The Bronx Invasion of Brazil. On Friday We Take Cuba!

Cross Posted at Daily Kos, Firefly-Dreaming, La Vita Locavore and Progressive Blue.

No more snow job photo diaries out of me. Since it is midwinter and everyone can use a little break from the cold, I think a little Brazilian Modern is in order.

How about you? Join me below for more photos and see an amateur review of my South American trip from last year.

I should explain where this diary is coming from. I have a very fruitful blogging relationship with The New York Botanical Garden. I have posted several high impact diaries on events at the garden and because of that they invite me to all of the behind the scenes events. Well actually it is because of my fellow progressive bloggers. Thank you to the few who have joined and taken an interest in the important work preformed by the NYBG.

This diary is not about the important scientific work done by the NYBG throughout the western hemisphere or their efforts for horticultural advances. This diary is about the beautiful way they present the world of plants. And just like I tried to point out the NYBG’s efforts to promote local food in Got a Happy Story? DK GreenRoots Edition, this diary is about educating people about the world of plants.  

On Friday I will attend the member’s event and see the annual Orchid Show. This diary is a warm up for the ten minute drive I will be making to Cuba on Friday. I will post the review of “Cuba in Flower” here and these photos are what I saw last year.

But first a brief pause for a little Victorian Palm Court trivia. The ninety foot tall Palm Court that is the center of the NYBG conservatory was inspired by nature. Victoria amazonica, the largest waterlily of the Nymphaeaceae family, has a leaf very similar to the construction of the Palm Court. Named for Queen Victoria, the very first of these flowers to bloom in Great Britain was at the hand of Joseph Paxton. He also showed a bit of advertising talent when he created quite an interest in the Queen’s namesake by posing his daughter standing upon one of the leaves in a pool of water. Sir Joseph Paxton revolutionized the construction of glass houses several times and went on to the design of the Crystal Palace for The Great Exhibition of 1851. When he designed the house that protected the tropical lily from British climate, he was inspired by the underside of the big round leaf that was then named Victoria Regia or the Royal water-lily. Now when you enter the Victorian Palm Court, looking up through the palms, you can plainly see the underside of Victoria amazonica.

At first I was put off by last year’s presentation. The Palm Court that is usually a soft and inviting presentation of flowers offered a tile wall in the pool that usually reflects the beautiful Victorian glass structure. I said to my companion “They should try that pattern out on the subway platforms.”

But directly behind us was a sea of paradise.

And we did not have to look far for a little taste of Brazil. Are those dancing ladies forming an “S” as in Samba?

There was even some live Brazilian music to get us in the mood.

And since almost everyone looks up in the Palm Court, there was plenty of dancing going on overhead.

Now if you’ve never been to the New York Botanical Gardens to see an exhibit at the glass house that is a national landmark I should explain a few of the differences that make it so interesting. In the case of the orchid show there will be no grand prize winner, there is no focus on master orchid growers or any individual plant.

The focus in this living museum is education. Well perhaps there are a few stars because ever year it seems the long walk to the actual orchid show begins surrounded by amazing Phalaenopsis.

Just like an art show in a museum the public is steered through galleries, these galleries being large connecting tubes or squares of glass and each house has a theme. You take this educational roundabout to the main exhibition in both the Chrysanthemum Celebration and the Holiday Train Show too.

Getting to the main event is less showy but very interesting. The first tubes and squares of glass are galleries that do not change. The first tube is a forest of bromeliads and since those are epithetic plants that gallery is decorated with orchids that are also air plants. Here are two photos from the first gallery of an orchid that was new to me called xZygonisa Cynosure ‘Blue Birds’ and one of an old favorite that I think is called “Swiss Beauty.”

The next room is a tropical rain forest in the Bronx and for orchids the focus is on the forest floor where you can find many and learn about some of the terrestrial orchids. The three below are called Reed Orchids because of their reed like stems. In the Americas there are over 800 species of these orchids.

In the following gallery, where I took one of my favorite photos ever, the most inviting of the permanent galleries that must be a presentation of where really rich Victorians would go in their Orangeries to relax, there is a presentation of the really interesting orchids. They weren’t quite finished with the display and a gardener laid a potted butterfly orchid at the edge of the pool.

As politik pointed out last year, this orchid has some very familiar colors. I’ve always loved the butterfly orchid and was very happy to get this shot.

Moving right along, the next room is totally tropical where one of the two permanent orchid cases can be found. Winding around to commercial plants of the tropics you will find the vanilla orchid and if you a lucky, the Darwin Star Orchid might be hiding behind a coffee or chocolate tree.  

Did you ever read the story of the Darwin Star Orchid? They laughed at Darwin but forty years later a new discovery proved him right.

Noticing that the star orchid came equipped with an 11-inch long nectar spur extending from each blossom, Darwin predicted that only one animal-with an especially long tongue-could pollinate it. But the animal remained a mythical creature until 40 years later, when scientists discovered a moth with a furled tongue that was the longest in proportion to its body size of any animal. In honor of Darwin’s hypothesis, the moth was named Xanthophan morgani praedicta, Latin for “predicted moth.”

The moth and the flower are a perfect fit: The moth gets hard-to-reach nectar and, in doing so, pollinates the orchid, ensuring cross-fertilization. “They’ve adapted a perfect design,” says Marc Hachadourian, a curator who focuses on orchids at the garden (although no plant is safe from his meddling, he says). (To see a video of the moth and star orchid in action, click here.)

Like the star orchid, most other species of orchids are adapted to only one pollinator. Their fragrances and flowers are masters of deception, says Hachadourian. Some blooms look like the female parts of the pollinator, so the males of the species fertilize the flowers by accident; others trap flies in their blooms so the insects have to wriggle out, bumping against and inadvertently collecting the pollen; and some, like the star orchid, have nectar spurs the perfect length for a beak or a tongue.

By the way Marc Hachadourian is the man that oversees these Orchid shows. In this photo from two years back he was demonstrating the sent of the Bulbophyllum echinolabium. This large beautiful flower emits the smell of rotting flesh to attract pollinators.

There are still deserts to cross before going to the show. First an underground that transformed the “C” shaped conservatory into an “O” shape. Then the New World Desert followed by the Old World Desert. How come cactus of the new world and the euphorbia of the old world look so much alike? I love that phrase “convergent evolution” and often wonder why nobody ever started a church of Darwin.

Finally at the staging ground for the orchid show you enter the temperate house and see many of the orchids that are grown at home mixed in with the jasmine, bougainvillea and oranges. There are over 400,000 varieties of orchid and around 8000 of them are represented at each orchid show.

Here’s an interesting orchid. This one that doesn’t look much like an orchid to me is called the Nun’s Cap. Can you see a nun’s cap?

Then there is the part that get reviewed in the New York Times, the main event. I walked into the main room and the huge crowd seemed very pleased.

With the four big paintings at each corner of the pool I thought they were trying to tell me that Stuart Davis was reincarnated in Brazil.

My favorites last year were the four huge baskets of orchids hanging over the pool.

And there were all sorts of wild corners to get lost in.

You can’t have an Orchid Show without a corsage or two. In last year’s show the sides of the pool were decorated with corsages.  

And this view seems to have a bit of an Asian flavor. A moment of Zen In Brazilian Modern.

The final gallery of last year’s Orchid Show Was all about flower boxes, metal tubes and living walls.

At first these “cubist structures” seemed a bit hard for orchid displays.

But a little interaction with the modern and the show started to grow on me. I guess orchids look good anywhere and it looked very good seeing them in a different light.

And this orchid that I didn’t not write down the name of was my favorite last year. What colors!

Or maybe these were my favorites last year.

Or was it this one? I can’t make up my mind.

At the end of the Orchid Show there was another wall of flowers and I could have sworn the final wall spelled the word “So.”

So I’m really glad that another of the many sign of spring is coming to the Bronx on Friday. Cuba could make for a pretty interesting cultural exchange.  

And just one last note.

The New York Botanical Garden is a museum of plants, an educational institution, and a scientific research organization open to the public and dedicated to better understanding and preserving our natural world. Support for the Garden is more important than ever. Help us continue to care for our 250-acre National Historic Landmark site, offer horticulture programs and plant science education for students of all ages, and conduct research that has far-reaching effects on our global community.

I hope you enjoyed my trip to the orchid show. I’ll have a new one for you soon.


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    • Eddie C on February 23, 2010 at 04:46

  1.  it took a bit to download even w/ this new honker so you might want to post a mini version addition with maybe 5 or 6 pics “best of show” for slower computers, because some people are going to have problems with it.


    • TMC on February 23, 2010 at 06:28

    to a vexing day. John Aravosis of AMERICAblog loves orchids and grows them as a hobby. I haven’t followed his web site in quite some tome but I am sure he would love this pictorial essay. Magnifique!

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