Orchid Show Marks 50 Years of Beauty and Discovery

Arts & Culture

Pictured: Lithophytic orchids grow on "floating" rocks in The Orchid Show 2023 at Selby Gardens. Photo by Phil Lederer.

Marie Selby Botanical Gardens celebrates half a century of horticultural appreciation and innovation this year with The Orchid Show 2023: A 50th Anniversary Celebration, a campus-wide exhibition dedicated both to the beauty of orchids and to the role that Selby Gardens has played in their continued scientific study.

Since 1973, Sarasota’s “Living Museum” has become home to more than 3,500 orchids representing more than 1,100 species, with an herbarium holding 40,000 pressed specimens, a spirit collection preserving tens of thousands more and a research library boasting rare books and botanical prints. And with the Orchid Show, a bit of everything will be up for viewing. “Selby Gardens is known internationally for having the world’s best scientifically documented collection of orchids,” says Selby Gardens President and CEO Jennifer Rominiecki, “so what better way to kick off this milestone, than to really showcase what we’re so renowned for.”

The adventure begins in the Tropical Conservatory, where the botanical artists of Selby Gardens have transformed the space into a lush and green paean to the orchid’s beauty and to the strange resilience of plants that grow from the rocks or seemingly from nothing at all. Orchids of all sorts populate geometric displays and canvases of cork—lightweight, sustainable and textured like tree branches—and some even sit in custom-made 3D-printed pots with the Selby Gardens logo cut into the side so the root structure is on view. But the real showstoppers are the delicate orchids growing from what appear to be rocks floating over an indoor pond, defying expectations just like the plants themselves.

Achieving that effect is the result of 50 years learning how to care for and show orchids, says Angel Lara, vice president for botanical horticulture. His colleague, Nathan Burnaman, associate director of horticultural exhibits, agrees. “It’s celebrating orchids, celebrating how we know orchids, and celebrating Selby Gardens,” he says, noting that the rock wall of the Conservatory itself is made of the very same volcanic rock.

The celebration continues in the Museum of Botany & Art in the Payne Mansion, where the first floor plays host to a wide collection of artifacts, photographs, prints and more, sketching in brief the orchid’s story of scientific discovery—and how Selby Gardens fits into that history. Archival photos of the Gardens’ founding and of Marie Selby herself are on display, as are historical texts from the likes of Charles Darwin. Photos of Selby volunteers dot the walls, as do high-definition photographs of the orchids they helped discover, next to botanical prints of old. “Our team has inherited that tradition and learned from that tradition,” says Chief Museum Curator Dave Berry. “And now is continuing to add to it.”

To further commemorate its 50th anniversary, Selby Gardens has also commissioned a special art book, simply titled Orchid, which will be unveiled with the exhibition. In its 240 pages, the volume contains approximately 150 large-scale, high-definition photographs, as well as an introductory essay and additional text from Selby Gardens experts.

Opening this Saturday at Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, The Orchid Show 2023 runs from October 7 to November 26.

Pictured: Lithophytic orchids grow on "floating" rocks in The Orchid Show 2023 at Selby Gardens. Photo by Phil Lederer.

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