WASHINGTON - Thousands of exquisite orchids are creating a rainbow of colors at this year’s annual orchid exhibit at the U.S. Botanic Garden in Washington.
The display features orchid varieties in different shapes, sizes and colors found throughout the world. The most brilliant colored flowers come from tropical countries.
“There are hotspots in a lot of tropical areas, from Latin America to some Asian countries,” said Devin Dotson, a spokesman for the national garden. “In fact, orchids are so popular, certain countries celebrate them as their national flower.”
Inside the doorway is a spectacular large orchid arch containing more than 700 yellow blossoms. And that’s just the beginning.
WATCH: Gorgeous Orchids Showcased at US Botanic Garden
Rare blue orchid
“It’s all just so beautiful,” Kelley MacIntosh, a visitor from North Carolina, said as she scanned other orchids in glorious shades of red and orange, pink and purple.
“But one color that is difficult to find are orchids in blue,” Dotson said. “The dark blue blossoms you see in stores are actually dyed. But here is a species found in the Philippines that has naturally blue tones,” he said, pointing to a potted plant with light purplish-blue flowers.
“The most popular orchids today are cross-pollinated hybrids,” he said, explaining that “the first orchid hybrids were created in England in the 1850s, and now there are more than 110,000 orchid hybrids. About 3,000 new orchid hybrids are created every year.”
Orchids belong to one of the largest and oldest families of flowering plants and may go as far back as 100 million years.
Many varieties, highly adaptive
Remarkably, 25,000 varieties are found on every continent except Antarctica. Some plants are able to survive extremely hot or cold temperatures. They can be as tiny as a mere 2 millimeters or grow to a whopping 90 kilograms. Some orchids have tall spikes, while others are a cluster of flowers. The blooms of certain plants last only a few hours, while others remain for six months.
“Orchids are masters of adapting to different environments,” Dotson said. “Even here in the United States they exist in bogs where it stays wet almost all of the time and they grow in soil.”
Others don’t need soil at all, like the hanging orchids displayed at the exhibit.
“In the tropics, they have adapted to live up high or in a canopy of trees,” Dotson said, showing a hanging orchid with its roots in a ball. “Those exposed roots will allow the orchid to pull moisture and nutrients from the air.”
One stinky beauty
Some orchids at the exhibit permeate the air with their wonderfully sweet or spicy fragrances.
But not all the plants smell good, Dotson said, as he walked over to a pretty sunny yellow blossom with crimson lines on its petals. This orchid from Indonesia is actually a “stinky beauty that can smell like rotten meat, and is trying to attract pollinators, like flies and beetles, that like stinky things.”
While orchids are known primarily for their beauty, they are also used in perfume, and as medicine in parts of Asia and the Middle East. And vanilla orchids produce vanilla pods that are used for sweet food flavoring.