bracts (scarious at anthesis) 15-50 cm. in length. Flowers: Attractive, weakly fragrant, 4.5-7.5 cm diameter spread, intense pinkish-purple in color. The lip has a white or yellowish-white circle on the disc and darker blotch at the apex. The sepals are subequal, lanceolate to elliptic-lanceolate, acute, reflexed and slightly convex. Petals are nearly twice the width of the sepals, spreading, flat, broadly rhombic, acute to subacute. The petals are rotated forward nearly 90° degrees so as to present the adaxially sulcate surface to the pollinator. The lip is entire, free of the column except basally, ovate to subcuadrate or subcuadrate-obovate, margins faintly undulating, erect at the base clasping the column, flat to convex and slightly reflexed at the apex so as to give the appearance of a raised tip. The dorsal surface of the subtrigonous, somewhat dorsiventrally compressed, straight, spatulate column is magenta and suffused with dark purplish-black spots mainly over the greenish-white, membranaceous column wings. The column has two prominent teeth on either side of the clinandrium. The callus is greenish-white or creamy-white with purple longitudinal striping with two oblong, laminar keels that delimit a fovea, which converges into three (rarely five), raised longitudinal keels, becoming more elevated at the terminus and with the central one reaching almost the apex. The keels are same color as the disc but sometimes with spotting or longitudinal lines over them at the point that the color transitions from white to pink
This species has been erroneously reported on numerous occasions as being found in Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and even Mexico. It is not known why James Bateman made the decision to include this species in his seminal work, The Orchidaceae of Mexico and Guatemala, originally published in 1843. In the accompanying text, he clearly indicates “habitat in Costa Rica” for Barkeria lindleyana. If that is the case, then why include it in a book of orchidaceous plants from Mexico and Guatemala? Maybe he suspected that one day it would be found in farther north or maybe he just liked the majestic watercolor that he commissioned to announce the new species that he described. On the other hand, the errors placing this species in Mexico likely stem from taxonomic confusion about the status of B. vanneriana and B. lindleyana and whether these two taxa were related subspecies. Recent DNA analysis has ended this debate once and for all, and it is now easy to explain that these are two “good” species and that B. vanneriana is exclusively of Mexican origin whereas B. lindleyana is endemic to Costa Rica. Barkeria lindleyana can be found growing in an arc from the Cordillera de Guanacaste mountains in the northwest near Liberia, stretching across the Cordillera de Tilarán near the Arenal volcano and reaching down to the Cordillera Central mountains near San José and Cartago in the center of the country. The plant is only found on the Pacific drainage slope and no suitable specimens have ever been located from the Caribbean side.
Bateman describes this plant as rare and known only from the type locality. He writes that, “it would seem to be a scarce plant” since Skinner was only able to find it on one occasion despite his extensive botanizing in the country. Perhaps its historic range was considerably restricted, but in marked contrast to most orchid species, this is a plant that absolutely thrives on anthropocentric disturbance. At present, Barkeria lindleyana is a weed in the suburban neighborhoods that ring the city of San José, and it is so common in the coffee plantations in the Central Valley near the capital that workers are tasked with removing the plants from the coffee bushes under the misguided belief that the orchids are parasites and misappropriating nutrients from the hosts. If a B. lindleyana seed is able to find its way onto a Coffea arabica plant the plants reproduce astonishingly fast as twig epiphytes under the ideal climate conditions of an industrial coffee plantation. Under these conditions, each coffee bush may have 10-20 plants growing on it at any time. Under completely natural conditions, though, the plants are much scarcer and do not form large colonies. In the unspoiled forests that surround the coffee plantations, the prevalence of this species might be only 10 specimens per hectare and individual trees could have 2-3 plants at most.
The plants grow predominantly as epiphytes in wet to very wet montane forests. There are some reports of plants growing as lithophytes on cliff walls at the Monteverde Biological Reserve, but these observations are so rare that the species can essentially be classified an obligate epiphyte. Barkeria lindleyana prefers open forests with widely spaced, tall trees that allow sunlight to penetrate all levels of the canopy. The species’ apparent inclination for establishing on the tips of branches or the tops of trees is a result of plants selectively growing more vigorously in conditions of high luminosity. That said, the climate in Costa Rica is frequently cloudy even in the dry season with the relative humidity not dropping below 70%, which is an important difference worth noting between the climatological needs of this species in comparison to its closely-related Mexican cousins.
The Pacific coast of Costa Rica has pronounced wet and dry periods, unlike the Caribbean coast that has an almost continuous rainy season. The rainy season lasts from May to November with the highest concentration of rain falling between September and October, just as the plants are in peak bloom. The dry season runs from December to April. Near the important coffee producing zones at the periphery of the Central Valley, the average temperature throughout the year is a balmy and pleasant 22° C almost every day with little variation from the coldest months (Sept.-Nov.) at 15°C to the warmest months at 25° C (Feb.-April).
Plants of Barkeria lindleyana use a large variety of porophyte hosts and do not seem to mind if the tree or shrub is a native or introduced species. In many cases, B. lindleyana grows better on introduced garden plants than on native species, including plants such as Mangifera indica (mango), Psidium spp. (guava), Eriobotyra japonica (loquat), Citrus spp., Bougainvillea glabra, Ixora coccinea and Codiaeum variegatum (croton). In cases when plants of Barkeria lindleyana invade suburban gardens, the plants can almost be classed as invasive because they take over groves and “fincas” with almost overwhelming vigor and fecundity.
The plants seem to grow best at intermediate elevations between 950-1,350 meters. Rather coincidentally, the Central Valley’s elevation extends between 800-1,500 meters which perfectly bookends the ideal altitude zone for this species; so this partially explains why this species grows with such alacrity in the metropolitan area in the environs around San José. There are some reports of plants observed at elevations as low as 200m in Guanacaste Province, but this seems to be an aberration.
This species is easy to identify if observed in its native Costa Rica, but problems arise when plants are examined without knowledge of their geographic origin. Owing to past misidentifications and taxonomic confusion, many plants in commerce are of accidental hybrid origin. Many unenlightened but well-intentioned nursery owners unwittingly crossed distinct Barkeria species with lilac flowers thinking they were the same thing, but now the progeny even several generations later cannot be considered to be a pure species. The authors of this website encourage all owners of Barkeria plants to be circumspect or even skeptical about the identification of their plants if purchased from many commercial nurseries in the United States and Europe.
On the other hand, if the true geographic provenance of a plant is known and the plant’s origin can be verifiably traced to Costa Rica, then the identification is rather academic at that point, because Barkeria lindleyana cannot easily be confused with any other Central American Barkeria species. There are only four species of Barkeria that grow south of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec (Oaxaca), a geographic barrier that interdicts the natural dispersal of many orchid species and that keeps the majority of the Mexican Barkeria species from migrating southward. The four Central American species are B. lindleyana, B. obovata, B. skinneri and B. spectabilis. In Costa Rica the only Barkeria species that is commonly encountered apart from B. lindleyana is B. obovata, but the latter can be positively identified even with sterile specimens that present without flowers based on its caespitose habit, fusiform pseudobulbs and predilection for growing along waterways in gallery forest. Barkeria skinneri is not reported from Costa Rica and its nearest station is on the outskirts of Guatemala City at a distance of over 1000 kilometers. At first glance, the racemose inflorescences with pinkish-magenta flowers could cause the two species to be confused, but notwithstanding their distinct geographic ranges the characteristic shape of their flowers makes them readily identifiable. Finally, we have observed the presence of wild specimens of B. spectabilis in Costa Rica. This is not altogether surprising considering that the plant is found in neighboring Nicaragua, but this observation has not been formally documented in scientific literature. These two species are also easily differentiated using just vegetative characteristics based on the thicker, stockier pseudobulbs of B. spectabilis and its characteristic of being less foliaceous than B. lindleyana. If for some reason these characteristics were not sufficient to identify the plants then the temporal difference in their flowering periods (spring vs. autumn) allows for instant identification of the species when the inflorescences develop.
(For a more in-depth discussion of tips to identify this species vis-à-vis some of the closely related Mexican species in this section of Barkeria please see the relevant tab under Barkeria vanneriana.)
Peak bloom time in Costa Rica is mid-September. For this reason, the orchids are colloquially known as “quince de septiembre” or “flor de la independencia” since the orchid flowers perfectly coincide with Costa Rican Independence Day celebrations on September 15th.
This species under completely natural conditions is not common and its populations have been reduced by extraction of plants to satisfy local demand from collectors. However, the ability of this species to colonize disturbed areas, fruit orchards, coffee plantations, and suburban parks and gardens means that it is not threatened.
Characteristics in hybrids:
This species is the most widely grown of all the taxa in the genus owing partially to its pulchritude but also to its ease of culture. The species represents a perfect synthesis of all of the best traits of the species with none of the drawbacks. This explains why it has been used as a parent in more hybrid crosses than any other. First, the flowers can grow to a large size and clones with flowers as large as 7.5-8.0 cm are known. Also the conformation of the flower segments and the manner in which the tepals are held above the lip is a dominant trait that leads to elegant flowers in the hybrids. Second, the plants are compact for the most part (with a few notable exceptions!) and subcaespitose, meaning that they are not scandent or have an awkward climbing habit. Third, the plants are floriferous with some notable selected clones producing 35-40 flowers per spike. Finally, the plants are relatively easy to cultivate and are amenable to greenhouse culture by first-time growers. Since this species prefers brighter light levels, intermediate temperatures and high humidity levels throughout the year, this perfectly describes a large percentage of greenhouse setups of many orchid enthusiasts. Perhaps the only drawback of this species is its bloom time. Its proclivity for blooming in September means that many parts of the United States are still very hot at this time of year and so the quality of the flowers is deleteriously impacted as a result. For optimal flowering, cool overcast conditions in September are a must.