Posts filed under ‘Orchids’

A Spectacular Show: What’s Blooming in the Smithsonian Gardens Orchid Collection

The sight of fresh blooming encyclias is one to tease the eyes. Generally small flowered and often less than an inch in diameter, encyclias pack a punch with their unending shape and color variations. Orchid lovers could spend days observing these species and hybrids. This hardly comes as a surprise when you take into consideration that there are over 150 species in the genus.

Encyclia Nursery Rhyme

Encyclia Nursery Rhyme

Originating from the Greek word, enkylein, the name encyclia refers to the way the lateral lobes of the flower encircle the column. Found from central Florida to Brazil, these orchids grow in warmer climates and produce psuedobulbs in clumps. Each clump sends up several flower spikes at a time and each variety of encyclia has flower spikes that range in a length from a foot to several feet long. Since each spike can produce many flowers these spikes make for quite a spectacular show.

A clustering of Encyclia oncidioides behind Encyclia Cindy.

A clustering of Encyclia oncidioides behind Encyclia Cindy.

I find these orchids very pleasing to observe. Their small flowers make them manageable to view, but contain subtle details that are a delight to discover. These flowers have great depth to them, so changing your angle of view can reveal more interesting characteristics.

Encyclias are often crossed with the genera Cattleya and Epidendrum to create lovely hybrids. Encyclias are desirable for their interesting flower shapes and Encyclia cordigera in particular often is selected for hybridization for its darker colors and intoxicating aroma. Encyclia cordigera has received over 40 awards from the American Orchid Society, so why not pass along some of these winning characteristics to other orchids?

Encyclia Atroniceum x bractescens

Encyclia Atroniceum x bractescens

Encyclia alata x mooreana

Encyclia alata x mooreana

In the Smithsonian Gardens Orchid Collection, there are currently over 60 examples of these encyclia species and hybrid combinations. Their flowers last up to a month sometimes longer, so they regularly make their way to the display cases in museums around the Smithsonian. Be sure to swing by the orchid cases downstairs in the National Museum of American History sometime in the next few weeks to see one of these incredible orchids on display.

– Alan Marcus, Smithsonian Gardens Orchid Intern

Encyclia Cindy

Encyclia Cindy

July 23, 2015 at 11:18 am 1 comment

Chutes, Ladders, and Buckets: What’s Blooming in the Smithsonian Garden’s Orchid Collection

There are few orchids as unusually delightful and whimsical as the genera Gongora, Stanhopea, and Coryanthes in family Orchidaceae. Largely distributed through the neotropics, these genera are closely related under the subtribe Stanhopeinae. Though they share a similar way of enticing pollinators to visit their flowers, each of these orchids offer something unique as well.

L to R: Gongora aff. quinquenervis, Stanhopea jenischiana, and Coryanthes trifoliate  from the Smithsonian Gardens Orchid Collection

L to R: Gongora aff. quinquenervis, Coryanthes trifoliate, and Stanhopea jenischiana from the Smithsonian Gardens Orchid Collection

Gongora, Stanhopea, and Coryanthes all attract euglossine bees to pollinate their blooms by producing highly aromatic oils on their flowers. Male euglossine bees, drawn by the intense fragrance, land on the flowers, scrape up the scented oil, and then collect it in spongy pouch-like structures on their back legs. It is believed that the male bees use this behavior is to help attract mates. The more complex the aroma compounds a male bee creates by visiting multiple flowers, the more attractive he appears to female bees.

Transferring collected oils onto its back legs requires a male euglossine bee to release its grip on a flower momentarily. Rather amazingly, these three genera of orchids have each developed a way to capitalize on this moment of vulnerability. Gongoras and Stanhopeas  orchids use a “slide” structure formed from the petals and dorsal sepal of each bloom to guide the upside-down tumbling bee past the pollen on the end of the column and out of the flower. It’s nature’s version of “Chutes and Ladders!”

Coryanthes or Bucket Orchids, on the other hand, trap their bee visitors in liquid pooled in the bucket-shaped lip of their flowers. With its wings submerged, a male bee must exit out back of the bucket and past the column containing the pollen to escape the flower. In the process pollen from the flower attaches to the bee’s back. Since this is a traumatic experience, the bee temporarily avoids similar flowers. Eventually, the bee forgets the experience and falls into the same trap on another flower. The pollen already attached to its back then is deposited in the appropriate place on the flower’s column before new pollen adheres to the bee. Unbelievable, right?

Although flower spikes in all three species extend and hang pendulant from the base of the psuedobulbs, the more interesting phenomenon is that all three develop inverted flowers. This adaptation guides the fall of the visiting bee downwards through each orchid’s respective structure to help pollinate the plant.

Though similar in many ways, each genus exhibits a radically different shape. Below is a photo of Gongora aff. quinquenervis from the Smithsonian Garden Orchid Collection. The flower shape is fairly representative of the Gongora genus as a whole and makes for a great model to understand the pollination process. Some say Gongora tend to look like a bird or insect in flight because of its wing-like reflexed lateral sepals. What strikes me in this particular species, however, is its jaggedness and the small barbs coming off the lip. The barbs remind me of a fishing hook with a lure. Considering how the flower uses its structure to attract a pollinator, it’s actually not a bad analogy

Gongora aff. quinquenervis from the Smithsonian Gardens Orchid Collection

Gongora aff. quinquenervis from the Smithsonian Gardens Orchid Collection

Stanhopea jenischiana, most recognizable for the dark eye spots on its yellow lip (see below), pollinate very similarly to Gongoras via a “slide” method. The fall bees experience after entering the flower led these orchids to be nicknamed “Fall-Through” Orchids.

Stanhopea jenischiana from the Smithsonian Gardens Orchid Collection

Stanhopea jenischiana from the Smithsonian Gardens Orchid Collection

And finally, below is Coryanthes trifoliata. Though the lateral sepals unfortunately are past their peak in this photo, the bucket lip is still intact and shows off some this bloom’s stunning detail! Notice the liquid dripping into the flower’s bucket. The second image shows more clearly the channel through which the orchid forces visiting bee to escape.

Coryanthes trifoliata from the Smithsonian Gardens Orchid Collection

Coryanthes trifoliata from the Smithsonian Gardens Orchid Collection

While these fantastic orchids abound in the Smithsonian Gardens greenhouses, a few have made their way into the Orchids: Interlocking Science and Beauty at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History over the past several months. Have you had a chance to see any of them? With the show closing this Sunday, April 26 there’s still time to see a few new additions including a Gongora! Don’t miss them!

Alan M., Smithsonian Gardens Orchid Exhibition Intern

April 23, 2015 at 4:17 pm Leave a comment

From One Flower to Many and Some In Between: What’s Blooming in the Smithsonian Gardens Orchid Collection

Orchids come in an incredible variety of shapes, sizes, and number of blooms. This week’s “What’s In Bloom” looks at some of unique plants in the Smithsonian Gardens Orchid Collection that highlight the impressive diversity of the Orchidaceae family. From large, single-flower plants to plants with spikes full of tiny blooms; these species are awe-inspiring!

Phragmipedium longifolium

Phragmipedium longifolium

Pictured above is Phragmipedium longifolium with its large, roughly eight inch bloom on display. This orchid is native to the costal and mountain regions of Ecuador and into Latin America. The beautiful thing about Phrag. longifolium is that while only one flower may be in bloom at a time, it’s possible for mature orchids to produce blooms year round under ideal conditions. This makes the orchid very popular and many hybrids are made with this species as one of the parents.

Mormolyca rigens

Mormolyca rigens

Located in the same global region as Phrag. longifolium, Mormolyca rigens displays much smaller, one inch flowers. Unlike Phrag. longifolium, when Morm. rigens blooms many flowers pop out all over the orchid, capping the ends of thin growing shoots. Morm. rigens is also able to maintain bloom most of the year. This orchid is particularly attractive to bees who, lured by its shape and coloring, pollinate the flower by trying unsuccessfully to mate with it.

Dendrobium speciosum

Dendrobium speciosum

Dendrobium speciosum is suited for prolific reproduction in the wild. It produces many, many fragrant blooms on just a single vegetative spike. While the blooms pictured here are conveniently located in the Smithsonian Gardens’ greenhouses, in the wild Den. speciosumis is commonly found throughout Australia. This plant showcases white flowers with purple-spotted, red-veined labellums, but there are many variations of this orchid in the wild because its pollen readily crosses with other Dendrobium species. With upwards of two hundred and fifty flowers opening synchronously on one stalk, this orchid releases an incredibly aromatic scent to attract potential pollinators from all directions.

Regardless of if an orchid blooms with one large flower, many tiny flowers, or anything in between, the incredible variety of this family is always a pleasure to view.

– Alan M., Smithsonian Gardens Orchid Exhibition Intern

April 6, 2015 at 1:56 pm Leave a comment

Behind the Orchids: Exploring from Behind the Lens

Smithsonian Gardens 20th annual orchid exhibition is well underway at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC. Walking around the exhibit hall, you can’t help but appreciate at the multitude of colors, shapes, and sizes of the orchids on display. How is it possible to capture such beauty? If you’re like me, you take hundreds of photos on your phone.

In addition to the seemingly endless pictures I’ve taken on my phone, I’ve had the opportunity as an orchid exhibition intern to get behind a DSLR camera and experiment with orchid photography. I’m by no means a professional photographer, but experimenting with settings and subjects has given me a new-found appreciation for photography and shown me there’s more to understand about orchids than meets the eye.

There’s a lot to understand about how to take a photo at the show, and it all begins with the orchids themselves.

Phalaenopsis hybrid from the Smithsonian Gardens Orchid Collection

Phalaenopsis hybrid from the Smithsonian Gardens Orchid Collection

First Element: Subject

When taking a photograph, first consider what’s in your viewfinder. It’s helpful to try and center your shot on an orchid bloom to give yourself the most unobstructed view. Bloom-centered orchid photos are beautiful, but there also is a great appreciation that can come from taking photos that capture the plant as you would view it in real space. When up close with an orchid, you have the opportunity to view the plant from all different angles. I’ve found that taking different approaches to photographing an orchid subject can capture facets of its beauty that you may not have noticed before. The orchid Ornithidium coccineum ‘Superman David’, for example, has both a delicate flower and interesting plant structure which both deserve recognition. ‘Superman David’ is subject in both photos below, but taking photos from different viewpoints can help viewers better appreciate the orchid as a whole.

Ornithidium coccineum 'Superman David'

Ornithidium coccineum ‘Superman David’

Second Element: Light

Another element I focused on when learning to use the camera is lighting. Clearly, there is different lighting outside than in greenhouses or even in the orchid exhibit hall. Different types of lighting have different benefits and can result in interesting images. The natural light outside or in the greenhouse makes an orchid come to life. You get the feeling of how the orchid would appear in nature.

In the exhibit hall, the lighting is designed to really bring out the dazzling and detailed displays of each orchid arrangement. Aside from beautiful vignettes, the smallest individual orchid flowers are showcased with breathtaking brilliance. Whereas natural light shows orchids in context, the spotlights and other lighting features in the exhibit bring a greater focus to orchid details. These orchids are here to perform, to play both lead and support. That’s what makes an exhibit interesting.

Plants from the Orchids: Interlocking Science and Beauty exhibition (Left) and a well-lit Bublaphyllum (right)

Light in the Orchids: Interlocking Science and Beauty exhibition helps highlight orchid details.

Third Element: Focus

There is something to discover in both blurred images and sharp photographs. Whether intentional or not, capturing a blurred image creates an interesting experience for the viewer. It’s almost as if you’re outside looking in or looking over someone’s shoulder. You can see enough to make out the shape of the object, but can’t quite focus on the details. It produces an exciting feeling, because you want to know the specifics and there are still things you don’t know yet. With blurred images, you hone on different features of a plant than you normally would. You pay closer attention to the shape of the flower, or notice the overwhelming color which may be lost to the intricacies of orchid patterns in sharply-focused frames. Look at the following three photos, what changes and what new views appear for you with each progressive shot?

focus 1

focus 2

focus 3

As the images get progressively less focused, what stands out to me in the above images is the “C” shape of the Oncidium Tiger Crow ‘Golden Girl’ on the right hand side of the photo.

Regardless of what kind of camera you may have, there’s ample ways to tailor a unique photo by experimenting with these elements. Visit the orchid exhibition and get creative!

– Alan M., Orchid Exhibition Intern

March 19, 2015 at 9:27 am Leave a comment

Long Lasting Enjoyment and Ephemeral Beauty: What’s Blooming in the Smithsonian Gardens Orchid Collection

At the annual orchid exhibit, we often display highly resilient orchids with long blooming periods to maximize their time on view. Masdevallia Cheryl Shohan ‘Red Hot Momma’ has uniquely shaped, brilliant red flowers that can last up to three weeks. This genus is a less common find in our exhibits, so I am thrilled to see it going downtown this coming week. If time or distance keeps you from visiting, enjoy this cheery photo. It will last a lot longer than the flower anyway!

Masdevallia Cheryl Shohan 'Red Hot Momma'

Masdevallia Cheryl Shohan ‘Red Hot Momma’

Sobralia wilsoniana has much more ephemeral, but brilliant purple flowers, which are at their peak for a little over a day. This isn’t a good candidate to bring to the orchid exhibit, but it is stunning to see in the greenhouse. For the most part in the wild sobralias are bee pollinated. The bright yellow splash on the labellum is a guide that draws pollinators into the center of the flower.

Sobralia wilsoniana

Sobralia wilsoniana

This last featured orchid this week is a hybrid bulbophyllum—Bulbophyllum Thai Spider. This is a cross between Bulbophyllum medusae and Bulbophyllum gracillimum, and characteristics of each are very obvious when looking at the flowers of this hybrid.

Bulbophyllum Thai Spider

Bulbophyllum Thai Spider

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Bulbophyllum Thai Spider

 

Bulbophyllum medusae contributes its long, white tendril-like sepals, which become slightly shorter and more orderly in the hybrid under the influence of bright red Bulbophyllum gracillimum. These flowers, like those of Sobralia wilsoniana, only last for about a day before they start to wither.

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 Collections Specialist

March 5, 2015 at 11:00 am 1 comment

Behind the Orchids: Orchid Family Day

Orchid Family day booths set up in the National Museum of Natural History

Orchid Family day booths set up in the National Museum of Natural History

After working with orchids for five weeks, I could not have been more thrilled to share the splendor of orchids with families and museum-goers at Orchid Family Day. The event was held Saturday, February 22nd on the ground floor of the National Museum of Natural History, and drew a large crowd even in the face of a snowstorm. Smithsonian Gardens, the United States Botanic Garden, and the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center joined together to engage and educate Orchid Family Day participants about orchids and orchid care. Stations included building terrariums, creating botanical illustrations, making paper orchid corsages, asking an expert any orchid question, learning about orchid research, and potting an orchid to take home.

Naturally, there’s always some amount of preparation work that goes into any event. Planning Orchid Family Day took a team of Smithsonian Gardens staff and volunteers. Over numerous weeks, the group developed activities, prepared necessary materials, and helped gather the staff and volunteers needed to run activities. We also created orchid information panels from scratch to pair with the day’s activities. As an intern, I was able to collaborate and create the initial drafts of three display panels. The text then had to pass through several people for editing and revising to ensure quality and accuracy. After having gathered some of the first research for these panels, it was incredible to see the transformation from a simple word document into a professional looking display panel. It was a great opportunity, and I’m proud to have played an influential role in the development of Orchid Family Day.

The Orchid Family Day Panels in final form.

The Orchid Family Day Panels in final form.

Aside from event logistics, Orchid Family Day also needed publicity. Event details were posted online but word of mouth brought more people than the publicity alone could have. In fact, even with the threat of a snowstorm, hundreds of people showed up for the event. Impressively, as the doors to the National Museum of Natural History opened, countless families and individuals flooded into the museum. Although many patrons were excited to be the first in the exhibit halls, a steady stream of people made their way to the family day activities.

Making orchid corsages!

Making orchid corsages!

The enthusiasm of people bouncing between tables, building terrariums then potting orchids, made for equally enthusiastic staff and volunteers at each table to engage the ever changing visitors. I had the chance to witness several staff and volunteers of the gardens participate in demonstrations that were very unlike the work I’ve what previously seen them do. For example, one of the Smithsonian Gardens supervisors was helping make paper orchid corsages! It was incredibly enjoyable seeing the staff engaged with participants whether it was through drawing, potting, building, or teaching. I had the opportunity to staff the botanical illustration table, which is something I’ve never studied or worked much with before. Regardless, it was a lot of fun watching children color in orchid outlines and use their illustrations for all kinds of art projects. We initially intended for them just to create bookmarks, but they got creative and made necklaces and pictures to give to their parents too. Their enthusiasm was endless and parents often had to gently coax their children away from the table when it was time for them to go.

Examples of the terrariums visitors got to make and take home with them.

Examples of the terrariums visitors could make and take home with them.

Many curious minds wandered into the exhibit, and not all were children. Adults wishing to learn more about orchids made the “ask an expert” table very popular. They also enjoyed discovering the latest in orchid research and conservation at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center table. And of course, the ever popular “pot an orchid” station may have stolen the show for most individuals as the U.S. Botanic Garden brought a thousand orchids to give away for free. Orchid Family Day activities offered something for everybody, so make sure to come out to the next one in 2017!

– Alan M., Orchid Exhibition Intern

February 26, 2015 at 11:00 am Leave a comment

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

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