MBG: Orchid Show 2009 - Experience the color, beauty, and fragrance of orchids in bloom in the middle of winter at the 2009 orchid show. “Henry’s Garden” celebrates the Garden’s 150th anniversary and will feature over 800 orchids from the Garden’s world-renowned collection displayed in a formal Victorian setting.
1# – How did the Garden’s orchid collection start?
The creation of the world-class orchid collection at the Missouri Botanical Garden did not occur overnight. It is the culmination of many research trips to the tropics and donations both local and from afar. In 1876, Mrs. Henry T. Blow presented Garden founder, Henry Shaw, with a sampling of orchids collected by her husband while serving as minister to Brazil under President Grant. In 1918, Dr. D.S. Brown, a noted local orchidologist, donated his well-known collection to the Garden as well.
Abroad, the Garden began its first forays into the tropical regions of Central and South America. In 1923, horticulturist George Pring spent six months collecting plants in Panama and Columbia and returned with forty burro-loads – or some eight tons – of orchids. The Garden’s first orchid show was held the following year, attracting 8,000 visitors. Later that decade, the Garden established a tropical field station in Panama, greatly facilitating orchid collection. Today, the Garden’s annual orchid show attracts over 30,000 people.
2# – Has the orchid collection ever been in danger?
The Missouri Botanical Garden has a long and proud history, but our orchids didn’t always grow here. Back in 1926, the collection was threatened by dirty city air from coal smoke and industrial pollution. So, the Garden moved them 30 miles west, to Gray Summit, Missouri, at what is now the Shaw Nature Reserve. Greenhouses were built there especially for this purpose. The next year, in 1927, an orchid seedling department was started.
From the late 1920’s until 1958, the Garden sold cut orchid flowers to local florists. This business grossed over $700,000, and made up to $50,000 at one time. The sale of orchids covered all costs associated with the collection, as well as the operation of what was then known as the Shaw Arboretum.
Through propagation, gifts and collecting, the orchid collection grew in size and prominence. In 1954, St. Louis hosted the first World Orchid Congress. By 1958, the city’s air quality had improved, and the orchid collection returned to its original home here at the Garden, where it has remained ever since.
3# – Where else has the Garden’s orchid collection been displayed?
The Garden’s orchid collection has a historic connection with one of St. Louis’s longest standing traditions. The Veiled Prophet Parade is one of the country’s oldest parades. The first one was held in 1878, sponsored by a group of civic leaders who wanted to promote St. Louis commerce. It was modeled on New Orleans’ Mardi Gras celebration. Today, the annual Veiled Prophet Parade in July continues to draw crowds by the thousands. The Garden supplies fresh orchids for the mysterious Veiled Prophet’s float. It is the only community event for which the Garden provides cut orchids.
The Garden first provided freshly cut orchids in 1926 for a massive bouquet carried by the Veiled Prophet’s “Queen of Love and Beauty.” For many years, on the day after the coronation ball, this bouquet was displayed at the Garden. In 1947, approximately 5,000 curious visitors came in one day to see the Queen’s bouquet on display in the greenhouse! The Veiled Prophet Queen’s bouquet measures up to 3 feet long and 2 feet across, and contains hundreds of blossoms. All of the orchids are selected two days before the ball, to ensure the finest flowers are used.
4# – How large is the orchid collection today?
The Garden’s orchid collection is one of the largest and finest in the country. We grow more than 8,100 orchid plants behind the scenes, in our greenhouses. They make up our largest living collection, representing over 2,500 unique species, varieties and hybrids.
The Garden grows many rare and unusual specimens. Some are over 100 years old. Our collection emphasizes the kinds of orchids that can survive St. Louis’s hot summers. For this display, our Horticulture staff shows you as many different varieties as they can, from florists’ corsage orchids to exotic new hybrids and historic rarities.
5# – Does climate change threaten orchids?
Orchids are often endangered with extinction in nature. Wild populations are often over collected by humans. Many species are highly adapted to a specific habitat, soil, or pollinator, making them very vulnerable to climate change.
All orchids at the Missouri Botanical Garden have been carefully and legally acquired in accordance with CITES (sigh-tease), the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. Garden researchers work throughout the world to preserve the ecosystems orchids depend upon.
Help the Garden protect these rare treasures with your donation to the Henry Shaw Fund. Stop by the Membership Services Desk today, or visit www.mobot.org.
6# – How is this orchid display created?
The orchid display starts as a concept more than a year before its installation. The show changes themes each year. New props specific to each show are designed and built, and the display is installed by a team of Horticulture staff and volunteers.
Each orchid plant here is part of our permanent collection. The variety of orchids you see in this display changes over six weeks. We start with about 800 plants and switch out approximately 50 to 100 plants each week, replacing them with fresh blooms from the greenhouse.
Our display is meant to look as natural as possible, with epiphytic orchids growing in trees and terrestrial orchids growing along the ground. Our temporary landscape is surrounded by bark with a surface treatment of moss to give you a feeling of being in the tropics.
When the show ends, everything is dismantled and the plants are returned to the production greenhouses until next year. You can check out photos of the installation and see how it all comes together on the Garden’s Web site, www.mobot.org.