Posts tagged ‘NMAH’

On Display: Highlights from the Smithsonian Gardens Orchid Collection

In keeping with my greatest goal in life of turning everyone into an orchid lover (I believe we would achieve world peace if that actually happened), I am starting a series of blog posts about the Smithsonian Gardens Orchid Collection. I’m excited to share images and stories about our incredible orchid collection with you.

Last week, I convinced Alex, one of Smithsonian Gardens’ interiorscapers, to exhibit some really special orchids in display cases at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. If you are in Washington, D.C., I hope you’ll visit the cases on the first level of the museum near the Warner Bros. Theater before the display is changed the week of December 21st. If you’re too far away, I hope you’ll enjoy the images of these beauties orchids included here.

Angraecum sesquipedale var. angustifolium

Angraecum sesquipedale var. angustifolium on display at the National Museum of American History.

Angraecum sesquipedale may very well be the most famous of all orchids. This beauty is written up in every botany textbook due to its compelling pollination story. A native of Madagascar, this outstanding species bears truly lovely, white, star-shaped blooms that emit a delicious fragrance to attract its moth pollinator on moonlit nights. Not just any moth, but the equally famous Xanthopan morganii praedicta, so named because its existence was predicted by Charles Darwin before it was known to science. Darwin theorized upon seeing the flowers’ prodigious 12-inch long nectar spurs that a moth with an equally long proboscis had to exist in order for the plant to be pollinated. It will always be one of my favorite orchids because, well, it’s just plain cool! The variety on display, Angraecum sesquipedale var. angustifolium,  is a bit more succulent and smaller in stature than the typical form, but it is easier to grow and quite floriferous.

Angraecum sesquipedale var. angustifolium and a hawk moth

L to R: Angraecum sesquipedale var. angustifolium from the Smithsonian Gardens Orchid Collection; Illustration of a hawk moth visiting an Angraecum sesquipedale by Emily Damstra for the Smithsonian Institution; a Xanthopan morganii praedicta (hawk moth) with extended proboscis © kqedquest

A couple of well-bloomed plants from a sister genus, Jumellea, grace the display case opposite the Angraecums. Even though their flowers are smaller, they are plentiful and have an outstanding fragrance. Jumellea flowers are similar in all of their species, even though the plants can vary wildly. They, like the Angraecums, exhibit a moth pollination syndrome, bearing flowers of the purest white color with strong nocturnal fragrance and nectar spurs. This time the spurs are much shorter, about an inch or so in length, indicating a very different moth species as its pollination partner. Jumelleas are also used to make a kind of aromatic tea, known as Faham tea, which was once very popular in Europe.


Jumelleas from the Smithsonian Gardens Orchid Collection on display at the National Museum of American History

These are remarkable orchids that Smithsonian Gardens proudly displays to encourage and educate Smithsonian visitors. We hope you will visit the National Museum of American History and see these botanical marvels for yourself!

– Tom Mirenda, Smithsonian Gardens Orchid Collection Specialist

December 18, 2015 at 10:00 am 2 comments

Flanders Field Poppies at the National Museum of American History

The poppy became an international symbol of remembrance of World War I through the efforts of an American professor from Georgia, Moina Michael. While working at the 25th Conference of the Overseas YMCA War Secretaries in New York City Michael heard a reading of the poem “In Flanders Fields” by Lt. Colonel John McCrae, MD (1872-1918) of the Canadian Expeditionary Force.

Corn poppy (Papaver rhoeas)

Corn poppy (Papaver rhoeas)

Michael was so moved by the poem that she resolved to wear a poppy in remembrance of the war and bought them for attendees of the conference on November 9, 1918. Two days later, on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, Germany signed an armistice agreement with the Allies thus ending the war. Michael carried on work to make the poppy a symbol for honoring the war dead as well as a way to raise funds for veterans, a symbol that endures today.

To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the World War I, Smithsonian Gardens planted corn poppies (Papaver rhoeas) outside the National Museum of American History. The seeds sown were, in part, collected from the Flanders Fields of Belgium.

Corn Poppies planted by Smithsonian Gardens outside the Smithsonian National Museum of American History

Corn poppies planted by Smithsonian Gardens outside the Smithsonian National Museum of American History

To learn more about WWI, visit The Price of Freedom exhibition on the 2nd floor, East Wing of the National Museum of American History.

In Flanders Fields
by John McCrae, 1872 – 1918

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row, 
That mark our place, and in the sky, 
The larks, still bravely singing, fly, 
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead; short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow, 
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe! 
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high! 
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

May 11, 2015 at 10:34 am 1 comment

Summer Bounty in the Gillette Family Garden

If you’ve been keeping up with the Gillette Family Garden, you can read the latest post here.  To get an overview of the outdoor exhibit’s groundbreaking and spring planting, please reference our first blog post.

In January 2012 the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC), in partnership with the Thomas Jefferson Foundation at Monticello, opened the exhibition Slavery at Jefferson’s Monticello: Paradox of Liberty.  The exhibition is on view in the NMAAHC gallery at the National Museum of American History, Behring Center (NMAH) through Oct. 14, 2012.

To celebrate the exhibition, Smithsonian Gardens, in collaboration with NMAAHC and the Thomas Jefferson Foundation at Monticello, has created a garden to spotlight the Gillette family, one of the six families featured in the exhibition. The garden is a scaled-down recreation of the plot cultivated by the Gillette family to grow vegetables for their personal use and to sell to the Jefferson family. 

Spring Crop Harvest

On June 8, 2012, Smithsonian Gardens staff harvested beets, cabbage and turnips to be displayed as part of The Jefferson Table and Gillette Family Garden public program presented by the National Museum of African American History and Culture at the USDA Farmer’s Market. The program featured culinary historian Dr. Leni Sorensen, Ph.D., who captivated audiences with a cooking demonstration. The harvest was replaced with summer plants started in the Smithsonian Gardens greenhouse and seeds from Monticello.

Planting Summer Crops

In the summer planting of the Gillette Family Garden, the okra itself served as the initial support for the beans; after which a tripod support made with cut branches was added. Hops twined around the wattle fence under the exhibit banner. The resulting summer growth has created an exuberant garden featuring the following varieties:

Maturing Sesame: Bene, Sesamum indicum


  • Okra: Cow’s Horn Okra, Hibiscus esculentus
  • Sesame: Bene, Sesamum indicum
  • Strawberry: Alpine strawberry, Fragaria vesca            
  • Chile pepper: Fish PepperCapsicum annuum ‘Fish’
  • Tomato: Lycopersicon var. Lycopersicon
  • Hops: Humulus lupulus ‘Cascade’

    Fish Pepper, Capsicum annuum ‘Fish’


  • Squash: Cymling or Pattypan squash, Cucurbita pepo variety                                     
  • Gherkin: West Indian Gherkin, Cucumis anguria
  • Legumes: Whippoorwill Cowpea or Crowder Pea, Vigna unguiculata ‘Whippoorwill’
  • Potato Pumpkin: Tennessee Sweet Potato Pumpkin, Cucurbita moschata

Discovering, Growing and Tasting History

The histories behind the various summer crops are significant.  In the account book of Jefferson’s granddaughter, young Anne Cary Randolph, cymlings, or “simelines” were recorded as one of the top vegetable purchases from the enslaved community, along with cabbages, cucumbers and melons.

Sweet potato pumpkins were popular among African American families and were adopted in local cuisine.  A cookbook of the era, Mary Randolph’s The Virginia Housewife, suggests pureeing them or baking them whole with meat stuffing.  Okra and sesame are crops that come from the African tradition while the West Indian gherkin was used for pickling. The tomatoes, peppers and hops are varieties developed more recently, but approximate what may have been available when the Gillettes planted their garden.

Whippoorwill Cowpea or Crowder Pea, Vigna unguiculata ‘Whippoorwill’

Smithsonian Gardens provided a display of summer produce, including peppers, crowder peas and okra, for the second iteration of The Jefferson Table and Gillette Family Garden program at the USDA Farmer’s Market on September 21.  In this program, Dr. Sorensen returned to teach audiences how to make a vegetable stew. The crowder peas mentioned in her recipe were harvested as dry beans; they can easily be saved for future plantings.  One of the most impressive crops to display was the sesame, which produced dozens of pods of tightly arranged seeds per stem. The event successfully connected audiences with the families of Monticello and the food they grew.

We encourage visitors to come and see the Gillette Family Garden at the southwest corner of the Heirloom Garden terrace at the National Museum of American History through October 14, 2012. While you’re there, be sure to view the ongoing progress on the National Museum of African American History and Culture. We have enjoyed a bountiful season and invite visitors to grow these heirloom plants and share the stories behind them.

Joe Brunetti and Erin Clark
Smithsonian Gardens


A Vegetable Stew from the Late Summer Bounty

Recipe by Leni Sorensen, PhD              

The ingredients for this stew are based on what is known about the bounty of the gardens of the slave community at Monticello.  All across the south thousands of ‘the small plots allowed them,’ as one 18th century observer called the slave gardens he saw, would have been tucked in beside cabins or hidden in woodland openings.  Each region would have had its particular varieties of potatoes, squashes, and leafy crops.

However the 19th century cook would have always used rendered fat and cracklins from salt pork to begin the stew.  Salt pork was the ubiquitous meat and fat source available to enslaved communities and throughout the south.  It added rich flavor and salt and a modest bit of protein.  If you want you could brown up and crumble some nice bacon instead.  

I’m going to assume you have access to fresh vegetables grown without pesticides so I don’t call for peeling the potatoes.  Notice that I don’t give quantities; this style of cookery does not come from a book instead it relied on the eye of the cook to judge how many mouths she needed to feed and how much her harvest basket held on any given day.  You can’t go far wrong.

Vegetable oil
Onion – chopped medium fine
Garlic – chopped
Crowder or pigeon peas (often called field peas) soaked overnight and simmered till tender
White potato (wash well and leave the skins on when you cut them up)
Sweet potato squash (peeled and cubed – save the seeds for someone’s backyard hens)
Tomato (you could blanch and peel but it is not necessary.  Just cut in thick slices and cut the slices in chunks with their juices)
Greens (collards or kale, washed well and after cutting out the thick stems, cut the leaves in ribbons)
Water, vegetable broth, or chicken stock

In a cast iron or other heavy bottomed pot with a lid; sauté the onion and garlic in the oil till soft, add all the remaining ingredients except the patty pan squash.  Just barely cover with water (or the broth or stock); cover and simmer on medium for 30 min or so. Add the Patty Pan squash (cymlin), sliced and cubed, when the potatoes are tender. Continue to simmer for another 15 min or so.  Check for salt, add pepper if you like. Serve with fresh cornbread.

September 28, 2012 at 9:12 am Leave a comment

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 322 other followers

Visit our Website!

Recent Posts

April 2021

%d bloggers like this: