Posts filed under ‘Orchids’

Explore Smithsonian Gardens’ Orchids Online!

At the end of April, after ten months of planning, coordinating, and troubleshooting, the Smithsonian Gardens Orchid Collection (SGOC) went live. No, we didn’t kill off all of the plants over the winter and revive them for this announcement . . . I mean live as in on-air, online, and freely accessible! SGOC is now available for the world to explore on the Smithsonian Collections Search Center and is the only living collection to join the multitudes of objects, specimens, and archival records that are contained within the site. Below is a snapshot of what an individual catalog record looks like:

Collection, Orchid record sample

Example of a Smithsonian Gardens Orchid Collection record in the Smithsonian Institution Collections Search Center.

Records are updated twice a month and contain basic information about each accession, such as scientific name, flower color, range (if a species), and taxonomy. One of the best parts of having the collection online is being able to peruse the beautiful images taken by our talented volunteers Gene Cross, Bryan Ramsay, and James Osen.  So far, about a third of the records have images associated with them. We only photograph the orchids when they are in bloom, but many of our orchids (especially the species) are either too small to bloom, or haven’t yet bloomed during their time at the greenhouses.

SGOC’s presence on the Collections Search Center is serving as motivation to improve Smithsonian Gardens’ collection records in BG-BASE and correct plant identification errors.  Our hope is that these records can be a valuable resource for educators, students, researchers, and curious individuals, and a source of orchid inspiration year-round.

-Julie Rotramel, Smithsonian Gardens Living Collections Contractor

July 9, 2014 at 7:00 am Leave a comment

Orchid Oddity: Habenaria medusa

Anyone who’s seen specimens from the Smithsonian Orchid Collection knows that this most diverse and species-rich plant family can display truly bizarre yet strangely beautiful forms. Literally every day, some improbable flower comes into bloom in our greenhouses. But there is one plant that invariably causes jaws to drop when viewed in full bloom. Most onlookers agree it is among our most spectacular and prized orchid species in the collection.

Habenaria medusa

Habenaria medusa via eol.

Habenaria medusae is a terrestrial orchid from monsoonal habitats in Indonesia and mainland southeast Asia. Producing a basal rosette of leaves from a subterranean corm, the plant is fairly nondescript until it sends up a 20-inch inflorescence bearing ten to twenty or more truly astounding flowers. Most prominent is the outstanding lip, composed of finely dissected, radially arranged fringe reminiscent of Medusa’s head of snakes, from which it gets its name. One might ask why such a lip evolved in the first place; in this case it is still somewhat of a mystery. Thought to be moth-pollinated because of its white color, sweet evening fragrance and nectar spur, the deep fringe is actually a fairly commonplace feature of moth flowers. Though no one knows exactly why, something about these deeply fringed flowers acts as a highly effective attractant to moths.

Habenarias are known for being difficult to cultivate, intolerant of poor or chemically treated water, and needing a strict, dry winter dormant period. They rot easily if watered during their dry season. Despite its sensitive nature, the Smithsonian’s specimen has proven to be more amenable than most to cultivation and has bloomed three times since being purchased as a small bulb from a vendor from Singapore at the World Orchid Conference. This year the plant was selfed (pollinated with its own pollen) to create more seedlings of this delightful species and also crossed with a related species with a deep coral pink lobed lip in the hopes of producing flowers with a colorful medusa lip.

-Tom Mirenda, Smithsonian Gardens orchid specialist

Visit our orchids at the United States Botanic Garden’s exhibit Orchid Symphony, a collaboration between Smithsonian Gardens and USBG, now through April 27th, 2014!

March 10, 2014 at 7:00 am Leave a comment

Smithsonian Gardens’ Orchids Receive North American Plant Collections Consortium Accreditation

Maxillariella Mexicana orchid

Maxillariella mexicana, one of Smithsonian Gardens’ thousands of orchids.

It is indeed an honor to announce that the Smithsonian Gardens’ Tropical Species Orchid Collection has received accreditation from the  North American Plant Collections Consortium (NAPCC).

The North American Plant Collections Consortium (NAPCC) is a network of botanical gardens and arboreta working to coordinate a continent-wide approach to plant germplasm preservation, and to promote high standards of plant collections management. The NAPCC is a program of the American Public Gardens Association (APGA) in partnership with the USDA Agricultural Research Service.

Smithsonian Gardens now stands among a prestigious group of gardens and arboreta that have committed themselves to the conservation and care of specific plant collections curated at the highest professional level.

Receiving this recognition could have only been made possible through the leadership of Sarah Hedean with support from Julie Rotramel who both put a considerable amount of time and effort into the preparation of the application and development of a benchmark survey of public orchid collections across North America.  I would also like to recognize Tom Mirenda and Cheyenne Kim for their preparations of the orchid collection for the site review;  their participation in the evaluation process; and the care that they, Sarah and the orchid collection volunteers give the orchid collection day-in and day-out to make it worthy of this recognition.

Please join me in congratulating this team in this exciting achievement which supports the Smithsonian Gardens’ strategic goal of a public garden of national recognition.

-Barbara Faust, Associate Director of Smithsonian Gardens

February 4, 2014 at 7:30 am Leave a comment

Spooky Orchids

Spiders, moths, ghosts, and vampires, oh my! Orchids might not normally comes to mind when you think of Halloween, but these fascinating members of the Orchidaceae family have adopted (and adapted) all sorts of creepy-crawly characteristics as strategies to survive. Some are on the list just because of their spooky names or association with human traditions. Smithsonian Gardens has a large collection of almost 8,000 orchids at our greenhouse facilities in Suitland, Maryland. The orchids come out to play once a year for a winter exhibit on the National Mall co-hosted with the United States Botanic Garden.

#10 Brassavola nodosa

Brassavola nodosa

Brassavola nodosa (via EOL)

Also known as the the “Lady of the Night” or “Flor de la Noche,” Brassavola nodosa has ghostly white flowers that emit strong a nocturnal fragrance to attract night-pollinating moths.

#9 Mediocalcar decoratum

Mediocalcar decoratum

Mediocalcar decoratum (via EOL)

Mediocalcar deocatum is more cute than creepy, with blooms that resemble Halloween candy corn!

#8 Brassia gireoudiana 

Brassia gireoudiana

Brassia gireoudiana (via EOL)

Brassia species orchids and hybrids are also known as “spider orchids” due to their Arachnid-like looks. The orchids use visual mimicry to trick spider-parasitizing wasps into spreading their pollen. The wasp mistakes the orchid for a spider and attempts to lay its eggs there on the lip of the flower, taking pollen without even knowing it as it flies off to the next orchid. If it was a real spider, the wasp larvae would devour the spider as their first meal!

#7 Myrmecophila tibicinis

Myrmecophila tibicinis

Myrmecophila tibicinis (via EOL)

Myrmecophila tibicinis is literally the ant lover (its name means “ant lover”). Its hollow pseudobulbs provide a home for stinging ants. The ants secrete formic acid, which feeds the plant, and act as plant bodyguards in the dry season when thirsty animals are looking for a drink from a nice succulent bulb.

#6 Laelia anceps

Laelia anceps

Laelia anceps (via EOL)

This beautiful orchid is native to Mexico and traditionally used to decorate graveyards on for Day of
the Dead (Día de Muertos) festivities.

#5 Bulbophyllum phalaenopsis

Bulbophyllum phalaenopsis

Bulbophyllum phalaenopsis (via EOL)

Bulbo phalaenopsis is a smelly, carrion fly-pollinated orchid whose fragrance, according to an old taxonomic text, is said to be like the stench of 1,000 dead elephants rotting in the sun.

#4 Aeranthes antennophora

Aeranthes antennophora

Aeranthes antennophora (via) EOL

A genus mostly from Madagascar that’s believed to be pollinated by bats looking for moths to eat, which the flowers resemble.

#3 Dendrophylax lindenii 

Dendrophylax lindenii

Dendrophylax lindenii (via EOL)

Made famous by the book The Orchid Thief, the Ghost Orchid is a rare orchid found in Florida, Cuba, and some islands in the Caribbean. We have a couple of examples of this leafless epiphyte in our greenhouses.

#2 Bulbophyllum medusae

Bulbophyllum medusae

Bulbophyllum medusae (via EOL)

Named for the most famous female Gorgon of Greek mythology, Bulbophyllum medusae has many bizarre umbels of flowers like a head of snakes.

#1 Dracula vampira

Dracula vampira

Dracula vampira (via EOL)

Dracula vampira takes the #1 spooky spot.  You might want to bring garlic with you when seeking out this striking pleurothallid orchid with sharply pendant, black striped flowers and a lip like a mushroom.

October 30, 2013 at 1:07 pm Leave a comment

Smithsonian Gardens Orchid Collection- Dimorphorchis rossii

Currently blooming at the Smithsonian Gardens Greenhouses is a remarkable, large-growing epiphyte endemic to Borneo; Dimorphorchis rossii. As its name suggests, this formidable plant boasts dimorphic flowers, or two different flower forms on the same inflorescence.

Dimorphorchis rossii

Dimorphorchis rossii

The proximal flower morph (typically the first one to three flowers of the inflorescence) is a bright golden yellow and emits a strong fragrance during the day. The distal morph is white with faint pink spots, but has no detectable scent.

Flower dimorphism often occurs as a reproductive strategy (called sexual dimorphism) in plants, with one “male” flower morph containing the pollinia and one “female” flower morph containing the stigma. Dimorphorchis rossii and the other four species in the genus Dimorphorchis are rather unusual because both flower morphs contain male and female reproductive structures.

Dimorphorchis rossii 007

It is not fully understood why these plants produce bisexual dimorphic flowers, but one hypothesis posits that the strong fragrance and bright color of the yellow flowers serve to attract pollinators for the entire inflorescence, including the non-scented white flowers. This hypothesis is grounded in the idea that producing any sort of pollinator attractant (such as a nectar reward or the chemical compounds for floral fragrance) is energetically costly for the plant, and selection will favor plants that achieve the desired result (pollination) with less energy expenditure.

Dimorphorchis rossii 005Another idea is that these dimorphic flowers act as pollinator insurance. The diurnally fragrant yellow flowers may entice a daytime pollinator while the odorless, white flowers farther down the dangling inflorescence (a pollinator syndrome indicative of bat pollination) attract a nocturnal pollinator. It has also been speculated that Dimorphorchis’ pendulant inflorescences, which often reach the ground, are a way for a crawling pollinator, such as a beetle, to travel up the flower spike from the forest floor.

At this point, there is no documented evidence for any of these theories. Dimorphorchis rossii (like most orchids) has not been extensively studied and is a prime example of how much there is still to discover about the ecological relationships surrounding these fascinating and rather mysterious specimens.

-Julie Rotramel, Orchids Collection Contractor 

May 27, 2013 at 8:00 am 1 comment

Volunteers Help Make Smithsonian Gardens Shine

We think our Smithsonian Gardens volunteers are awesome! From helping out in the Archives of American Gardens and greenhouses to volunteering as interpreters in our exhibits and gardens, volunteers help sustain some of our most important projects and serve as terrific ambassadors to our visitors.

 This winter, over forty volunteers signed up to share their enthusiasm for orchids with visitors to our Orchids of Latin America exhibit. Their knowledge, love for all things orchid, and great people skills mean that those who come to see the exhibit have the opportunity to ask questions and learn more about the beautiful plants on display. If you have yet to visit the exhibit, make some time to stop by the National Museum of Natural History’s special exhibition gallery to see the beautiful display and say “hi” to the volunteers working there.

Potting orchids at Orchid Family Day 2013

Orchid Family Day 2013. Francisco Guerra, photographer.

Although the orchid exhibit ends April 21st, many of our volunteer interpreters are staying on with Smithsonian Gardens to interact with the public in the gardens this spring through fall. If you are interested in meeting great people and sharing your love of plants with visitorsfrom around the world, think about joining us out in the gardens. We are always excited to welcome new volunteers and interpreters to our team! For more information or to volunteer, visit the web or send us an email.

-Alison Kootstra, Education & Outreach Intern

April 23, 2013 at 8:00 am Leave a comment

Smithsonian Gardens presenta Las Orquídeas de Latinoamérica

Oncidium Red Stars 'Rooster'

Oncidium Red Stars ‘Rooster’

La Institución de Smithsonian tiene una larga historia de la recolección de plantas para compartir su belleza con el mundo. ‘Smithsonian Gardens’  sigue compartiendo esta tradición a través de su colección de orquídeas. Esta colección ha aumentado desde 1974 cuando adquirieron las primeras cinco plantas. Desde entonces, la colección de orquídeas ha florecido enormemente y hoy  tenemos a más de 8,000 especies en nuestro invernadero.

Las plantas que forman esta colección son utilizadas para elevar la belleza y la maravilla de los museos Smithsonian. Cada año podemos disfrutar la gran variedad de sus brillantes colores y formas cuando muestran sus encantadoras flores. Aprovechen y celebren estas maravillosas plantas cuando visiten a los museos Smithsonian. Podrán ver orquídeas que representan a países tan lejanos como China o más cercanos como nuestros vecinos de México.  La exposición este año celebran Las Orquídeas de Latinoamérica. Visiten y admiren las bellas flores exóticas que tenemos en exhibición en el Museo Nacional de Historia Natural y reciban más información y detalles que les ofrecemos en español e inglés.

- Sarah Mirabal, Orchid Intern

April 4, 2013 at 9:41 am 1 comment

Smithsonian Orchid Collection: Introducing our Species Orchids

Encyclia selligera- one of the collection's many beautiful species orchids

Encyclia selligera- one of the collection’s many beautiful species orchids

The Smithsonian Orchid Collection’s species orchids represent over 30% of all accessions and the collection contains approximately 2500 individual plants and 800 different species, most of which are rarely used for public display. As a contractor for the Smithsonian Orchid Section, I am working to provide accurate and up to date collection information to several different online collection sites, where scientists, researchers, conservationists, and the curious explorer alike can access data about the orchid species that are cared for in the Smithsonian Gardens Suitland Greenhouse complex. Ultimately, our hope is that the assessment of the orchid collection, along with a review of collections management policies and virus protocols, will lead to the submission of an application to join the North American Plant Collections Consortium (NAPCC), an organization comprised of botanic gardens and arboreta across the country dedicated to plant conservation and germplasm preservation.

The SOC's collection profile on the Encyclopedia of Life

The SOC’s collection profile on the Encyclopedia of Life

The most publicly available of these collection sites, which will be actively utilized for the duration of the annual orchid exhibit, is the Encyclopedia of Life. The Encyclopedia of Life is a growing resource for compiled information about all life on Earth. The beauty of the website is that you can search for any species by Latin name or common name and be exposed to a wealth of information about its distribution, habitat, behavior, taxonomy, you name it! Although many less common species are lacking full records, this resource has the potential to connect numerous people and organizations through shared species in collections. The Smithsonian Orchid Section has created a collection for all of their named species orchids and can be found specifically by searching the EOL for SOC Species Orchids. This is an easily accessible list of our collection contents online, and will hopefully be an interesting, if not valuable resource in the near future as more information is added.

This year, for the 2013 orchid exhibit, Orchids of Latin America, each week a watch list will be produced in the Encyclopedia of Life highlighting species orchids from the Smithsonian Orchid Collection that can be found in the exhibit. The watch list link will be tweeted via Smithsonian Gardens on Friday morning right before a brand new delivery of orchids so you have the most up to date reference for the exhibit. Don’t forget, the watch list is just species orchids and there will be many more beautiful hybrids in the exhibit that you won’t want to miss!

-Julie Rotramel, Living Collections Contractor

February 26, 2013 at 9:00 am Leave a comment

2013 Orchids of Latin America Exhibition

Coryanthes vasquezii orchid

Coryanthes vasquezii orchid

At Orchids of Latin America, the 2013 annual Orchid Exhibition, you can explore the rich crossroads where orchid botany, horticulture, and Latin American cultures meet. Learn about the importance of orchids in Latin American folklore and cultural traditions, see how the region is a hotbed for scientific research on orchid biology and evolution, and discover conservation efforts to preserve orchids and their habitats for future generations. And, of course, enjoy the beautiful orchids from the Smithsonian Gardens and the U.S. Botanic Garden Orchid Collections.

On Saturday, February 23, 2013, join us for ¡Fiesta de las Or-KID-ias! a free family festival celebrating Orchids of Latin America.   At the fiesta, you can help make a beautiful orchid mosaic and paper orchid garlands, pot your own orchid to take home, and talk with experts about a display of unique plants from our collection.  Other fun activities include face painting and temporary tattoos!

Orchids of Latin America is hosted by Smithsonian Gardens, the National Museum of Natural History, and the United States Botanic Garden with support from the Smithsonian Latino Center.  The exhibit will run from January 26th through April 21st at the National Museum of Natural History.

-Sarah Watling, Education Intern

January 26, 2013 at 9:00 am Leave a comment

Smithsonian Gardens Orchid Collection: Orchids get Sick Too

Orchids in our greenhouses aren’t immune to disease (unfortunately), and when virus symptoms appear, steps must be taken to remove any infected plant to prevent viruses from spreading and to preserve the overall health of the collection. Cymbidium mosaic virus and Odontoglossum ringspot virus are the most common orchid viruses, and symptoms include black spots on flowers, general discoloration, and decreased flower production. For orchid growers, these symptoms are a nightmare, since their job is to grow display worthy orchids with “wow” factor.

Virus testing with ImmunoStrips in liquid samples.

Rucha Shevade, a former collection intern, has been diligently virus testing numerous orchids in the collection for both viruses using the Agdia Orchid ImmunoStrip test.  To test a plant, Rucha will crush a small piece of orchid tissue in a buffer solution to create a liquid test sample, and then insert an ImmunoStrip into the sample for 2-4 minutes.  Each strip has a colored control line which must appear for the test to be valid, and a colored line for each of the viruses that are being tested for in the event they are positive. If a plant tests negative for both viruses, it is given a tag that is labeled “VIRUS FREE.” Ideally, every plant in the collection would receive a virus free tag, but many orchids have to be thrown out. 

Virus free!

Luckily there are several ways to prevent and limit virus infection and transmission in the collection.  Orchid curator Sarah Hedean is a stickler for “good culture,” which she says is the key to maintaining a healthy collection of beautiful plants.  Good culture starts with choosing virus free plants.  This means looking for symptoms and testing plant tissue for viruses before an orchid is even brought into the collection.  The next step to good culture is to have high housekeeping standards, which can limit pest presence in the greenhouse.  This includes things like having good air circulation, keeping benches and floors clean and removing dead leaves from plants.  Finally, good culture involves limiting contact between plants, and ultimately limiting potential virus transmission.  This means spacing plants evenly along benches, and disinfecting tools such as scissors after they have been used on a single orchid.

Check out the AOS page about orchid viruses and virus testing for more information.

Julie Rotramel, Orchids Intern

May 25, 2012 at 2:00 pm Leave a comment

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