March 27, 2013
Though you might not know it judging from the forecast most places, spring has indeed arrived. And despite the unpredictable D.C. weather, the snow, sleet, cold rain and wind hasn’t kept the tourists away. Crowds are gathering in the nation’s capital for the first glimpses of the cherry blossoms. For those of you interested in making the most of your visit, the editors over here have released two new spring-themed tours to help showcase the seasonal delights both inside and outside along the Mall.
The Gardens tour will take you to our many well-maintained plots around the Mall to see more than just a few pink blooms by the Tidal Basin, including heirloom plants, geometric splendors reminiscent of the grandest of European gardens and even a Victory Garden.Meanwhile, our Spring Fling tour will take you inside to show off the riches of the Smithsonian’s arts and sciences collection and celebrate the season with baseball legends, a tree you can wish on, bouquets in paint and even a spring from space.
Head here to download the visitor’s app and get your step-by-step directions, custom postcard feature and greatest hits from the museums.
January 25, 2013
From decorative arts to religious stories to regional recipes, orchids figure prominently in the cultures of Latin America. The Aztecs were said to value vanilla–made from the seed pods of a vining orchid–so highly that it was used to pay taxes. Early instruments were held together by glue made from the flowers. And some tortilla recipes called for Stanhopea blooms.
Representing their origins in Latin America, hundreds of orchids will be on display as part of the Natural History Museum’s “Orchids of Latin America” exhibit, opening January 26.
Complete with a Mexican plaza and a winding path through beds of the exotic flowers, the exhibit will feature nearly 600 flowers with a twice-weekly rotation to keep the blooms fresh. The show offers a warm escape from the bitter winter and a chance to see the flowers that were said to aid Montezuma in his encounters with his wives or that are still a featured part of religious ceremonies.
Orchids of Latin America is on view at the National Museum of Natural History through April 21, 2013.
September 21, 2012
During the height of summer, crossing the Mall can sometimes feel like crossing the Serengeti as a hunted animal, searching for any shaded place of refuge. But fall means more than a reprieve from humid heat at the Smithsonian; it means beautiful autumnal blooms bursting with color in the gardens. Stroll through the lush landscapes on your own or take advantage of a guided tour to learn more about the floral finds of fall.
Tours are offered throughout the week until the end of September. Check the schedule here.
January 27, 2011
For the last 17 years, the Smithsonian Gardens and the United States Botanic Garden have teamed up to host an annual orchid exhibition. And, each year, says Tom Mirenda, a museum specialist for the Smithsonian Orchid Collection, “We try to have a different aspect of orchidology that we feature.”
To the non-expert, it might seem like the theme would have quickly exhausted itself. But one conversation with Mirenda and you realize that orchids are remarkably diverse.
The plant family is one of the largest, if not the largest, in the world (some say the daisy family is a contender), and some 300 or 400 new species are discovered each year. They are extremely adaptable and are therefore found in habitats across the globe. Not to mention, says Mirenda, “They engage in something that you would almost have to call behavior.” When a pollinator lands on a hammer orchid, for example, the Australian flower uses its lip, a modified petal, as a cantilever to bonk the insect on its back and deposit pollen. A bucket orchid nearly drowns bees in its lip, full of liquid, before letting them out through an escape hatch in the back of the flower, where the pollen is conveniently located.
And, oddly enough, tiny orchids called lepanthes are structured in a way that resembles the female genitalia of fruit flies and fungus gnats, so poor, confused male insects attempt to mate with the flowers and spread pollen in the process. ”There are lots of weird and wonderful things,” says Mirenda. “I could go on and on.”
This year’s exhibition “Orchids: A View from the East,” opening Saturday, January 29, at the National Museum of Natural History, explores how the plant has been revered and cultivated in China for centuries. The show, featuring more than 200 live orchids from the Smithsonian’s collection, opens with a garden modeled after those that Chinese scholars grew 500 years ago. Displays inform visitors about how orchids were used in Chinese medicines and as status symbols in Chinese art. Then, the exhibition finishes with a bold, colorful display of orchids, like those popular today in Taiwan, where the flowers are genetically manipulated and produced in mass quantities.
“Orchids: A View from the East” is on view through April 24. An Orchid Exhibit Family Day, when visitors can talk with experts, take their picture with a life-sized orchid and pot their own plant to take home, is scheduled for Saturday, February 26. A companion show, “The Orchid in Chinese Painting,” is currently open at the Sackler Gallery through July 17, 2011.
February 4, 2009
You can learn a lot of things from the flowers. Perhaps the girls from Sex and the City should have ditched the daily macchiatos and decked out to the local botanical garden to take a few pointers from the orchids. That’s right kids, orchids are total pros when it comes to sex, and it has served them well when it comes to finding Mr. Right. (Well, in the wild world of plants, it’s more like “Mr. Right Now,” but you get what I mean.)
Thanks to the coquettish ways in which they attract pollinators—from bright colors to inviting curves—these flowers have managed to survive since the age of the dinosaurs. They have since developed into 25,000 different species, 10,000 of which are represented in the National Museum of Natural History’s horticultural collections. Orchids Through Darwin’s Eyes—the special title given to their 15th Annual Orchid Show honors the 200th birthday of the famous naturalist who was awed by orchid diversity—highlights these collections. (Fellow ATM blogger Joseph Caputo previously covered the show here.) Can’t get down to the National Mall before the show closes on April 26th? You can enjoy the Smithsonian’s spin on these sexy flowers by way of Smithsonian Channel’s Stories from the Vaults series. In the episode “Beauty,” host Tom Cavanaugh talks with Smithsonian Orchid Collection Specialist Tom Mirenda to get the lowdown on how orchids get their groove on. (See a clip from the show below. The episode is also available for download from iTunes.)
And any orchid-related stories or experiences you would like to share are also most welcome.