The National Museum of Natural Historys exhibit Orchids: A View From the East features about 9,000 orchids that will be displayed over a period of three months.
Around the bend, another arrangement gives a sense of what a Chinese scholar’s garden may have looked like. Since most scholars lived in cities, they often felt they had lost touch with nature. They would grow orchids and arrange them with bonsai to add a touch of nature to their urban life.
The Chinese also found other uses for orchids besides decoration. The plants, for instance, were used as medicine, particularly for sleep and anxiety. The ingredients on display were actually found in Chinatown in Washington, D.C., showing that this particular use has continued over the years.
The final part of the exhibit introduces the visitor to the modern orchid contests that originally inspired the exhibit’s theme. The large display is modeled after what would be found at the Taiwan International Orchid Show.
To add to the experience, the Smithsonian Gardens made its own judging station. Visitors can read about how different orchids are judged based on their characteristics and how horticulturists determine which are the best plants. The garden has even provided QR codes, or barcodes that can be read by smart phones, that link to videos of orchid specialist Mirenda explaining the judging process in more detail.
From there, three orchids are on display, and the guests vote for which they think is the best.
To Mirenda, there’s more to the allure of orchids than their beauty and their fragrance.
“All throughout history, they were used for fertility and as aphrodisiacs,” he said. “They have more personality than other flowers. There’s a human element that we recognize.”