Posts Tagged ‘Robert and Arlene Kogod Courtyard’

The Annual Smithsonian and Botanical Gardens Orchid Exhibit

On today’s lunchtime bike ride, I stayed with this past week’s “floral theme” (magnolias and cherry blossoms) and went to an exhibit of another kind of blooms.  Entitled “Orchids: Amazing Adaptations,” the temporary exhibit is the 24th annual orchid display, which is a joint collaboration between the Smithsonian Gardens and the United States Botanic Garden, and was hosted this year by the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the National Portrait Gallery (SAAM/NPG).  The orchids are on display in the glass-ceilinged Robert and Arlene Kogod Courtyard of the SAAM/NPG, located at 8th and F Streets (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Penn Quarter neighborhood.

To best appreciate Orchids: Amazing Adaptations, it is helpful to first know what makes an orchid an orchid.  Although they come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, and colors, they all share three basic features:  the number of petals; a distinctive middle petal, and; a column.  Orchids have three outer petals, known as sepals, and three inner petals. The sepals help protect the inner petals, which are often highly elaborate.  An orchid’s distinctive middle petal, known as its lip or labellum, is often large and complex. It is designed to attract pollinators and may look like a pouch or an insect.  And in most orchids, the male parts (stamens) and the female parts (style and stigma) are joined together in a single organ, known as a column. Located opposite the lip, this is where pollinators pick up and deposit pollen.

Orchids are masters at evolving to survive, and their ability to adapt to different habitats not only make these plants amazing, but has resulted in them being one of the most widespread and diverse plant families on earth.  There are more than 28,000 species of orchids and they can be found on every continent except Antarctica.  And this year’s Smithsonian orchid exhibit focuses on and explores how they have adapted to a myriad of different habitats, climate conditions, and other living organisms.

An orchid’s leaves, roots, and flowers provide clues about the habitat in which it lives and what pollinates it.  Orchids with thick, fleshy leaves tend to grow on other plants or rocks, and use their leaves to store food and water during dry times, while orchids with thin leaves tend to grow on the ground, where moisture is more plentiful.  Orchids with roots covered in a white coating tend to grow on other plants.  This coating, called velamen, acts like a sponge, helping soak up and store water and nutrients.  Orchids with long, thick, fleshy roots tend to live on the ground. They use their roots to store food in environments where the climate changes seasonally.  And finally, orchid flowers have adapted their shapes, smells, and colors to attract pollinators. Their symmetrical shape helps them attract specific pollinators and transfer pollen effectively.

These differences in their leaves, roots and flowers have enabled orchids to not only survive, but to thrive.  And the vast differences in appearance and aroma that have developed among different orchids in the process of adapting make them infinitely interesting.  Sadly, not all 28,000 species of orchids are included in the exhibit.  But the exhibit does have a stunning variety of hundreds of diverse orchids on display.  And with the magnolias gone, and the cherry blossoms past their peak, the orchid display makes for a picture-perfect completion of the past week’s “floral trifecta.”     

 

[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

NOTE:
The Smithsonian Garden and U.S. Botanic Garden’s 24th annual orchid exhibit runs through April 28, 2019, is open daily from 11:30am until 7:00pm, and is free to the public.

About Smithsonian Gardens:
Smithsonian Gardens has designed and managed the Smithsonian’s grounds and interior plant displays in D.C. since 1972.  Smithsonian Gardens enriches the Smithsonian experience through permanent garden displays, horticultural exhibits, collections and education.  The Smithsonian Gardens Orchid Collection, which was started in 1974, contains more than 8,000 hybrids and species.  And through the North American Orchid Conservation Center, based at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in Edgewater, Maryland, Smithsonian Gardens is dedicated to conserving America’s diverse orchid heritage.

About the U.S Botanic Garden:
The United States Botanic Garden is oldest botanic garden in North America. The Botanic Garden informs visitors about the importance and fundamental value and diversity of plants, as well as their aesthetic, cultural, economic, therapeutic and ecological significance. With over a million visitors annually, the Botanic Garden strives to demonstrate and promote sustainable practices. The U.S. Botanic Garden is actually a museum, a living plant museum, and is accredited by the American Alliance of Museums.