January 29, 2009
President Obama’s office isn’t the only place you can grow orchids. Smithsonian’s Natural History Museum has turned its thermostat up for a special exhibition that highlights the evolution of these beautiful plants. “Orchids Through Darwin’s Eyes,” displays more than 300 species of orchids in celebration of the 150th anniversary of the publication of “On the Origin of Species” and Darwin’s 200th birthday. The show runs through April 26, 2009.
“Every single one of these orchids has a story behind them,” says Smithsonian orchid collections manager Tom Mirenda in a video playing at the exhibit. That story lies in each species’ modified petal, which hangs near the center of the flower and is responsible for drawing in pollinators.
Orchids are the great seducers of the animal kingdom. They can resemble female butterflies, drawing in unsuspecting males who attempt to mate with the plant. In the case of the bucket orchids, its strong scent attracts bees that then slip into its pollen-filled bucket.
Darwin was fascinated by these relationships and recorded his orchid observations throughout his travels, helping him formulate his theories of natural selection. In the exhibition, you can see why Darwin was drawn to these plants as you stand and ponder the evolution of beauty.
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