Lancetilla Botanical gardens are located only a few kilometers from the town of Tela, which is on the Caribbean coastline. Amazingly this site is the second largest botanical garden in the world, and boasts an unequaled collection of fruit tree, hard woods, palm trees and bamboos.
The garden was established in 1925 as a research station for the development and testing of different banana types. The founder of the gardens William Popenoe developed many medicinal plants throughout the years he worked with Lancetilla. One of the most important plants he grew was cinchona, the source of quinine which at one stage was the only treatment for malaria. However the project soon expanded and research quickly began on many other fruits and plants. United Fruit worked with the gardens up until 1974, it was at this point that Lancetilla was handed over to the Honduran government. The research programs were and are continuing even after this transition, as a sector of the Escuela de Sciencias Forestales.
The botanical gardens are home to 764 different varieties of plants in 636 species, 392 genera, and 105 families in only 78 hectares. Bordering the botanical gardens is the Lancetilla Biological reserve. The gardens prosper from this reserve as the wildlife from the surrounding area head to the gardens because of its extensive variety of plant species, making it a haven for an abundance of animals and birds. The Lancetilla biological reserve can be divided into primary and secondary tropical humid and sub-humid forest. The reserve contains one of the only lasting areas of virgin tropical wet forest on the Caribbean coast line. There are only a few paths marked in the reserve making it less accessible to visitors.
The majority of the plants found in the gardens are those that are found all over Central America. In addition to these plants is a selection of plants from the world over. It is also a sanctuary for eager bird watchers, as many birds flock to the garden to eat the fruit from the abundance of trees. In addition to fruit trees the gardens also possess flowering trees, hardwoods, palm trees, bamboo and many other plants.
There is a well marked trail through the gardens. Visitors can follow one particular path, which leads you through the bamboo forest where you will encounter a swimming hole in the Lancetilla River. The entrance fee to the gardens includes a guided tour around one of the areas of the garden. Many of the trees are labeled to aid visitors in identifying the plants. A color-coding system has been established in order to categorize plant species. Maps are also available at the visitors centre. There is a comedor and a hostel at the visitor’s centre, for those wanting to extend the trip further than one day. One of the best ways to get to the gardens is to rent a bicycle from Tela and cycle the mere five kilometers.