Breath-taking baskets, cylinders and other containers planted with thousands of tropical flowers fill the New York Botanical Garden's Conservatory in its seasonal exhibition, The Orchid Show: Chandeliers.
The plants on display at The New York Botanical Garden represent just a fraction of all the world's orchids. Orchids are the largest family of flowering plants, with over 30,000 naturally occuring species from around the world. The Garden offers tours and care demonstrations to help visitors learn more about these highly evolved plants.
Phalenopsis take center stage in this basket-style chandelier. Like most orchids, they are epiphytes with roots that reach out into the air until they find an anchor. Then they grow harmlessly on trees or other plants. Terrestrial orchids, such as cymbidiums, grow in soil.
Thanks to their ability to adapt to different growing conditions and environments, orchids can be shaped into many configurations. At The New York Botanical Garden's 13th annual show, they're displayed as living chandeliers and in columns and cones.
Orchids High and Low
When you visit The New York Botanical Garden, be sure to look from ceiling to floor to spot all the orchids clinging to tree trunks, stems and branches, much as they would grow in a tropical rainforest. Although they're harmless, these epiphytics will take any available niche in the canopy.
The Orchid Show: Chandeliers was designed by Francisca Coelho, the Garden's Vivian and Edward Merrin V-P for Glasshouses and Exhibitions. She's been called the "best female head gardener at present working under glass." Here, she strolls through the exhibit, which was inspired by a visit to a private home in Florida. Dozens of "iron trees" in the Conservatory hold orchids in baskets that can be lowered for maintenance, as needed.
Orchids from Around the World
The New York Botanical Garden's permanent orchid collection includes plants from around the world. Some 6,085 orchids, including 2,261 taxa (different types of orchids), are on display, representing Australia, Africa, South America and Madagascar. The NYBG studies, researches, and works to conserve these spectacular plants.
Orchids come in an astounding variety of sizes. Miniature flowers can measure less than 1/16 of an inch in diameter, while giants can reach over 25 feet tall, with flower spikes that grow up to 10 feet long.
Although cultivating a wide variety of orchids in glasshouses is a challenge, the NYBG horticulturists say they give them the same basic care gardeners give their orchids at home. Success depends on providing on the proper light, humidity, temperature, potting medium, water, air circulation, and nutrients for the kind of orchid you're growing.
Orchid Centerpiece Chandelier
The chandelier at the center of The Orchid Show exhibit holds some 500 plants, including snowy-white Phalaenopsis and bright yellow Oncidiums. Phalaenopsis, sometimes called moth orchids because they resemble moths in flight, are easy for beginners to grow.
When you visit The Orchid Show: Chandeliers, look for ideas to inspire your own designs. Many of the thousands of long orchid stems in the chandeliers were individually staked for support. Unless you're displaying your orchids from above, you'll have a better view of the flowers if they're staked upright.
Orchid Shapes and Forms
The NYBG show features orchids in a variety of colors, shapes, and forms. Phalaenopsis blooms, held on long, arching stems, resemble moths in flight. Other flowers mimic wasps, bees, or butterflies. Still other orchids have unique traps, buckets, and trigger mechanisms that encourage insects to visit and pollinate them.
Orchids and Other Plants
Many orchids in the NYBG exhibit are combined with ferns, lush moss, and other plants with similar growing requirements. Small baskets containing about 35 plants each surround the large chandeliers. All the orchids were grown in New York, and many will be familiar to visitors as easy-to-grow houseplants.