I have been craving the pungent odor of moist earth and the wet warmth of tropical air, so I took myself on a three-hour vacation to the Bronx, to see the New York Botanical Garden's spectacular orchid show. The visit bowled me over, so I am going to post in three parts: Orchid Show, Sculpture Show, and Hothouse Divas.
I cannot praise this year's orchid show highly enough--it is worth organizing a trip to New York around a visit to this National Landmark before April 22nd, when many of the orchids are given away. This display is perhaps my favorite ever, because it gives you a feel for the wild, lush, tangle of orchids in the wild. It is magical, every plant seems to be in motion; the displays allow the orchids to be mysterious and seductive--and garish, as only orchids know how to be.
I warn you now: I got caught in a flash of rain on my way back to the subway and my notebook got rather smeared and illegible, so the captioning will be scattered. I do recall that I got stuck in a little "rainbow orchid" moment here: Vanda, the Sanskrit name of this purply blue orchid, was found in the hills of northern India and sent to England in 1837, where it caused a sensation. Check out the twisty growth at the back of the blossom. Orchids are endlessly fascinating.
But I'll back up. You enter the Enid Haupt Conservatory, the largest Victorian-style glasshouse in the country--into a rain forest; rafts of orchids and ferns float in the large pool in the center.
Orchids are spilling off tree trunks and growing along branches. The garden was hit hard by Hurricane Sandy, and it lost nearly 300 specimen trees. Many branches and trunks were brought into the glasshouse for this display; what a marvelous way to honor the fallen.
As the garden notes: "Orchids represent the height of evolutionary success in the plant kingdom." There are more than 30,000 naturally occurring species and over 150,000 hybridized plants.
This year's exhibit was designed by Francisca Coelho, who is a Vice President for Glasshouses and Exhibitions at the garden. She began working there 30 years ago; her expertise is in tropical plants and aquatics. She clearly has the soul of a romantic, and she has brought out the painterly qualities of these plants. The way they draw light into their depths is breath-taking.
This one is just insanely provocative. xAliceara Tropic Tom.
And this one looks like an Edwardian dandy.
Darwin's Star Orchid, Angraecum, native to Madagascar, is tucked safely at the back of a path. It is perhaps the rarest orchid at the garden. Darwin studied the relationship between orchids and their pollinators and posited that there must be an insect with a proboscis long enough to reach the nectar at the base of this blossom's lengthy tube. Everyone laughed. And 40 years later a large, night-flying moth was discovered: the orchid's unique pollinator.
Orchids do not like to be fondled, they are sensitive and bruise easily and will even stop emitting their fragrances if they are disturbed. This one smells like chocolate.
I paused at the pansy orchids, Miltoniopsis, to wonder at its good cheer and at the twin-ness of such a thing; it is a fragrant plant from South America.
Just as in the human species, success breeds weirdness. The Cavendishia grandifolia was the strangest plant I saw, it had a plastic sheen to it. I ran into writer Katherine Whiteside, who remarked that this orchid looked like some new form of birth control.
A riot of color, and fragrance, and verve. Lady slippers are among my favorites.
Oh! And one last question: garden surveys indicate that orchids are the favorite flower of men. Why is that?