‘Orchids: A View from the East’

Smithsonian Gardens and the U.S. Botanic Garden will open the 16th annual orchid exhibition, “Orchids: A View from the East,” at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History Saturday, Jan. 29. The exhibition will showcase more than 300 plants representing 50 varieties of orchids.

Paphiopedilum venustum (Photo courtesy of James Osen)

Orchids have been a part of Chinese culture for many centuries, permeating Chinese history, legends, literature and art. Since ancient times, orchids have been celebrated in China for their beauty and fragrance, and appreciated as symbols of nobility, friendship and refinement. The exhibition, which continues until April 24, reflects these themes and introduces visitors to long-standing traditions and contemporary trends in Chinese orchid culture.

Paph lowii (Photo courtesy of James Osen)

“The cultures of eastern Asia were likely the first cultivators of orchids and represent an important, yet virtually unknown, facet of orchid history,” said Tom Mirenda, museum specialist for the Orchid Collection at Smithsonian Gardens. “We learned a great deal in putting this beautiful exhibit together. We feel our visitors will enjoy experiencing it as much as we have enjoyed planning it.”

“Orchids: A View from the East” will introduce visitors to age-old traditions from Asia and show how these traditions have evolved into the extravagances of the contemporary Asian orchid world.

“The orchid exhibition provides a wonderful opportunity for the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery to display a group of our Chinese paintings on the subject of orchids—some for the first time,” said Stephen Allee, research specialist at the Freer and Sackler galleries. “The paintings in this exhibition include works by traditional scholar artists, Chinese and Japanese Buddhist monks, courtesans of the late Ming dynasty and Qing dynasty, and professional painters of both the imperial court and commercial marketplace, indicating the wide and enduring appeal of the orchid to Chinese artists over the centuries.”

Cymbidium (Photo courtesy of James Osen)

Cymbidium (Photo courtesy of James Osen)

The orchid family, Orchidaceae, is one of the largest and oldest families of flowering plants. An estimated 25,000 species live on every continent except Antarctica.

“‘Orchids: A View from the East’ provides an exciting opportunity to bring the combined expertise and collections of Smithsonian Gardens, the Freer and Sackler galleries and the National Museum of Natural History to our millions of visitors,” said Barbara Stauffer, chief of temporary exhibitions at the National Museum of Natural History.

“The Orchid in Chinese Painting” is on view at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Jan. 15–July 17. For more information about the exhibition, visit www.asia.si.edu.

Bletill striata (Photo courtesy of James Osen)

For more information on “Orchids: A View from the East,” visit http://www.orchids.si.edu/.

Family Festival

Visitors of all ages will be able to explore the world of orchids at the “Orchid Exhibit Family Festival” Feb. 26 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the National Museum of Natural History. Smithsonian Gardens and the U.S. Botanic Garden will offer free activities in conjunction with the exhibition. Visitors will be able to participate in a stamp-art activity, calligraphy, take their photo with a human-sized orchid and pot their own orchid.

Posted: 21 January 2011
About the Author:

Jessica Porter Sadeq has worked in the Central Office of Public Affairs since June 2007. In August 2008 she joined the Internal Communications department as an internal communications coordinator.