Posts tagged ‘plants’
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 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.
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.
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
The heyday of arctic exploration during the late 19th and early 20th centuries represents a significant period in our national history and helped to shape our identity as Americans. While a series of expeditions marked a time of scientific advancement, a deep sense of international competition also fueled the age. Many attempts to push further north resulted in shipwreck and disaster. However, many more of these missions would have failed if it were not for a handful of plants that played an important role in saving them.
The Polaris Expedition of 1871 faced ruin after adverse weather conditions and the sudden death of the captain, Charles Francis Hall, left nineteen crew members stranded on a drifting ice floe. Fortunately for the sailors, their late captain’s foresight gave them a fighting chance. For six months they floated through the Arctic, surviving on a ration of biscuits, chocolate, and pemmican—a mixture of dried meat, animal fat, and berries. Pemmican was a traditional American Indian food renowned for its nutritional content and ability to last without refrigeration. The dish was high in protein, and its berries (usually Saskatoon Serviceberry Amelanchier alnifolia or chokecherries Prunus virginiana) provided necessary vitamins and flavor. Captain Hall, a seasoned explorer, prudently equipped each of his expeditions with a large stock of pemmican. Even though Hall did not survive the journey (and was possibly murdered by his own crew), his pemmican sustained the men of Polaris until they were rescued.
Pemmican is still used today! Its high-energy value has made it a go-to food for backpackers, hikers, and survivalists. Do you have a pemmican recipe to share?
The 1881 Lady Franklin Bay Expedition was led by Adolphus Greely—a man with no arctic experience. After multiple failed resupply missions, Greely and his crew waited three years for rescue as their food stores dwindled. The crew survived on foraged material, including moss (Polytrichum sp.) and lichens—some of the only things able to grow in the severe environment in which they were stranded. Though starvation seemed certain, this plant enabled Greely and five of his crew to return home. Greely and his men were not the only explorers to dine on moss. The moss specimen in the National Museum of American History collection was obtained from Bennett Island, Russia by the crew of the doomed Jeanette Expedition during their attempt to reach the North Pole from the Bering Sea.
In 1908, seasoned explorer Robert E. Peary began his final expedition to the Arctic. Peary’s lifelong obsession paid off, and he became the first man to reach the North Pole. Though recent historians believe he fell a few miles short of the actual pole, Peary’s feat marked a great success for America during the height of arctic exploration. Peary’s team required highly nutritional food that could also remain fresh for months on end. Among the supplies, Peary brought 608 pounds of dried plums, better known as prunes (Prunus domestica). Prunes provided an excellent source of fiber for the crew, ran little risk of spoiling, and added a sweet relief to a monotonous diet of meats and fats. Peary and his men returned from the expedition the following year, successful in their goal.
– Brett McNish, Supervisory Horticulturist and Sara Kuhn, Smithsonian Gardens Intern
I had the opportunity to travel to Columbus, Ohio, last July to attend Cultivate ’14. This annual conference is held for people from all aspects of the horticulture industry, including growers, retailers, landscapers, interior plantscapers, floral designers, and educators. With educational sessions, the largest horticultural trade show in North America, wonderful tours to attend, and over 10,000 attendees, there was so much to see and learn while I was there.
As part of the conference, I was fortunate to be able to visit the Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens in Columbus. I have always been fond of conservatories and greenhouses, and this one did not disappoint! The conservatory itself, comprised of 8,300 sq. ft. of glass roof space, first opened its doors to the public in 1895 to show off its collection of palms.
One aspect that really drew me in to all of the beautiful plant displays there were the Dale Chihuly glass pieces that were exhibited throughout the conservatory. I learned that Chihuly’s artwork was first displayed in the conservatory in 2003. Because of a marked increase in attendance, the Friends of the Conservatory decided to purchase many of those glass pieces so that they could be shown permanently. There is something about the way the beautiful glass, with its electric colors, reflects the sun in such a gorgeous setting. It warms me from the inside out.
That really got me thinking about how important art is in the garden: bringing these two elements together to draw in people to see the gardens. It is a way for gardeners and plant lovers to come to such a lovely, natural setting to appreciate art. It is equally as valuable to bring lovers of art into a garden setting, which is beautiful and imperfect—quite a different setting to display artwork than the stark white walls that we often see in a gallery—and enable them to appreciate the artwork in a more natural setting. The synergy created by placing these two components of artwork and gardens in the same space makes the combination of the two work that much more effectively together than they would on their own.
We at Smithsonian Gardens are so fortunate to have such a beautiful backdrop in which to display our plants. The museums themselves are works of art, inside and out. We have entire gardens that are dedicated to displaying artwork (such as the Hirshhorn’s Sculpture Garden), and others that are gardens, first and foremost, that also display artwork (the Haupt Garden, American Indian Museum, and Natural History Museum, to name a few).
I work primarily with plants used in interior spaces, and while I can’t necessarily work with “gardens” and artwork, the plants I grow and care for in the Smithsonian greenhouses are used inside the museums where even more pieces of art are displayed. The trip to Franklin Park Conservatory has inspired me to think more creatively about the plants I grow, and to consider new ways in which the plants can be arranged to complement the artwork they will be placed around, or even the space in which the plants will be displayed.
The next time you visit a space that displays horticulture and art, take the time to appreciate how much more you get out of your experience by having both plants and artwork working together.
– Shannon Hill, Greenhouse Horticulturist
They all go to Cultivate ’14 in Columbus, Ohio in July.
I had the wonderful experience of attending Cultivate ’14 in Columbus, Ohio July 12 – 15, 2014. Formally known as the Ohio Short Course, the symposium is one of the largest events in North America. The show is attended by over 9,000 garden retailers, greenhouse growers, landscapers, interior designers, educators, researchers, and many other professionals involved in the green industry.
Top notch educators and speakers are invited to speak on over 140 topics about pest control, new plant varieties, growing techniques, interior design, and green walls. Attendees have the flexibility to attend as many of the seminars as they can. Attending these seminars is a great way to get new ideas on growing techniques, identifying common diseases and insects that may attack greenhouse crops, and even proper techniques on using yellow, sticky insect trap cards.
The trade show is the one of the largest around. I was able to walk around at my leisure and see all of the new and innovative products that are available or will be made available to our industry in the future. The trade show is also a great time to network with sales representatives that I talk to sometimes on a weekly basis. I also establish new relationships with salespeople trying to sell the newest and brightest products in the industry. Personally, the trade show is a wonderful opportunity to “hook up” with former coworkers and sales representatives I have known for over twenty years.
One of the highlights of the show is getting to see many of the new plant varieties and introductions. There are hundreds of new and exciting plants and colors at the show. Aisle after aisle of annuals and perennials line the lobby at the convention center. Many of these new varieties can be seen in the fabulous displays all throughout the show. I gain a ton inspiration when looking at the wonderful new selections and then enjoy bringing all of my inspiration back to share with my coworkers at Smithsonian Gardens.
Another wonderful highlight of the trip is the bus tour to greenhouse operations in the Ohio area. I was able to tour two family owned production/retail facilities. Going on the tours allows me to see what other growers are doing and taking a peek at their innovative ways of producing large quantities of high quality plant material to be sold to retail garden centers. The bus trips also establish relationships with other people in the industry. Conversations are started and soon everyone on the bus seems to know one another. Information and ideas are exchanged while spending most of the day on the bus. These people on the bus come from all over the country. My bus had people that came all the way from Canada and Hawaii!
The really fun part of the trip to Cultivate ’14 was the visit to the Franklin Park Conservatory a couple of miles outside the city limits. Their display of Chihuly glass (more than 3,000 pieces in the permanent collection) was awesome! The plants displays were amazing as well. Highlights of the conservatory included a palm house, a rain forest, a butterfly house, lots of amazing bonsai, and a gift shop and café.
Attending Cultivate is always a wonderful experience. The event is truly a great opportunity to become motivated and inspired by all of the beauty and knowledge the show brings to the green industry and to me.
–Jill Gonzalez, Smithsonian Gardens Horticulturist
BOO! In honor of Halloween, we are celebrating another #SpookyPlantsWeek. Here’s our round-up of the weird, creepy, gross, scary, and wonderful plants that we featured on Facebook this week. All can be found growing in our gardens at the Smithsonian museums or in our greenhouses in Maryland.
This monocarpic, herbaceous banana is a wonderful specimen in any garden. Monocarpic describes plants that flower, set seed, and then die. Ensete superbum, or cliff banana, is native to India and has a conical pseudo-stem made up of overlapping leaf sheaths. Its bright green leaves, reaching six feet in length, drop during winter. The plant may reach ten to twelve feet while blooming. The inflorescence (or flower head) is a curved terminal spike with triangular oblong fruits and reddish brown bracts that persist for some time to add ornamental value. This banana, unlike many others, does not produce suckers and only reproduces by seed. In some extraordinary cases, plants in the wild can go into a three to four year dormancy period.
This rare plant in now on display in the Enid A. Haupt Garden. You can see it for a limited time just inside the west entrance to the garden, close to the entrance to the S. Dillon Ripley Center.
-Matt Fleming, Smithsonian Gardens horticulturist
It’s April Fool’s Day! You know what that means . . . Don’t worry, we don’t have any tricks up our sleeves today. We’re going to let the plants pull all the pranks. We asked Smithsonian Gardens horticulturists to think of a few of their favorite plants that deceive and mislead both pollinators and gardeners alike. (Yes, we are anthropomorphizing here; guilty as charged!)
Tom Mirenda, Smithsonian Gardens orchid specialist and horticulturist, had many suggestions! Orchids are masters of trickery and deception.