Posts tagged ‘flowers’

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

Behind the Orchids: The Living Collection

Orchids are full of wonder. They have a vast amount of habitat diversity across the globe including swamps, deserts, tropics, and tundra. In fact, orchids are so diverse there’s almost no end to them, and this doesn’t even include the ones human have hybridized. You name a part of the plant and it’s bound to be different from genus to genus in the family Orchidaceae. To illustrate, take a look at Ludisia discolor and Oncidopsis Nelly Isler ‘Swiss Beauty’ currently on display in the exhibit “Orchids: Interlocking Science and Beauty.”

Oncidopsis Nelly Isler ‘Swiss Beauty’

Ludisia discolor

Ludisia discolor

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These two plants show just how varied orchids can be in color, flower size, number of blooms, and even the general foliage. Though different, each still retains a beauty in its own way. Ludisia discolor, also called a jewel orchid, is sought after for its foliage rather than its flowers. It’s a terrestrial orchid found in Asia and its leaves are a deep green lined with red veins. Oncidopsis Nelly Isler ‘Swiss Beauty,’ on the other hand, is distinguished by its pleasant red blooms and gives off a unique fragrance. Furthermore, Nelly Isler ‘Swiss Beauty’ is a hybrid containing a mixture of four different species, while Ludisia discolor is a species found in the wild. And these two only make up a fraction of the 8,000+ orchids in Smithsonian Gardens’ collection.

Fortunately, there’s a system in place that helps keep track of the many plants in the Smithsonian Gardens Orchid Collection. This is extremely important because as a “living collection” it’s always growing and changing. Each orchid in the collection is given a specific barcode label that links to a database record containing important information about the plant. In addition to keeping basic information like its genus and species, the record reveal the plant’s current location, condition, and notes about its current use. All of this information is important for consistent record keeping. After scanning upwards of 80 to 100 plants each week, eventually you begin to pick up some interesting information. For example, some of these orchids are over 30 years old!

Orchid display labels

Orchid display labels

Maintaining the database is essential to keeping the orchid exhibit running smoothly. Plants selected for the exhibit are scanned at the beginning of each week in order to keep track of their changing location. Every Monday and Tuesday, I work to arrange these selected orchids into rank and file at the greenhouses with the help of several other greenhouse staff and volunteers. This makes scanning the pants’ barcodes and recording whether they’re leaving for the show or returning a simple process. It also makes it easy to pull the corresponding display labels. If you’ve made it to the show, you probably recognize those gleaming black and white labels in the photo. Smithsonian Gardens actually keeps label library chock full of thousands of these labels!

Plastic wrapped carts ready to go downtown

Plastic-wrapped carts ready to go downtown

Once all the tags are scanned and display labels staked, plants have to be loaded onto carts and plastic wrapped. It’s lovely that orchids bloom during the winter, but it’s dangerous for us to have to move them outside in cold weather! The plastic wrap provides a temporary buffer from the cold temperatures, which could otherwise harm the blooms and overall health of the orchids. We then swiftly move these carts from greenhouse to box truck and box truck to exhibit hall; minimizing the time they’re outside in the cold. All this scanning, packing, and loading is a bit of a logistical feat, so it’s no surprise something may get left along the way. Case in point, I once forgot to bring the roll of plastic wrap to the exhibit hall.

Now those plants wrapped in the picture above look pretty professional, but that’s only half the battle. It’s incredibly important to take the plastic wrap to the museum because the carts bringing plants back from the exhibit really need protection from the cold as well. These are, after all, orchids that are stressed out from the less than ideal conditions of the exhibit hall. Since we did not have plastic wrap available the Smithsonian Gardens staff improvised and obtained trash bags. The bags made for sufficient protection during the trip back, even if it looked like we were stealing the plants. That was, however, an incredibly stressful experience for me because I was sure we were going to lose part of the collection. I’ll make sure to bring the plastic wrap in the future!

National Herbarium tour

National Herbarium tour

To help balance stressful moments like this, Smithsonian Gardens regularly offers really great opportunities for interns to experience. There are internal tours, in-service sessions, and other educational opportunities that I’m able to attend with my intern status. Recently, I had the opportunity to take a tour of the National Herbarium at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. If you’re like me, you had to look up the definition of a herbarium and figure out what all the commotion is about for a library of dried plants. Aside from the general appealing aesthetics of neatly dried and pressed plants, the National Herbarium has millions of specimens. Its collection includes type specimens, around thirty plants currently extinct in the wild, and even plants collected by former presidents like Theodore Roosevelt and Chester Arthur. It also contains some seriously historical plants, like one collected in the 1500s! It’s almost inconceivable to think about everything that’s housed in the herbarium. Check it out online at http://botany.si.edu/colls/collections_overview.htm.

World's largest seed

World’s largest seed

After the tour, I’m really excited for what other opportunities may pop up next. I’m looking forward to making the most of these experiences and sharing them on the Smithsonian Gardens’ blog. That’s all for now, but enjoy another photo from the herbarium of the world’s largest seed. This dried seed still weighs a cool twenty pounds!

-Alan M., Orchid Exhibition Intern

February 12, 2015 at 3:00 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

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

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

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