Posts filed under ‘Collections’

Weird and Wonderful: What’s Blooming in the Smithsonian Gardens Orchid Collection

I think we can all agree that orchids display some of the weirdest morphological adaptations in the plant world. Phragmipediums are already unique because of their highly modified, pouch-like lip, which evolved as a strategy to direct pollinators towards the pollinia during their struggle to escape the flower. The hybrid below, Phragmipedium Giganteum, has another unique feature—extremely long, ribbon-like petals that can grow up to four times the length of the flower!

Phragmipedium Giganteum

Phragmipedium Giganteum

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Phragmipedium Giganteum

These long petals are a characteristic feature of Phragmipedium caudatum, one of the parents of Phrag. Giganteum and the type specimen for the genus. Look for the hybrid and its gigantic petals next week at the orchid exhibit, Orchids: Interlocking Science and Beauty.

I am always captivated by orchids with the most miniscule flowers, and the grassy-looking Dendrochilum stenophyllum definitely fits the bill. This species is found in the wild on the Philippine island of Luzon. The inflorescences look almost like spiky grass plumes, but they are actually dense arrangements of the tiniest flowers, with up to 40 per inflorescence! I can only imagine what tiny insect pollinates these delicate blooms.

Dendrochilum stenophyllum

Dendrochilum stenophyllum

Dendrochilum stenophyllum

Dendrochilum stenophyllum

Last, but most certainly not least, is the stunning purple Bletilla striata. This terrestrial species is native to China, Japan and Korea and is known for its extreme hardiness and ease of cultivation. I remember when I first moved here, recognizing a Bletilla growing in a Northwest DC garden and being incredibly shocked that a non-native orchid was growing outside. The genus in general comes from a more temperate environment and plants are found growing in soil, rather than on trees, making them a well-adapted addition to outdoor gardens in the DMV.

Bletilla striata

Bletilla striata

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

February 20, 2015 at 1:00 am Leave a comment

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

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

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

Come See for Yourself!: What’s Blooming in the Smithsonian Gardens Orchid Collection

“Orchids: Interlocking Science and Beauty,” the joint orchid exhibit between Smithsonian Gardens and the United States Botanic Garden opens this coming Saturday at the National Museum of Natural History. The exhibit explores the connections between botany, horticulture, and technology through time and the myriad influences they had on the orchid world of today.

We are always thrilled to be able to show off in person many of the beautiful plants that are hidden away in the greenhouses for the remainder of the year. You can expect to see some of the usual showstoppers adorning the exhibit hall; brightly colored cymbidium hybrids, cheerful epidendrums with their spherical flower clusters and the ever-stately phalaenopsis hybrids in their robes of pink, white and purple.

Another orchid you can expect to see this coming weekend is Phragmipedium Fritz Schomburg, a primary hybrid of (the infamous) Phragmipedium kovachii and Phragmipedium besseae. The more rounded petals and pink coloration come from Phrag. kovachii, while the elongated lip and red tint hail from Phrag. besseae. This past year Smithsonian Gardens has made a conscious effort to add more Phragmipediums to the orchid collection, and this hybrid is one of the first of these new additions to grace the greenhouses with its lovely flowers.

Phragmipedium Fritz Schomburg

Phragmipedium Fritz Schomburg

With over 8,000 plants in the collection, it’s obvious that we can’t display every orchid during the exhibit, even though it runs for three months (from January 24th- April 26th). This next species, Eltroplectris calcarata is a south Florida native, with its range extending throughout the Caribbean and into northern South America. Last February, a flask of Etp. calcarata seedlings was donated to Smithsonian Gardens by the Atlanta Botanical Garden and in less than a year they grew from tiny seedlings into blooming size specimens. We were thrilled to find spikes on a third of these plants and watch them come into bloom over the last few weeks. This species doesn’t immediately catch the eye like a bright pink phrag, but there is a captivating elegance in the sharp lines of the stark white flowers with their vivid green cores.

Eltroplectris calcarata

Eltroplectris calcarata

Another species that recently bloomed is Solenangis aphylla. Like its name suggests, this African orchid is devoid of leaves and relies solely on its roots to carry out photosynthetic processes. The miniscule red and white flowers are ethereal and are sprinkled like fairy dust throughout the monstrous mass of plant roots that seem to be devouring our Angraecum bench!

Top: Solenangis aphylla, Bottom Left: Flower cluster, Bottom Right: Flower detail; photo courtesy of Bryan Ramsay

Top- Solenangis aphylla; Bottom Left- flower cluster; Bottom Right- flower detail; photo courtesy of Bryan Ramsay

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

 

-Julie R., Living Collections Specialist

January 22, 2015 at 10:25 am Leave a comment

The Smithsonian Gardens Tree Collection: Proactive Management

Smithsonian elm tree

This American elm tree on the grounds of the National Museum of Natural History is over two hundred years old. Eric Long, photographer.

The Smithsonian Gardens Tree Collection currently consists of over 1,850 trees, approximately 1,400 of which are located on the downtown Washington, D.C. and Anacostia campuses.  These trees add beauty to our grounds, and they offer myriad environmental and health-related benefits.  Unfortunately, it seems that trees are constantly under attack by a host of problems, ranging from severe climate, to native and exotic pests and diseases, to damage from construction and development projects, to the tough urban environment in which they grow.  Once these plants become stressed, it’s more likely that they will suffer due to one or more of these issues.  In addition, as trees grow, certain structural defects can develop which may cause problems in the future, especially when severe weather events can exploit the inherent weaknesses in these defects.

For these reasons, we at Smithsonian Gardens take a proactive, rather than reactive, approach to caring for these green assets.  Oftentimes, defects, cultural stressors, or insect and disease infestations that have gone unnoticed for a time can be difficult, if not impossible, to reverse.  Therefore, a thorough health and structure assessment of these trees was completed at the end of 2014.  This assessment consisted of a top-to-bottom, 360 degree visual evaluation of each tree.  All defects and other potential issues were noted and assigned a rating based on the severity of the condition observed.

Tree Banding

Smithsonian Gardens staff band trees.

What we had at the end of the evaluations was a complete list of trees, their problems (if they had any), and recommendations for correcting anything of concern.  Based on the ranking system, we now have an organized and detailed list of what maintenance and tree care work is needed, with a clear indication of where we need to start.  This has enabled Smithsonian Gardens to find and fix issues before they become more serious, and gives us the ability to be proactive with our tree management.  It also gives us a better idea of how to budget for upcoming maintenance needs.  Prevention is the best medicine, and any time we can find and correct an issue before it becomes serious it allows us to keep our trees happy and healthy for many years to come.

-Greg Huse, Smithsonian Gardens Arborist and Tree Collection Manager

 

January 14, 2015 at 6:30 am Leave a comment

Great Things in Tiny Packages: What’s Blooming in the Smithsonian Gardens Orchid Collection

Orchids make up one of the largest (or THE largest, depending on whom you ask) plant families with over 25,000 species. In such a large family, there is bound to be incredible variety in size, shape and color.  This week the small blooms caught my eye more than anything else. It is astonishing to see such vivid coloration and detail in flowers that are no bigger than my thumbnail!

Stenosarcos Vanguard is a stunning hybrid of the two Latin American species Stenorrhynchos albidomaculatum and Sarcoglottis acaulis. This terrestrial beauty has uniquely variegated leaves and its tall, red inflorescences boast numerous small blooms that are just begging for a closer look.

Stenosarcos Vanguard

Stenosarcos Vanguard

The flowers of Vanda aurantiaca are even smaller than those of the Stenosarcos, but no less impressive. The shocking yellow-orange flowers pack quite a visual punch bundled together on racemose inflorescences, one of which you can see below.

Vanda Aurantiaca

One of the most striking blooms that caught my attention this week foreshadows an explosion of color. The  tiny purple flower seen here comes from Isabelia pulchella, a miniature epiphytic species with long, dangling rhizomes. Pseudobulbs grow spaced along the rhizome and each supports exactly one grassy leaf and a single-flowered inflorescence. This orchid will sport hundreds of these purple gems when the rest of the plant bursts into bloom.

Isabelia pulchella

Isabelia pulchella

There is always something blooming in the Smithsonian Gardens Orchid Collection. Stay connected with us to see more plants from the collection that will amaze you with their diversity!

-Julie R., Living Collections Specialist

January 8, 2015 at 7:00 am Leave a comment

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

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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