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Botanic Garden Exhibit Highlights US Parks' Flora

  • June Soh

The U.S. Botanic Garden in Washington is a living plant museum, filled with the colors and scents of some 65,000 plants. In its greenhouse and outdoor gardens are orchids, cacti and succulents, carnivorous plants, bromeliads, cycads and ferns. And for much of this year, more than 75 paintings, photographs and illustrations showcasing key flora from America's national parks are on display, too.

The new exhibit celebrates the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service.

“Plants are an important part of the overall ecosystem of almost every national park that we have," said NPS regional director Bob Vogel. "They are very important, obviously, to the health of our environment and to the wonderful park experience.”

Susan Pell, the garden's science and public programs manager, said, "I would love people to gain better understanding and appreciation for the beauty and the diversity of the plants that are protected in the national parks and, really, the flora of the United States."

The artwork displayed ranges from 30-centimeter-wide watercolors to two-meter panoramas of natural landscapes from many of the more than 400 national parks. There are paintings of chocolate lilies in the San Juan Island National Historical Park in Washington state, Joshua trees in Joshua Tree National Park in California, and California's giant redwoods, some of the tallest trees in the world.

Florida orchid

Two watercolors feature ghost orchids, a close-up of an individual bloom and another depicting the swampy habitat where they thrive.

Curator William McLaughlin said the orchid "grows in a very small part of Florida and is very vulnerable to being collected and becoming extinct in the wild, so it’s very important to preserve plants like this in our national parks.”

Visitors can also find some of the plants depicted in the artwork, like prickly pear cactus, growing in the garden’s conservatory. As the weather warms, curators plan to move real plants into the exhibit to be displayed next to their depictions on the wall.

The Park Service and the garden curators hope the exhibit will inspire people to find these plants in their native habitats, especially in the national parks.

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