Put a Spring in Your Step: What’s Blooming in the Smithsonian Gardens Orchid Collection

February 5, 2015 at 10:00 am Leave a comment

Happy February! With the recent news of some rather feisty groundhogs calling for another long winter, I am hoping this week’s edition of ‘What’s In Bloom’ will be an encouraging reminder of what’s to come.

I often pass over phalaenopsis in favor of the more weird and interesting specimens, but this week the novelty hybrids in greenhouse 12 drew my attention and I couldn’t pick just one to feature. The variety of patterns and bold colors splashed across the flowers are seriously amazing. Many of these plants will be making their way down to the exhibit at the National Museum of Natural History, so keep your eyes peeled.

Novelty phalaenopsis hybrids

Novelty phalaenopsis hybrids

This next orchid is also slated to make its way downtown in the next week. Prosthechea cochleata is a Central American species known commonly as the ‘cockle shell orchid’ for the distinctive lip shape of its flowers. Notice also that unlike most orchids, the flowers are non-resupinate, meaning the pedicels do not rotate during development to orient the lip below the rest of the flower. Resupination is generally thought of as an evolutionary strategy that proffers the labellum as a landing pad for pollinators. Orchids with non-resupinate flowers may be self-pollinating or their pollinators, for example hummingbirds, may not require a landing pad.

Prosthechea cochleata

Prosthechea cochleata

Inhabiting similar latitudes to the Central American Prosthechea is Polystachya neobenthamia. This tropical, east African species is found growing along cliffs and rock faces in Tanzania. It has an almost weedy appearance with grasslike leaves and erect flower stems holding beautiful puffball inflorescences of tiny white flowers. If orchids were emoticons, this one would be a beaming smiley face.

Polystachya neobenthamia

Polystachya neobenthamia

There is always something blooming in the Smithsonian Gardens Orchid Collection. Stay connected with us to see more plants from the collection, and visit the exhibit downtown through the end of April to experience our orchids firsthand!


– Julie R., Living Collection Specialist

Entry filed under: Collections, Orchids. Tags: , .

Behind the Orchids: Setting Up the Show Behind the Orchids: The Living Collection

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