For years, I have heard about the “Banco de Germoplasma” at the CURLA university campus. I did not quite exactly understand what this was about. So, after asking many questions, I decided that I had to visit the place. Above all, this is a botanical garden at CURLA. Curla stands for Regional University Campus for the North Coast. It is part of the National Autonomous University of Honduras. The Campus is set between the Goloson International Airport at La Ceiba and Pico Bonito National Park. It happens to be the largest university campus in Honduras! I had visited the site a couple of times before, but I had not done much research and thought it was mostly a plant nursery where I could buy grafted fruit trees or hardwood trees. You see, they have a morning only schedule here, and I had always been here in the afternoon.
Upon arrival at the Botanical Garden at CURLA, I met Mr. Pablo Duarte. He is an engineer that is responsible for the site. He was very friendly and personally gave me a guided tour of the facilities. For starters, he showed me the seed bank at the facility. Finally, everything started to make sense. This is why the call this the Banco de Germoplasma. It is, among other things, a seed bank. I had no clue, but seeds must be kept at very low temperatures to keep them from rotting and decomposing. They have a big refrigerated room where the seeds are kept at four degrees Celsius. The facility is currently being upgraded and renovated.
In addition to the seed bank, they have an extensive botanical garden that dates to 1991. It is impressive to see so many different species from the humid tropics in one garden. Especially when you consider that it has been in operation for just under three decades! They have over 500 species from America, Asia and Africa. Heck, they even have some species from Oceania that have made it here from New Guinea! A fine example of this is the Okari Nut, a lovely tree from the other side of the planet! The Botanical garden is the result of the efforts of the National Autonomous University of Honduras with the cooperation of the government of Canada.
The Botanical Garden at CURLA has four sections or stages. The fourth, or last one is very close to the buildings at the campus. It consists of a beautiful Arboretum with all the different hardwood species native to Honduras. Remember that most of Honduras’ land is best suited for forestry! The Botanical Garden at CURLA has an extension of 30 hectares and has diverse plots. A traditional tour of the garden is limited to the first stage which is within 3 hectares of the total developed area.
Unfortunately for me, this is not the best time of year to visit the garden. As spring is just coming up, most of the trees are just beginning to flower. Thus, I did not get to see many of the diverse exotic fruits and nuts that are within the Botanical Garden at CURLA. However, at one moment during our walking tour, I perceived a strong aroma of cinnamon. When I asked don Pablo about this, he explained that we were indeed entering a plot where cinnamon trees were planted. As a matter of fact, these were in full bloom and therefore the delicious aroma of cinnamon in the air!
The tour took us through different plots, where citric, avocado and mangos are planted. They had over 30 different species of mangos in the mango tree plot! One of the objectives for this unique botanical garden is to preserve the biodiversity of the species found it the humid tropics of planet Earth. However, there is also a clear intent to provide research and support for agriculture throughout Honduras and Central America. As such, the Botanical Garden at CURLA can provide seeds or small trees to producers of exotic fruits throughout the region. There are many unknown species with a great potential in niche markets. For example, there are fruits that are used to produce oils that are an important element to produce aromas for perfumes!
In addition to the huge variety of trees, there is also a nice collection of tropical flowers. This area is especially beautiful, as the diverse colors of the tropical flowers really dress up the gardens. A visit to the Botanical Garden at CURLA is an opportunity to marvel yourself at the biodiversity within our planet. We are truly gifted to have such a facility in La Ceiba. There is no doubt that the botanical gardens in Atlantida provide an important scientific and tourism attraction. Atlantida is home to the two largest botanical gardens in Honduras, and for that matter probably within Central America!
If you are interested in a visit to the Botanical Garden at CURLA, I thoroughly recommend that you plan on a morning visit. The garden opens at 7:30 and closes at noontime. To make a reservation in advance, you can send a message via WhatsApp to 504 3220 2180. This is the phone number that belongs to Don Pablo Duarte. Do take note that he does not speak English! If you need an English-speaking guide, I suggest you contact Tourist Options, a local tour operator in La Ceiba who can arrange the tour for you. If you speak Spanish and do not need an English-speaking guide, keep in mind that there is a 20-lempira fee per person when visiting the facility.
One of the things that caught my attention as I strolled though the park was the amount of tropical birds flying around. This, of course, makes all the sense in the world. With so many tropical fruits within a relatively small area, birds just love spending time here! Over 176 bird species have been identified within the Botanical Garden at CURLA. If you are an avid birder, then you should make sure you bring your binoculars when visiting the facility. There is an excellent bilingual birding guide who is a professor in the CURLA campus. His name is Kelvin Bodden and he speaks English fluently. As such, if you are specifically interested in a birding tour of the Botanical Garden feel free to contact him via his WhatsApp number at 504 9995 0737.