Orchidelirium in New York

The New York Botanical Garden   is  a  living museum, a major educational institution, and a scientific organization operating one of the world’s largest plant research and conservation programs.  Inspired by the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, Great Britain,  the City of New York acquired hilly, rocky terrain in central Bronx to establish a botanical garden in 1891.   Its 250 acres of natural and cultivated lands include multiple indoor display conservatories and a 50-acre remnant of the forest that once covered New York City.

The Enid A. Haupt conservatory in    New York Botanical Garden ,  constructed by the Lord and Burnham Co. in 1902, is considered one of the most magnificent conservatories of its time.    Conservatory  is the largest Victorian glasshouse in the country.  It is the focal point of the New York Botanical Garden where most of the botanical shows take place. 
The 512-foot long, 42,430 square foot complex of greenhouses was modeled after the Palm House, built in 1847 at Kew Gardens in London. Like its muse, it features a 90-foot high central dome for palm trees, elaborately decorated with lacy metal ornament.
During the Victorian era, exotic plants were displayed individually, in pots, arrayed in galleries not to showcase their beauty or how they fit into an ecosystem, but rather to display their botanical relationships. When the first half of the Conservatory was opened in 1900, about   $100  was spent on the inaugural display of plants. Some of these, including a Kapok Tree, are still there over one hundred years later.

By the 1970s, the building was in a state of extreme disrepair and had to be either substantially rebuilt or torn down. Enid Annenberg Haupt saved the conservatory from demolition with a $5 million contribution for renovation and a $5 million endowment for maintenance of the building. Due to her generous contributions, the Conservatory was named the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory in 1978.
In 1997 the New York Botanical Garden spent US$22 million to restore the eleven inter-connected houses of the   Conservatory.

These houses include   South American lowland tropical , cloud forest, New World , Old World deserts and changing display houses.    Today the conservatory includes more than 3,000 specimens housed within four distinct environments.
While the collections have changed over time, the basic concept of display has remained fairly consistent. The base collection is generally permanent, with additional plants brought in for special exhibitions throughout the year.  Every winter there is a  Holiday Train Show and every spring   Conservatory is home for an extensive orchid show.     During the  show, thousands of orchids are brought in and are incorporated into the existing collection.

There are 6,085 orchids representing 2,261  different types  in The New York Botanical Garden’s permanent collection, from all  regions of the world, including Australia, Africa, South America, and Madagascar.  Because the Garden is committed to orchid research and conservation, its scientists study the botany and ecology of orchids; what they discover is useful to conservation work that will ensure the future of these extraordinary plants in nature.
Orchidaceous  is the largest family of flowering plants on Earth. There are more than 25,000 documented species of orchid, and scientists are finding more every day.

Most of the world’s orchids are found in the tropics but they exist on every continent except Antarctica. Greeks looked at them as a symbol of virility. The Chinese, as long ago as the time of Confucius, called orchids "The plant of the King's Fragrance." In the middle ages orchids played a major role in herbal remedies. They were also regarded as an aphrodisiac and have been one of the main ingredients in certain love potions.   Orchids have been cultivated in Europe for 250 years.
Prior to advances in the last century,   orchids were exclusively the purview of the elite.  

Orchids were for the rich, even royalty.  Orchids in the wild   were seen as one-of-a-kind, true rarities.  The popularity of orchid plants increased dramatically in the early 1800s when  a fascination for collecting the flowers erupted into hysteria. The craze, dubbed "orchidelirium," produced prices in the thousands of dollars. Because collectors were willing to pay the large sums of money for the new type of  orchids, the explorers were willing to face danger and illness to locate more flowers. Queen Victoria herself appointed a royal orchid-keeper, and plant collectors roamed the empire, seizing what they could. Orchids were the jewel of this empire, symbolizing opulence, elegance, power. 

In the United States, Florida has the highest number of native orchid species followed rather surprisingly by Alaska. And while the orchid family is wide and diverse, there is only one orchid that really has any economic value – the vanilla orchid. It is the seeds of this plant that supplies the world’s natural vanilla flavoring
Thanks to commercial cultivation, orchids are now far easier to acquire, though no less prized.  Things changed and now everybody can afford  to have an orchid at home.

Thousands of orchids of every shape and color are on display till April 17, 2016   in the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory. According the exhibit’s curators, this year’s show highlights “the far-flung adventures of daring explorers who risked life and limb to secure these captivating and exotic flowers from danger-laden jungles around the world.” Accompanying the floral displays are illustrated manuscripts by British horticulturists and collectors, such as James Bateman, that contain detailed renderings of orchids and vignettes depicting New World Spanish colonies.  I  visited Botanic Garden a week ago and really loved it!

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