Archive for December, 2014

A Splash of Pink: What’s Blooming in the Smithsonian Gardens Orchid Collection

Winter is prime time for beautiful blooms in the Smithsonian Gardens Orchid Collection. The greenhouses are bursting with flowers, a welcome sight after all the gloomy weather we’ve been having in the DMV lately.

Recently, I have been appreciating the variety of pink color found in many of the hybrid orchids in the collection. The pink of Oncidium Tsiku Marguerite ‘HOF #3’ is subtle and understated, but this orchid makes itself known through its powerful aroma, a somewhat powdery sweet scent. These tiny flowers pack quite a punch (albeit one that I would return for day after day).

Oncidium Tsiku Marguerite 'HOF #3'

Oncidium Tsiku Marguerite ‘HOF #3’


Farther down the greenhouse, the vivid orange-pink of Rhyncholaeliocattleya Pumpkin Mist is enough to make one stop and smell the flowers. Literally. Cattleya hybrids are famous for their strong fragrance, many of them such as this one, have scents reminiscent of pansies or hyacinths.

Rhyncholaeliocattleya Pumpkin Mist

Rhyncholaeliocattleya Pumpkin Mist


While Phalaenopsis orchids aren’t known for their fragrance, they are known for their fantastic, showy hybrid crosses. The patterns on the flowers of many novelty Phalaenopsis hybrids are so unique; this one a dark magenta color radiating like a thick bronchial tree into a light pink border. Even if these patterns are useless for attracting pollinators, they do a marvelous job of drawing in their human audience.

Phalaenopsis hybrid

Phalaenopsis hybrid

Smithsonian Gardens Orchids are constantly in bloom. Stay connected with us to see more plants from the collection that will brighten the dreariest of winter days!


-Julie R., Living Collections Specialist

December 22, 2014 at 8:49 am Leave a comment

Update on the Eastern Bluebird Trail

Eastern bluebird nesting boxes

The green roof Eastern bluebird nesting boxes before installation on the trail.

In 2012, the Smithsonian Gardens Green Team developed an Eastern Bluebird Trail at our greenhouse complex in Suitland, Maryland. The trail of ten paired nest boxes was designed to support and expand the year-round resident Eastern Bluebird population. By the end of the 2013 nest season, the bluebird population had expanded to about thirty birds.

What happened in 2014? We began monitoring the trail in March, looking for the first signs of nesting behavior. The monitoring continued through July and in that time, no Eastern Bluebirds have been seen at or around the greenhouse complex. We believe the resident population migrated to another location due to a harsh winter of repeated deep Arctic cold blasts starting in late November and persisting through March. In addition to the cold, we believe the bluebirds did not have enough food to support their population.

American beautyberry and flowering dogwood

American beautyberry (Callicarpa americana, top) and flowering dogwood (Cornus florida, bottom) are bluebird favorites!

Bluebirds rely on fruit for more than thirty percent of their diet. In the winter, when insects are scarce, they depend on persistent fruits more than at any other time of year. The SG Green Team is committed to planting more native tree and shrub species around the facility to provide a sustainable winter habitat for the birds. Planting trees and shrubs not only provides food for birds but also provides shelter from harsh winds and cold temperatures.

-Sarah Hedean, SG Green Team Member

December 11, 2014 at 10:30 am Leave a comment

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

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