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
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 deocatum is more cute than creepy, with blooms that resemble Halloween candy corn!
#8 Brassia gireoudiana
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 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
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
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
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
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
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 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.
Here at Smithsonian Gardens we are celebrating American Archives Month throughout October. In August 2013, we participated in the first of a series of pilot projects, funded by the Smithsonian’s Digitization Program Office, to create high resolution images of archival, museum and library collection items at a rapid speed. The pilot project included a week-long open house for Smithsonian staff, fellows, interns, volunteers and contractors, to showcase the rapid digitizating of over 900 historic glass-plate negatives from the Thomas Sears Collection at the Archives of American Gardens. The open house demonstrated all stages of digitizating a glass-plate negative collection, from moving each fragile plate in a custom carrier, capturing it, and performing quality control on the resulting image, to making the digitized output accessible to the public online. The overall process involved an outside contractor performing the image capture and image processing and two staff members from the Archives of American Gardens prepping the images, handling the glass-plate negatives, ingesting the images into the Smithsonian’s Digital Asset Management System and linking them to pre-existing catalog records in the Smithsonian’s online catalog, SIRIS.
The 8×10 negatives, which had previously been digitized in the 1990s on a video disc at 640 pixels on the image’s longest side, were obviously pixelated in SIRIS. New scans of the negatives created by the vendor through rapid capture were digitized with an 80 megapixel camera. The quality of the new scans, measured at roughly 10,000 pixels on the longest side, ensures that the Archives will likely never have to scan the glass plates again. Rapid capture is not new, but the tools to measure the quality that can be achieved through rapid digitization are. For any large scale digitization projects of like materials, the Archives of American Gardens hopes to secure funding to digitize archival images through the rapid capture process instead of its current method of digitizing on a flatbed scanner.
To put it into concrete terms, the time that it takes to scan one image on a flatbed scanner is roughly 12 to 15 minutes. To digitize one image using rapid capture, it takes less than one minute. Rapid capture has opened our eyes to a highly efficient method that enables an entire collection to be digitized in a quantifiable time frame. The piece of the puzzle that remains to be addressed is the time-intensive process of cataloging that is needed to make the collections readily searchable online.
Background on Thomas Sears
Thomas Sears graduated with a degree in landscape architecture from Harvard University’s Lawrence Scientific School in 1906, where he also studied photography. He worked for Olmsted Brothers Landscape Architects in the 1910s out of their Brookline, Massachusetts office before establishing his own landscape design office.
A set of images scanned during the rapid capture digitization project included the Edgewood estate in Baltimore, Maryland, photographed by Thomas Sears and designed by Sears and Wendell of Philadelphia.
Learn more about the Thomas Sears Collection.
Click here to learn more about the Archives of American Gardens.
-Kelly Crawford, Museum Specialist
As parents, teachers, and students wrap up the first couple of months of the new school year. Smithsonian Gardens horticulturist Christine Price-Abelow thought it would be fun to highlight a few plants with names linked to education. Keep an eye out for these plants growing in the museum gardens on your next class field trip!
1. Chinese Scholar-tree (Sophora japonica)
Chinese Scholar-tree is also known as the Japanese Pagodatree. In its native country of China the Scholar–tree was often planted near Buddhist shrines, hence the name. However it is commonly used as a city or street tree in the United States. It has a moderate to fast growth rate and usually reaches a height of 40-60’ with a nice rounded crown. Sophora trees have a compound leaf which casts a light shade and they are very tolerant to heat, drought and pollution. They produce creamy white flowers in mid-July followed by a pod type fruit. This “educational” tree can be found on the west side of the National Air and Space Museum near the McDonald’s trailer and seating area.
2. Princeton Elm (Ulmus americana ‘Princeton’)
The next time you visit Smithsonian Gardens and the National Mall, be sure to look up at the large towering trees shading the walkways. A large percentage of this tree canopy is made up of American elms, specifically the ‘Princeton’ American Elm. As you know, most plant cultivars are named for people and places and the ever popular Princeton elm is no exception. The Princeton elm was first introduced in 1922 by William Flemer of Princeton Nurseries located near Princeton, New Jersey. The Princeton elm was originally selected for its resistance to Dutch elm disease and aesthetic beauty. There are many examples of the Princeton elm planted throughout the U.S. and they can be genetically linked to a 200+ year old American elm tree formerly growing at Princeton Cemetery near Princeton University.
American elms have a beautiful yellow fall color and make excellent shade trees. They are fast growing and reach a height of about 80’ with a spread of 50-60’. The Princeton cultivar is known for its disease resistance and large dark green leaves. They are also a great choice for urban landscapes. Plant your own piece of history!
Smithsonian Gardens is using Ulmus Americana ‘Princeton’ as a street tree and in the tree box planters surrounding the museums.
3. Pencil Cactus (Euphorbia tirucalli)
In keeping with our “Back to School” theme, our next featured plant is the pencil cactus. Though often referred to as a cactus, this plant is actually a succulent and a member of the Euphorbia family. The pencil cactus is native to Africa and India, therefore it is grown as a seasonal tropical plant or a houseplant in the Washington, D.C. area. This euphorbia’s distinctive round, rod-shaped branches that resemble the familiar school implement give the plant its nickname. They are very easy to grow and can be propagated by cuttings.
*A note of caution, you should always wear gloves when working around this plant; it exudes a milky, latex-type sap that can cause an allergic skin reaction for some people.
This plant can be found growing in a large container in the Ripley Garden.
-Christine Abelow-Price, Smithsonian Gardens Horticulturist
In preperation for the Smithsonian’s Day of the Dead celebration we are currently growing ‘Hopi Red Dye’ Amaranth and Orange Marigolds in the gardens around the National Museum of the American Indian and in our greenhouses.
The Aztecs, Mayans, and Toltecs commemorated the deceased at fixed times during the year. The Indigenous peoples believed that during these months of the year the deceased could return. To encourage the deceased to return, they offered flowers, food, incense, dancing, and music.
Day of the Dead or “Dia De Los Muertos” is a holiday celebrated in many Latin American countries and in areas of the United States with high populations of Hispanic Americans, including California, Texas, and New Mexico. The festival is celebrated on November 2nd. The culture of the Day of the Dead reinforces the idea that death is not scary or sad but a natural part of life.
In the United States, Day of the Dead celebrations are becoming increasingly common. While the use of skulls, marigolds, and candles is still routine, the altars are sometimes included museum exhibits to make a statement about life in America for Latino Americans. Latino Americans are mixing the traditional with the contemporary in the continuation of this tradition and the preservation of their heritage.
Learn more about the Day of the Dead from the Smithsonian Latino Center: http://latino.si.edu/dayofthedead/.
The National Museum of the American Indian in collaration with the National Museum of American History and the Smithsonian Latino Center will be hosting their annual Dia de los Muertos: Day of the Dead on Sunday, October 27, 2013 and Saturday, October 28, 2013 from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The program will include the exhibition of the ofrendas, food demonstrations, music, dance performances, and special film screenings.
-Mattea Sanders, Fall 2013 Horticulture Collections and Education Intern
“Working your own little patch of ground is part of the home front fighter’s front-line assignment. Chief weapon should be tomatoes.”
– From an article in the March 20, 1943 Science News Letter
When the United States joined the Allied forces in World War II, American citizens committed to the war effort. Rationing and other measures impacted ordinary people across the country, especially with regards to metals, munitions, and most importantly, food. To combat food shortages and build national morale, the US government encouraged citizens to cultivate private and community food gardens, called victory gardens. Maintaining a victory garden gave Americans a feeling of patriotic contribution and sense of order and connection to the earth despite the turmoil of war.
In his article, “In the Sweat of Our Brow: Citizenship in American Domestic Practice in WWII – Victory Gardens,” Dr. Char Miller of George Mason University discusses the The US government embarked on a massive propaganda campaign to rouse a passion for food gardens in the American people, through departments like the Office of War Information and the USDA. By growing their own fruits and vegetables, patriotic gardeners reserved more commercially grown food for the troops. Buying fewer commercial goods also reserved other supplies, such as fuel to transport food and metal for cans, for the war effort. Victory gardens yielded better tasting, healthier foods to keep the American people strong despite the stresses of war. War propaganda urged citizens to work hard in their gardens as the labor of gardening also contributed to maintaining a healthy bod, meeting the needs of the nation-state. Victory garden materials, such as magazine articles, posters, and short films, emphasized the importance of planning and efficiency to the effort. Not a single seed, foot of land, or ounce of effort should be wasted. Every citizen needed to be efficient to aid the war effort.
Victory gardens served an important emotional need as well as physical sustenance. As Americans struggled to come to terms with the ravages of modern warfare, especially the atomic bomb, gardening bestowed a sense of calm and order to their lives. Working in the garden reminded people of the rhythms and order of nature, something from which many Americans felt increasing disconnection. In the uncertain times of WWII, citizens needed the assurance that some things in the world still operated under a set of defined rules. Growing their own food also gave Americans a sense of accomplishment, contribution to the war effort, and security in their ability to feed themselves.
Food wasn’t the only thing growing in victory gardens across America. Colorful flowers had their own place in the gardener’s repertoire. The health of the soul mattered almost as much as that of the body, so the government encouraged gardeners to grow flowers to evoke memories and promote tranquility. According to Dr. Miller, seed companies sold British flowers to Americans so those on the home front could experience some of the scents and sights of the troops overseas. Flowers also calmed anxious nerves and produced happier feelings in gardeners. Due to the demands for efficiency, flower gardens contained relatively low maintenance blooms so as not to distract from the overall mission of gardening.
Victory gardens and their accompanying propaganda played an important role in the home front of WWII. The program experienced wild success across the nation, and the concept has lived on into today. You can visit the Smithsonian Gardens’ Victory Garden at the National Museum of American History. Containing heirloom species from the time, the garden grants visitors an authentic feeling of what it may have been like to grow your own food in WWII.
-Amber Schilling, Summer 2013 Education and Outreach Intern
Source: Char Miller, “In the Sweat of Our Brow: Citizenship in American Domestic Practice During WWII – Victory Gardens,” The Journal of American Culture, Vol. 26 Issue 3 (2003): 395-409.
Hello! My name is Sarah Gorney, and I was the Landscape Architecture Intern for the Smithsonian Gardens this summer. I am studying Landscape Architecture at Texas Tech University and will be a senior this fall. Despite attending school in Texas, I am actually from the DC Metro area, so it was great to be home for the summer! And even better was being able to work for the Smithsonian Gardens.
Before I get into some of the many projects I worked on, I’d like to share a small bit about Landscape Architecture. Many people I have run into have been confused as to what Landscape Architecture really is or what we do. Landscape Architecture is defined by the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) as,
“…the analysis, planning, design, management, and stewardship of the natural and built environments. Types of projects include: Residential, parks and recreation, monuments, urban design, streetscapes and public spaces, transportation corridors and facilities, gardens and arboreta, security design, hospitality and resorts, institutional, academic campuses, therapeutic gardens, historic preservation and restoration, reclamation, conservation, corporate and commercial, landscape art and earth sculpture, interior landscapes, and more. Landscape architects have advanced education and professional training and are licensed in 50 states” (asla.org).
I am thrilled to be studying in a profession that is this diverse, and I was able to see all this in action at the Smithsonian Gardens.
This summer has truly been an amazing experience. Landscape Architecture is a synthesis between the built and natural environment, and the Smithsonian Gardens embody this concept to the fullest. Studying under this organization has allowed me to glean insight into an extremely successful set of on- going designs and what they entail; things such as what factors and issues impact design, the upkeep and daily maintenance of the grounds, cultural requirements, how the gardens relate to specific architecture or time periods, horticultural practices, sustainability, and storm water management.
My work this summer included projects for every museum at the Smithsonian, including the new National Museum of African American History and Culture slated to open in 2015. I worked on planting plans for multiple museums, coordinated with and prepared documents for professionals from multiple disciplines, completed square footage studies, updated AutoCAD plans for the new bike racks around the Mall, helped coordinate and create cost estimates, develop design concepts for the work and storage area at the Ripley Garden, put together plans for a grant proposal for a bird garden outside the National Museum of Natural History, and much more. I also developed design concepts for the re-design of the Alexander Calder sculpture area (the area outside of the National Museum of American History that used to house the Gwenfritz sculpture). The sculpture was relocated in 1983, but is now being re-installed in its original location on the west side of the museum. In addition, I have gone to more meetings than I can count with professionals all over the Smithsonian and was able to work one-on–one with my boss to really get a feel for what he does.
Getting to experience the issues, specifications, requirements, construction, and coordination that these projects entail has given me extremely valuable insight into the process of how a design is actually constructed. This knowledge will be integral as I grow as a Landscape Architect to design projects that are just as feasible to construct and functional as they are beautiful.
-Sarah Gorney, Summer 2013 Landscape Architecture Intern
We’re used to looking at Detroit as a symbol of economic collapse and decline, especially after the city filed for bankruptcy under the direction of a state-appointed Emergency Financial Manager in July. Factories, cars, and images of abandoned buildings remain powerful symbols of the city’s past and present. Yet often against the odds, generations of residents and city leaders have also imagined Detroit as a “green city.” Detroit’s Belle Isle Park, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted in the 1880s was one of the first environmental visions to imagine the landscape of Detroit as a space valuable for more than the products and byproducts of manufacturing and industry.
The project to turn Belle Isle, a long, narrow island of approximately 700 acres in the Detroit River into an urban park became official in 1879. After years of debate over the location of a large city park, members of Detroit’s Common Council voted to purchase the site from private owners for $200,000. As George Lothrop, chairman of the Detroit Park Commission wrote, this park was needed “alike for beauty and salubrity…the rich cannot afford to overlook a great popular need like this. In no way can they so well check the spread of communism and the growing hatred of poverty to wealth as by taking a hearty interest in every rational project for the promotion of the health, comfort and enjoyment of the people.” Lathrop and other advocates imagined a park might change relationships between classes by offering residents the opportunity to temporarily leave the city and experience a different kind of environment in relatively close proximity to their homes.
Situated upriver from the docks and disarray of Detroit’s downtown waterfront, Belle Isle had a long history of informal use by residents during the nineteenth century prior to becoming an intentionally designed park. Even so, the suitability of the site for a park was less than ideal. It was marshy, and nearly all of the areas were prone to becoming water-soaked or even completely submerged. When Frederick Law Olmsted was commissioned to transform the island into a park in 1881, he was not all too pleased with the site the city had selected. As Olmsted noted in one of his preliminary visits to the island,
Conditions could not be more favorable to the breeding and nursing of mosquitoes…the pools, in September, I found discolored, and covered by bubbles and a green scum; and there was putrescent organic matter on their borders. They are thus available to the propagation of typhoid, malarial, and other zymotic poisons; and it may be questioned whether the city is justified in allowing, not to say inviting, ignorant people and children to stray near them.
As it was, the island would require much thought and human labor to transform it into an intentionally designed, manicured, and managed city park.
Although a relatively minimalist design from an aesthetic standpoint, Olmsted’s carefully crafted plan sought to make Belle Isle a more pleasant place for residents of Detroit to enjoy the outdoors, while also preserving some of the island’s important natural features. It was complete with picturesque views of the surrounding landscape and city, walking paths, a grand promenade, fields for sports, and idyllic arched bridges over a network of gently curving canals, which assisted with drainage in addition to their use by canoeists. Until a bridge was built in the 1890s, visitors used ferry boats to reach the island park. Olmsted consolidated the ferry docks and major activity sites at the western end of the island. From the moment visitors stepped off the boat, they entered into a choreographed experience that took them from the more highly designed area of activities to the eastern end of the park that Olmsted left in a more natural appearance, including an old-growth forest that remains today.
Belle Isle Park quickly became the city’s most popular gathering spot for residents and visitors alike. In 1894 alone, some sixty one thousand persons patronized the bathhouses for the three months they were open. While Olmsted’s general design theme still remains relatively intact, the city gradually altered the park over time. To more directly advance an educational mission, the city built an aquarium and horticultural conservatory (both designed by Albert Kahn) in 1904. Now, in addition to the leisurely activities of the park, visitors could also learn about nature through curated displays of plants and aquatic life.
In line with the architectural design tastes of the City Beautiful Movement in the early twentieth century, a beaux-arts style fountain and gathering space designed by architect Cass Gilbert was added to the lower end of the island during the 1920s, which replaced Olmsted’s more organic design with one of rigid symmetry and geometric forms. Over the years, the city’s projects also increased the park’s landmass to its current size of some 985 acres.
When the city purchased Belle Isle in 1879, the swampy island may not have been the best suited place for a park. Yet through careful human design and continued use, generations of Detroiters transformed Belle Isle into an enduring piece of Detroit’s urban fabric despite the city’s rise and fall. Today, amidst the city’s precarious financial situation, non-profit organizations have partnered with the city to help maintain and preserve the park, which remains a popular spot for residents and visitors to the city today.
Although the park’s meaning, design, and use have changed since Olmsted’s time, and the city’s bankruptcy may change the park’s relationship to the city (plans in recent years have included leasing or selling the park to the State of Michigan, charging an entrance fee, and one individual who has proposed selling it to private developers), preserving the legacy of Belle Isle Park remains important to understanding the city’s past in addition to changing tastes and styles in landscape design. Belle Isle’s lasting significance in the present is a reminder that the historic, natural, and human resources that come together in the design of parks and gardens are key ingredients to sustaining Detroit and cities like it into the future.
- Joe Cialdella, Enid A. Haupt Fellow, Smithsonian Gardens.