Posts tagged ‘orchids’

News from the Smithsonian Gardens’ Orchid Collection

Phragmipedium besseae

Phragmipedium besseae acquired from a nursery in California.

This summer, many exciting things happened with the Smithsonian Gardens Orchid Collection (SGOC). Not only are the greenhouses getting a good cleaning and reorganization, but Smithsonian Gardens is seeing significant additions to its species collection. In March, SGOC’s tropical species became an accredited collection with the North American Plant Collections Consortium. As you may recall from reading about the accreditation on the blog this past spring, this designation comes with a responsibility to continually improve collections management practices and species representation.

orchid specimens

Specimens from local nursery in Huntingtown, MD.

In June, Smithsonian Gardens’ terrestrial orchids received quite a boost in numbers. Collection managers Tom Mirenda and Sarah Hedean made a trip to a local nursery to purchase Paphiopedilums and Phragmipediums. They found many  valuable additions for the collection, including a blooming-size Phragmipedium kovachii and several associated hybrids. We will hopefully see these spectacular kovachii flowers within a year. Additional Phragmipediums were obtained from another nursery, including Phragmipedium brasiliense, Phragmipedium boisserianum and Phragmipedium sargentianum. All three species are new to the collection.

June was a very busy month for accessions. At the end of the month, Tom flew out to California to speak at the request of Orchid Digest and during his trip, was able to stop by a local nursery to purchase almost sixty additional plants for the collection. This purchase includes a number of new species that address collection gaps identified by SGOC’s 2013 benchmarking study.

Paphiopedilum tigrinum

Paphiopedilum tigrinum from the San Diego Zoo Botanical Collection.

In August, four species of Pterostylis in the form of bulbs were donated to the collection. These propagules are from orchids that won the highest possible score from the American Orchid Society for specimen plants (99 points). Since these are colony-forming species, these propagules will be clones of the highly-awarded individuals. In this same donation we also received several bulbs of a Diuris hybrid. Diuris is commonly known as the Donkey Orchid due to the fact that two of the petals emerge from the top of the flower like donkey ears.

This fall, SGOC received an influx of Cattleya hybrids in anticipation of the 2015 Orchid Exhibit and the San Diego Zoo Botanical Collection sent Smithsonian Gardens a Paphiopedilum tigrinum in exchange for one of our Psychopsis hybrids.

It is very exciting to see significant progress made this yeat towards achieving our goal to improve the tropical species collection. Hopefully the momentum will continue into 2015 and beyond! 

- Julie Rotramel, Living Collections Contractor

December 4, 2014 at 10:58 am Leave a comment

Volunteer with Smithsonian Gardens in the new exhibition “Orchids: Interlocking Science and Beauty”

Orchid exhibit logo

In January 2015, Smithsonian Gardens, the U.S. Botanical Garden, and the National Museum of Natural History will open a new temporary exhibit, Orchids: Interlocking Science and Beauty. This three-month exhibition (January 24-April 26, 2015) will feature thousands of live orchids and offer visitors the opportunity to explore how new ideas, technologies, and inventions change the way we study, protect, and enjoy these beautiful plants.

Volunteer orchid interpreters will have the opportunity to engage the public in this beautiful exhibition space and help visitors understand how each new innovation, like a puzzle piece, fills in gaps in our knowledge and creates a larger and more complex picture of orchids. As a volunteer, you will be trained to answer questions, provide additional information, and offer visitors short, hands-on activities to encourage them to think more deeply about how we study, protect, and enjoy orchids. You will also have the opportunity to assist with public programs and special events related to the exhibition.

Phalaenopsis Merlot Mist 'Cascade' orchid

Phalaenopsis Merlot Mist ‘Cascade’

Volunteer Position Duration: November 17, 2014 – April 26, 2015 (including training)

Training: Four training sessions beginning in November. Training sessions will include sessions on museum learning, visitor engagement, and exhibit content. Each session will be led by Smithsonian Gardens’ museum educators and orchid experts.

Qualifications: Volunteers should have an interest in orchids (though prior knowledge is not necessary) and in be comfortable working with diverse audiences. Good communication skills are a must. Experience teaching or delivering interpretive tours/programs is a bonus.

Interested in volunteering or want more information? Contact us at gardenvolunteers@si.edu or apply online at www.gardens.si.edu/get-involved/volunteers

APPLICATION DEADLINE – OCTOBER 30, 2014

September 29, 2014 at 8:00 am Leave a comment

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

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