New York Botanical Garden is growing bountifully with springtime beauty. We are not able to appreciate it live and in our mortal flesh at this time because of the ferocious virulence and communicability of Covid 19. The Garden is temporarily closed as all non essential services in New York City are doing to practice social responsibility and save lives.
However, the Garden is online and broadcasting via virtual platforms. For the springtime beauty of the magnolias, CLICK HERE.
Jeff Leatham’s Kaleidoscope, The 18th Annual Orchid Show at the NYBG is also presenting a pre-recorded tour given by Marc Hachadourian, head orchid curator and orchid expert at the Garden. The tour features each of the galleries and Jeff Leatham’s vision of the wild colors manifest in a kaleidoscope employing his superb horticultural artistry and brilliant design. For Marc’s virtual tour, CLICK HERE. And for my review of the show with photographs taken in February, CLICK HERE.
Whenever I become nervous or stressed at night, contemplating the news of what is happening in New York City and globally, I do one of two things to calm down since jokes are not seeming to help at this time. I go to Youtube and watch Governor Andrew Cuomo with his brother Chris (pray for Chris, he tested positive for Covid 19) as they kid around and take loving jabs at each other with rapier wit and gentle insults.
Playing back Governor Cuomo’s daily record of the state’s progress to save lives as together we take on the responsibility to extirpate this plague from the planet, I feel emotionally calmer. I swear his father’s spiritual presence is there strengthening him for this incredible challenge to lead the nation as THE go-to governor in the forefront as New York is in the forefront of this virus with the most cases to date. It is Cuomo’s calm, commanding truthfulness as he uplifts the values of love and the sanctity of life that makes a tremendous difference to me as I shelter in place. During this historic time his stolid example and his stories of his family and the interplay with his brother have helped me reaffirm, even relearn the treasure of my own life and the preciousness of friends and family.
Secondly, I take Marc’s tour to witness the beauty of the Garden and orchids which I adore. I reviewed Jeff Leatham’s work on this blog when it opened in February. Then, the orchid placement was different in some of the galleries. In the Desert gallery I am happy to see that the poppies are blooming which they were not earlier in the year. After I watch Marc’s tour I have decompressed. I am ready to fall asleep as the beauty of the orchids, Jeff’s horticultural artistry and Marc’s soothing voice restore me to an inner state of peace.
Also, the Garden is sharing one of its most memorable live performances in a Facebook Watch Party on Wednesday, April 1, beginning at 1 p.m. EDT. Chorus of the Forest, a site-specific work by composer Angélica Negrón, premiered last November in NYBG’s 50-acre Thain Family Forest, the largest remaining tract of old-growth forest in New York City.
Weaving together choral performances, robotic and percussive electronic instruments, and live and recorded forest sounds, this immersive, specially commissioned work was performed along a half-mile of trails. This choral and instrumental experience was created to explore humanity’s relationship with the forest and our connections–and disconnections–with nature.
Negrón, a Puerto Rican-born multi-instrumentalist who was NYBG’s 2019 Composer-in-Residence, will join the Facebook Watch Party for a live chat during the screening to discuss this ambitious project and answer viewers’ questions.
Take a break from the news when you can and enjoy the Watchbook Party by CLICKING ON THE LINK BELOW.
The doldrums of winter signify their passing with the arrival of the annual NYBG Orchid Show, whose splendid displays of orchids bring their cheer, and lift our spirits. For this 17th year of The Orchid Show: Singapore, the Garden selected an appropriate theme to go along with its year long festival of #plantlove by celebrating a city which prizes the creation of green spaces so that its populace can commune with nature, meditate and spiritually regenerate surrounded by wondrous botanical beauty.
Singapore is a city-state at the tip of the Malay peninsula between Malaysia and Indonesia in Southeast Asia. It comprises one main island and dozens of tiny ones in an area around the size of New York City. It is a nation whose forward-thinking ideas and ambition for speed-of-light progress moved it from a third-world country to first world status in one generation, thanks to its brilliant Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew. The Prime Minister conceived of his island nation and its multicultural population as a lush urban oasis. He realized his dream with greening projects and innovations that included nature preserves, glorious parks, and spaces and places for the populace to relax in natural environs.
From this burgeoning vision, the nation has made it an imperative to recognize the importance of plants, nature and tropical gardens so that the city has become a veritable “City in a Garden.” Every new building, every new development must include plants and green places by law. Over the years Singapore has remained true to Prime Minister Yew’s conception so that today, it is recognized as the city with the greatest percentage of tree canopy cover anywhere in the world. And how it creates this tree canopy is absolutely gobsmacking. The orchids make it especially so..
Singapore has one of the greatest and oldest orchid cultures in the world and is home to 220 distinct orchid species. The only nation that doesn’t have a wild plant species as the national flower, Singapore’s national flower is a hybrid orchid indicating how important hybrids are to their culture and economy.
The hybrid Vanda Miss Joaquim which produces striking purple-pink and flame-orange blooms throughout the year is named for its creator Agnes Joaquim (1854-1899) who was a member of Singapore’s small American community. Agnes Joaquim entered her orchid in Singapore’s annual Flower Show in 1899 which garnered a first prize as the rarest orchid. Subsequently, in 1981, Miss Joaquim was selected to represent Singapore as the national flower. Their choice of a hybrid honors the storied history of Singapore’s venerable orchid cultivation, and the multicultural and religious blend of its citizens.
Cultivators enjoy creating new orchid hybrids the total of which now numbers in the many thousands globally. Horticulturists have hybridized orchids in Singapore since the 19th century because the species naturally flourishes in the wet, tropical climate. Visiting Singapore one notices the daily orchid pageant as gorgeous varieties cling to trees and populate the gardens, parks and greens spaces. Each year growers export millions of stalks for the international flower market
This historical attention to plants and the gradual veneration of orchids began in 1859 when a group of horticulturists and agriculturists established the Singapore Botanic Gardens. Botanists at the Gardens experimented with utilitarian plants like the rubber tree which became a vital agricultural crop turned into a product used in industrial manufacturing. They began their serious experimentation and cultivation of orchids in 1928, developing groundbreaking techniques for propagation which helped to establish Singapore’s prodigious orchid cultivation industry. The Botanic Gardens have propagated and developed more than 630 hybrids. The National Orchid Garden displays thousands of orchids. Many of them have been created there. Also, they display more than 1000 species from around the world.
Paying homage to Singapore’s appreciation and love of plants, the NYBG fashioned its floral spectacular with features represented in two botanical gardens in Singapore: Gardens by the Bay and Singapore Botanic Gardens. Walking down the familiar paths in the NYBG Palms of the World Gallery and Reflecting Pool, to reach the Central Rotunda at the opposite end of the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, one sees a panoply of orchids festooning simulations of the architectural elements found in Singapore’s famed gardens which the NYBG developed in partnership with them to create The Orchid Show: Singapore.
The Gardens by the Bay is a 250 acre public space in Singapore’s downtown area which opened in 2012 and is Singapore’s largest tourist attraction. The acreage comprises multiple gardens, futuristic glasshouses and a grove of Supertrees, Singapore’s paean to art, nature and technology. These Supertrees exemplify biomimicry in their design and engineering, modeled after natural forms and processes. The NYBG was inspired to create its own dynamic trees in celebration of Singapore’s amazing artistic/technological/horticultural sculptures, whose towering, 160 feet tall vertical gardens are unlike any other structure in the world. They are unparalleled for their utility and purpose which is to mimic the functions of trees using modern technology.
Cascading ribbons of rainbow colors of,Vandas, Oncidiums, Phalaenopsis, Dendrobiums and other plant varieties flow down from these massive, tree giants that are embedded with photovoltaic cells that harvest solar energy. Their wide canopies provide shade and a habitat for epiphytes like orchids and other plants which grow on trees high in the air rather than in soil. Supertrees collect and distribute rainwater and are fitted with solar panels that sustainably power dramatic light displays as real trees harvest the sun’s energy for photosynthesis. These Supertrees especially showcase that Singapore’s heart is in the right place with environmentally sustainable horticulture.
Two gorgeous Supertree models are in The Orchid Show: Singapore, at either end of the conservatory. In the central showcase of the Rotunda, you will see fabulous orchid theater: every shape, color and major species of orchid hybrid reaches upward toward the lattice dome of the greenhouse in a breathtaking tower. The second marvelous Supertree replica is in the Palms of the World Gallery and Reflecting Pool. Look into the waters of the pool to see the mirror of the tall tree massed with white orchids which are interspersed with lovely fillers of ferns and colorful bromeliads. The NYBG’s eye popping orchid architectures are 18 feet tall and symbolize Singapore’s incredible structures found throughout the “City in a Garden” and featured spectacularly in the Supertree grove of The Gardens by the Bay.
The other architectural element you will find in The Orchid Show: Singapore is inspired by the magnificent Arches of Singapore Botanic Gardens’ National Orchid Garden. In Singapore, the arches are radiantly festooned in the stunning yellow Singapore dancing lady hybrid (Oncidium Gloldiana). And these grow grow year-round. The replication of this design feature in the NYBG walkway stuns. On first glance in the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory sauntering on the path to either Supertree Showcase, one understands immediately why the NYBG was inspired to include both architectural elements from Singapore in this year’s orchid show.
Following the passage from one Supertree to the other, you will move through five glorious arches clothed with hundreds of vibrant fuschias, blues, yellows, pinks, purples, golds of the various Vandas, Oncidiums, Phalaenopsis, Dendrobiums. The sheer number and abundance create breathtaking bowers along a stirring fantastical path which enthralls BECAUSE it is treasured living botanical art. The archway’s profusion of exotic, shimmering beauty and the effects of the flowing Spanish moss, dangling blooms and beckoning orchid faces recall a pleasure garden paradise.
If one can’t be a snowbird in February, then happily visit the NYBG a number of times in the next months until 28th of April to luxuriate in the tropics and allow your senses to revel in the exotic sights, smells and music, especially during Orchid Evenings (March 16, 23, 30; April 5, 6, 12, 13, 19, 20, 26 and 27 from 7-10 pm with entry times at 7, 7:30 and 8:00 pm.)
Kudos to Marc Hachadourian (The curator of NYBG’s Orchid Show: Singapore, Director of the Nolen Greenhouses for Living Collections and a staunch CITES advocate to preserve rare orchids and rescue them at NYBG) who oversees the orchid collections for the show.
And equal praise goes Christian Primeau (Manager of the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory). Christian Primeau a few years ago mentioned that he likes the Paphiopedilums (Lady’s Slippers) and I noted their placement in key areas featured on rocks near reflecting pools, recalling their natural habitats. Marc and Christian collaborate to come up with the orchid selections to display most effectively in the architectural elements so that the exhibits will remain fresh and gorgeous. They and the entire staff work assiduously to get the show up and running after the Holiday Train Show is struck. The beds must be graded and prepared for the orchid plantings. Then comes the staff to complete the design and color coordinated exhibits in keeping with the current show’s theme. And having spoken to each of these experts over the years (see my previous posts on Blogcritics and Youtube) their #plantlove obviously has manifested in this extraordinary exhibit.
As has Karen Daubmann’s #plantlove (Associate Vice-President for Exhibitions and Public Engagement). Her extensive collaboration with Gardens by the Bay and Singapore Botanic Gardens to help make The Orchid Show: Singapore a success is apparent from the moment you enter the Palms of the World Gallery and Reflecting Pool. Karen mentioned that she had spent a bit of time in Singapore and attested to its forward innovations and emphasis in recognition of the vitality of plants, orchids, flowers everywhere you go in the “City in a Garden.”
A few last points follow here about the NYBG Orchid Show: Singapore. Along your journey through the various galleries of the conservatory, make sure to watch out for the sign indicating the Vanilla Orchid. Yes, vanilla comes from an orchid. And stop by to view the amazing variety of rare orchids (delicate, lovely) in their glass case which houses some of the Garden’s rescued orchids. Since 1990 the Garden has been a designated CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) Plant Rescue Center.
The Garden preserves and rehabilitates orchids that have been rescued from poachers around the world (Brazil, Thailand, Peru, India, etc.) who exploit rare orchids from their native habitats and sell them. Because such rare orchids can bring a substantial price for the right buyer, poachers are constantly on the lookout, especially if they have an unethical collector at the ready. Coupled with their low growth densities in the wild and other threats to the species (deforestation, habitat destruction, climate change) wild orchids are among the most endangered plants in the world.
Words cannot easily define the wonder and hope that has been realized from Yew’s dream of an oasis. It is that wonder which now resides until April 28th at the New York Botanical Garden. That the Garden has extolled Yew’s vision of “The City in a Garden” vision and honored it this year with The Orchid Show: Singapore cannot be underestimated nor underappreciated. It must be understood for its symbolism, especially now that many of the institutions that have been created to preserve and protect our nation and its environs, parks, preserves, green spaces are being threatened by those in power obsessed with a different form of greenery. Though most Americans are abjectly opposed to the rapacity for the accumulation of profits in industries that are unsustainable and run counter to our planet’s well being, De-regulation in the wrong direction is happening in the US.
In light of this potential threat and the threat of Global Warming, Singapore shines an incredible light of hope in innovation, and faith that where “there’s a will, there’s a way” to create sustainable, fabulous green spaces to uplift and regenerate the citizens of a nation. Thanks to the NYBG, its scientists, botanists, researchers, horticulturists, staff and volunteers, all #plantlovers who constantly remind us of what we must not lose, the beauty of our planet whose flora and fauna are sacred and integral to ourselves.
The Orchid Show: Singapore has excellent activities that reflect the culture of Singapore in its music and dance during the daytime and especially during Orchid Evenings. Again, there will be the Bronx Night Market Pop-up featuring Barbecue, Vegan, Fried Chicken, Empanadas and other offerings to enjoy while listening to DJ’s perform and watching dancers freestyle. And if you are sick and tired of killing your orchids because you over-water them, you need to attend a few “Orchid Care Demonstrations” in the Conservatory’s GreenSchool on a Saturday or Sunday between 2:30-3:30 pm. Let an expert help you save your plants.
The Orchid Show: Singapore runs until 28th of April. For select programming, membership, children’s activities and more CLICK HERE.
For those of you who have visited Japan in the fall, you are familiar with kiku and will most probably have fond memories of kiku that you saw in amazing displays wherever you may have walked around Tokyo or other cities in the country. Kiku is the Japanese word for “chrysanthemum.” It is the most venerated of all Japanese fall flowering plants, not only for its beauty, but also for its medicinal qualities and ancient cultural tradition.
What is most amazing is how the Japanese for centuries have maintained what is now becoming the dying art of training and shaping liku into the most incredible designs. It is becoming a dying art because the process of training the growing, fragile Kiku into such lovely shapes requires great skill and is tremendously labor intensive. One false move, one mistake and the entire display may be ruined. Kiku are “no joke.” And it is for that reason they are celebrated in Japan as part of the traditional Japanese custom of enjoying the ephemeral beauty of flowers, known as hanami.
Kiku presentations in conceptualization and philosophy are perhaps one of the most fleeting flower arrangements of all. The displays cannot be preserved beyond a few weeks. They are original. They are easily damaged and during the process of the pruning and training, they are incredibly fragile. Considering that it takes 11 months to grow, train and shape kiku into a cascade design, for example, for 11 months of labor, one receives, if one is careful, two to three weeks of beauty that vanishes as if it never lived at all. It is that impermanence of life that is so captivating a reminder for us to appreciate all that is beautiful for a season, until it withers. The irony is that kiku cannot even regrow their shapes. So, the artistry required to get them to their state of loveliness is truly exceptional
Indeed, one wonders why, in our fast paced digital age, anyone cares about pinching the buds off some flowers to effect beauty. Precisely. When one understands the process and the effort, one appreciates their pageantry. Besides, like all craft and artistry, if it can be preserved, we stay connected with our historical past and the past of other countries and their cultures. In our blink-and-it’s gone current cultural oppression of time, kiku are at once given to us from the ancients and are made modern by having those who care bring the art into the 21st century.
The NYBG has taken on the laborious craft in order to insure that the art will continue to be enjoyed by visitors from Japan as well as those who are familiar with the fall chrysanthemums, but are unfamiliar with the ability of the plants to be trained and designed into magnificent trees, cascades, bridges and more. Each year the NYBG has its kiku exhibit in the fall, pioneered by the chrysanthemum masters at the Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden in Tokyo who educated Yukie Kurashina. Yukie has trained others like James Harkins in the fine art of floral theater. And under the supervision of Marc Hachadourian, Director of the Nolan Greenhouses for Living Collections, James (foreman of gardeners) and kiku expert Yukie with scores of volunteers have made the kiku exhibit at the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory into a place of refuge mirroring the past and merging it with the present.
During the exhibit Kiku: The Art of the Japanese Garden, you will see three traditional kiku styles:
- Ozukuri which means thousand bloom. A single stem of a chrysanthemum plant is trained to produce hundreds of simultaneous blossoms in a massive umbrella-shaped display.
- Kengai which means cascade. Small-flowered chrysanthemums are pruned and pinched to frameworks that flow downward like waterfalls for lengths up to six and one-half feet.
- Ogiku which means double and triple stem. These are enormous individual flowers presented at the end of stems that can reach up to six feet tall.
Kiku: The Art of the Japanese Garden is running from October 8 through October 30. For the full programming schedule that follows this exhibit, click HERE for the NYBG website.
Phalaenopsis orchids, the most ubiquitous of flowers, hardly garner a second glance when we stroll by the myriad colored hybrids that adorn restaurants, homes, offices, and flower sections of grocery stores.
However, in 19th century Victorian England, if you had orchids in your parlour, you were most probably a member of the upper class. Orchids were a costly rarity, and for much of the 19th century, these plant gems remained in the domain of aristocrats, whose adoration of spectacular orchid originals epitomized the genteel display of power, status, and luxury.
In celebration of those passionate Victorians whose obsessions spawned perilous journeys and whose collectors’ cultivations helped to transform the field of plant research, propagation, and conservation, this year’s theme of the NYBG Orchid Show, is “Orchidelirium.” Representative of all that is exceptional and dynamic about this monumental flowering plant family Orchidaceae (over 30,000 naturally occurring species from tiny to large, with over 150,000 man-made hybrids), NYBG “Orchidelirium” in its intense visual design and intriguing tour layout circumscribes the trending mania that burst onto the scene in Victorian England. The exhibition highlights the finest and most innovative creative impulses of the time and recalls some of the most nefarious of human activity before profiteering, exploitation, and habitat destruction became the anathema they are today.
Marc Hachadourian (NYBG orchid curator) holding the beloved Psychopsis papilio that whetted the Duke of Devonshire’s obsession for more rare beauties. Photo: Carole Di Tosti
Close up of the Psychopsis papilio that started orchid mania and determined the British Duke of Devonshire to amass the largest private orchid collection in the world at his Chatsworth House estate in Derbyshire which you can visit today. Photo Carole Di Tosti
The Duke’s head gardener Joseph Paxton revolutionized greenhouse design and orchid cultivation for the Duke whose expanding collection (eventually his greenhouses were over an acre under glass), inspired his wealthy friends to also display their unrivaled orchid prizes. Soon hundreds of adventurers were commissioned to travel on the high seas and bring back all the obscure, unparalleled beauties they could find. In 10 years the Duke possessed the largest private orchid collection in the world centered at his Chatsworth House estate. The grandiloquent gardens, greenhouses, and impressive buildings in Derbyshire, which recall the wealth and splendiferous grounds of Mr. Darcy’s estate in Pride and Prejudice, are worth the visit if you are traveling to the UK.
Fragrant Dancing Ladies Orchid, Oncidium, Rosy Sunset ‘F’ NYBG Orchidelirium. The oncidium orchids carry a lovely fragrance of roses or chocolate. Photo: Carole Di Tosti
Our love of orchids has been tempered with an ethical imperative about conservation and preservation of habitats that was absent back in the time of the exploitative, predatory Victorians. Throughout, this prodigious show highlights the extent of the Victorians’ often piratical obsession, not only through its exquisite, floral pageantry but by showcasing the historical artifacts, books, pictures, narratives that adorn the pathways where the lusciously fragrant Oncidium Rosy Sunset ‘F’ orchids dance (they smell like chocolate), and the Miltoniopsis Herralexandre (pansy orchids) charm with their smiling faces that bloom with scintillating color. The narrative discloses “movers and shakers like Benedikt Roezl, the “Prince of Orchid Hunters,” who was the most famous and successful orchid collector of the era.
The exhibition is breathtaking in its conceptualization, scope, design, and presentation. It is partly conceived as an expeditionary journey that snakes through the greenhouse galleries and suggests the diversified habitats that recall the various continents spanning rain forests, mountains, and deserts (orchids live in all continents with the exception of Antarctica), where orchids luxuriate. One first enters the conservatory’s Palms of the World Gallery Reflecting Pool and is struck by the explosion of whites, fuscias, variegated roses, pinks, and maroons of reigning Phalaenopsis which cascade dripping Spanish moss from elevated dispositions in the trees. The featured display symbolizes how far orchid cultivation has come from hunters poaching species in the wild to the massive hybridization and cultivation of
Around each turn is the unusual, like the vanilla orchid whose pods are not beans and which is the only orchid of natural economic value from which we derive all our vanilla flavoring. According to Marc Hachadourian who walked with us along the orchid trail, the vanilla seed pod of the orchid is what is taken, dried and cured and as a result of that curing process or fermentation, that’s where natural vanilla comes from. So the Madagascar and Tahitian vanilla which is the real vanilla extract, comes from the seed pod of an orchid. Marc referred to the black flecs in Vanilla Haagen dazs ice cream which are from the vanilla orchid seed pod. “You see, you’ve been eating orchids your entire life and didn’t know it.”
As we move along the trail, Marc informs us of the tremendous diversity of orchids which are highly adaptable to all terrains and climates and are the reason why researchers use them in their plant studies. Along the pathway through the galleries that mimic the various terrains where orchids grow, you will encounter the desert orchid Eulophia Petersii.
The 13th Annual Orchid Show: Chandeliers is currently running until April 19th at the New York Botanical Garden. The show is amazingly beautiful and a much-needed encouragement during what sometimes seems like an eternity of winter. During my wondrous visit relaxing amongst the gorgeous blooms, I spoke to Marc Hachadourian, Director of the Nolen Greenhouses for Living Collections.
Marc is a fount of information about the orchids. His title belies his down-to-earth nature and sunny personality. I can understand his joy working around such vibrant, luxurious plant life. A fellow photographer kept on remarking during our visit that the Garden is a great place to decompress and rewind from frenetic city life. It’s another world at the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, and Marc’s job is to make sure that all the orchids in the Garden’s permanent collection are as happy with their living conditions as possible. He is also responsible for curating the hybrids brought in and grown for the Orchid Show.
Marc Hachadourian, you’re the resident orchid expert here supervising the care of the botanical collections including the extensive orchid collection and exhibition plants in the Nolen Greenhouses.
Yes. I’m the curator of orchids at the NYBG.
I know you love orchids from what you told me when I spoke with you last year. Orchids festoon your home where you have a great variety and number of orchids. And you are probably way more successful at keeping and caring for orchids than I am.
In addition to caring for the Garden’s orchid collection, I do have my own personal orchid collection, so some of my friends joke that I need a recovery program for orchid addiction because I leave one orchid collection to take care of another. It is something that I absolutely love. I was joking with a friend that they are my greatest stress and stress relief at the same time. But it is something that I absolutely love. I have been growing orchids now for 30 years and they’ve become a part of my life, like my children. Some people become very attached to their pets. I’ve become very attached to my orchid plants. They don’t have names, though. [laughs] [I laugh]
OK. How old is your oldest orchid?
At the Garden or my personal collection?
Your personal collection.
Over 20 years old.
I know at the Garden that those beautiful orchids encased in glass – those rare orchids –
The miniatures are old.
Some of them aren’t. They range in age in our collection. But some of our oldest orchids in our permanent collection…are not on display because they are not flowering at this time of year, but we actually have plants in our botanical collections here at the Garden that are over 100 years old. People assume that a 100-year-old orchid must be the size of a house, but in reality, some of the plants may be miniature, so you may be able to hold a 100 years of orchid growth in your hands.
So it’s something that we have a long historic orchid collection here at the NYBG. In fact we have one of the best orchid collections of any institution. There are about 7,000 specimens in our permanent orchid collection. We have all different sizes and different types. You had mentioned the miniature orchid which we have on display in the conservatory where we pull out a lot of the really interesting and unusual botanical plants from our collection, plants that you might walk by if they were put next to some of these really flashy hybrids.
But in reality there are some orchids in the glass case right now that in the palm of your hand in that miniature plant you can hold anywhere from 700 to 1,000 individual blooms on a single plant. Of course, the flowers are so tiny, they are no bigger than the head of a pin, but it is wonderful to hold a plant with that many beautiful flowers. They are from a range of geographic habitats, everywhere from Australia, Southeast Asia, South America, and a range of sizes [1/16 of an inch in diameter to giants more than 25 feet tall], colors, shapes. It’s one of the things that surprises people when they come to the Orchid Show. It’s not just the beauty of our displays, but the extreme diversity within one plant family, the orchid family.
These very rare miniatures – were they sent?
No these are part of our permanent collection that we grow in the back of the greenhouses and that we bring out when they flower.
Do you grow them by seed?
We grow them by division mostly. Sometimes, they will be sourced by specialist orchid nurseries and because we have not only a display collection but a noted research collection, one of my important jobs as the curator of the orchid collection is making sure that we have the proper diversity and a proper survey of the orchid family represented in our botanical collections, so researchers all over the world can come here and use our collections.
It is much like a living library of plants. So if you want to think of it as a library collection or an art collection, that fits. If you specialize in Impressionism, you want to make sure you have a few Monets and a few of this and a few of that. It’s the same thing with developing an institutional orchid collection.
It is much like a living library of plants. So if you want to think of it as a library collection or an art collection, that fits. If you specialize in Impressionism, you want to make sure you have a few Monets and a few of this and a few of that. It’s the same thing with developing an institutional orchid collection.
You want to make sure you have representative display, not only orchids from each country, but from each type of orchid that grows around the world. So we have one of the largest and one of the most widely represented orchid collections of any institution in the world.
The orchid family is the largest flowering plant family. There are over 30,000 naturally occurring species and now over 150,000 man-made hybrids. They’re found on every continent of the world except Antarctica and everywhere from deserts to swamps to tropical rain forests, even up to the Arctic tundra. So even places that you don’t usually associate with orchids normally have orchids. When you think of this family, you think of the tropics, the rainforest, but there are orchids native to Alaska. And there are even orchids growing within Manhattan itself. There are native species.
I don’t know if there are any Lady Slippers still growing in Manhattan, but there are Lady Slipper species growing throughout New York State.
Many of these native species, which are protected by law, can still be found, although rarely in the Tri-State area [New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut]. So these are a few details that you wouldn’t normally think about orchids.
Are there species that you think are still undiscovered or that you are trying to get a hold of that are very rare?
Absolutely. There are many rare orchid species. It is just a matter of patience before we are able to acquire some of those plants and add them
to our collection. Just like there are very few Vermeers in our world and everybody would like to have one as a part of their art collection, these rare plants are a bit more challenging to come by. But in our orchid collection, there are orchid species that are discovered every year. Dozens of species are newly described. People might go into an area they’ve never been before and find something new. Sometimes they are right under your nose. There are areas that are well traveled that have orchids. But you would have to have been there at exactly the right moment to see the orchid flower.
So it’s fascinating that every year there are so many new species described and discovered.
Some of these orchids, the rare ones, must be extremely valuable.
The value on some of these orchids to the obsessive collector wanting the rarest of the rare, the most unusual plant can create an exaggerated pricing.
Like the tulips? [we both laugh].
Yeah, almost like the tulip mania of the 15-16th centuries. But the value we place on our plants is not something financial. It’s conservation value, biological diversity value. For some of these plants it may be that they have a wonderful history or the orchid may be a rare hybrid. So for that, their value would be almost priceless for what they represent in the orchid family.
The loss of one? I know how I feel if I lose an orchid or one of my plants; I’m devastated.
Well, I’m sad. If it’s something beyond your control then you do get sad at those moments. But there are more successes than failures, so that makes up for it.
You must have read Susan Orlean’s book, The Orchid Thief?
I have to admit I never read the book. The reason why is that it is a somewhat fictionalized account about people that I know. So it’s kind of odd to read since it’s based on a series of actual events and I know some of the people involved. It almost kind of feels awkward to me. So it would be like if someone made a fictional tale about your life, you’d be reading it. But it’s a wonderful book and I’ve read parts of it. I never have read it in its entirety. Probably, the real key is having that free time to be able to read it. [we laugh]
Thanks so much for speaking to me. You are so knowledgeable, I enjoyed talking with you.
Enjoy the show.
Oh, one more question. You were going to check on how many orchids comprise the Orchid Show.
Mark confers with a colleague who says, “We always say thousands.”
One might die at any moment.
We are replacing plants throughout the show so the exact number is always changing. We know that at any one time there are thousands. Having anyone actually count them…?
No – it would be a dizzying effort.