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Rare & Exotic Orchids Dazzle at New York Botanical Garden’s Annual Orchid Show – Homage to Thailand’s Plant Culture

Gateway to a world of Orchids at The New York Botanical Garden – an homage to Thailand (see elephant topiaries)

At last – the moment every flower enthusiast waits all year for: The Orchid Show. The dazzling display of orchids at the 15th annual Orchid Show at The New York Botanical Garden (NYBG) does not disappoint; especially those who are crazy, passionate about these glamour pusses of the plant world.

This is where science and beauty meet head on in a full frontal assault. Wow.

Vanda Orchids!
This year’s Orchid Show (exhibit runs from February 18 through April 9th) pays homage to Thailand because of “the wealth of orchids, acclaimed tropical gardens, renowned breeding, and rich cultural history of this Southeast Asian nation… (and) home to to more than 1,200 native orchid species,” according to NYBG. Further you should know that “Thailand is a leading producer of cultivated orchids – in fact, it is the biggest exporter of tropical orchids in the world.”

Did you know that orchids are found on every continent save one? Orchids make up approximately 10 percent of all the plant species on earth; 25,000 species are known to scientists and more than 10 times that number of hybrid varieties.

No wonder we find orchids endlessly fascinating — there’s just no end to their drama, shape, size, fragrance, and color.

And color is the frisson of this show.

I learned color is so important to the Thai culture – they LOVE color and utilize it extensively in their garden design, decorative arts — in patterns and texture – with a kind of kaleidoscope display of diversity.

The show features a mix of native Thai orchids and hybrids: sourced from the Garden’s growers located in Florida and Hawaii, for example, in addition to what is grown at the Garden.

Marc Hachadourian, NYBG
And the respected authority for all things orchids at NYBG (and a kind of “Plant Whisperer” as he nurtures orchids seized illegally in the wild) is Marc Hachadourian, Manager of the Nolan Greenhouses for Living Collections .

I asked Marc about this year’s show upon arriving at the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory’s Palm of the World Gallery where elephant topiaries (elephants are the official national symbol of Thailand) and lush and luxuriant orchids captivate.

Marc explained that the Garden hadn’t produced a “geographic-themed” show in awhile — then they got brainstorming and with Thailand acknowledged as the “epicenter” of tropical plants and horticulture, along with orchids – especially Dendrobiums and Vandas a key part of the Thai’s iconic culture along with Thailand’s connection to nature – made the decision a, ahem, natural one. “There is extreme diversity in the country’s orchids,” Marc said, underscoring how important plants are to a culture. Marc amplified the power of plants as contributors to a culture, saying “It’s no secret humans have had a long term love affair with orchids — they are a supreme, global garden ‘flower.’”

I asked Marc what his favorite orchid is – to which he initially responded with a kind of punt, saying “whichever is in bloom at the moment.” Spoken like a true plant diplomat… 

He then embraced the Dendrobiums, (“cane-like stems” and some sport those impossible, purple-patterned blooms) saying he is a big fan of the miniatures. Agreed. Good things come in small packages.

There is a suite of miniatures at the Orchid Show – and in the Garden’s permanent collection.

Christian Primeau, NYBG explains the curated Orchid Show to journalists at Press Preview

Christian Primeau, NYBG’s Manager of the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory responsible for the tropical and subtropical plant collections, spoke about the design of this year’s show, detailing the cultural reference displays.

Thai Garden Culture 

Entering the main part of the Orchid Show always leaves me a little breathless. There is so much of a spectacular sensation. It’s warm. It’s colorful. It’s fragrant — and all that oxygen. Ahhhh. (Restores the giddy, breathless lightheadiness!)  

First up in this other-worldly, exotic delight are the hanging gold and white fabric decorative Sky Lanterns positioned in the tree branches overhead — in the “Thai tradition of sky lanterns (khom loi) “lit on celebratory occasions to symbolically carry away bad fortune and bring good luck,” notes NYBG.

Sky Lantern “kissing” appropriately-named, ‘Dancing Ladies’ Oncidium and its yellow-gold color complement. 

The exhibit signage noted the full story of the symbolic lanterns.

Two of Thailand’s traditional Spirit Houses are replicated here, as well. They are sweet “shrines.”

The show’s educational signage explains how many Thai houses, businesses, and more have at least “one spirit house – (phra phum) and in cities such as Bangkok – they are probably on rooftops. Like our gardens in urban areas.

I think we all need these spirit houses. Christian joked the spirits can’t fly; and pointed out the ladder… The Spirit Houses are decorated with protective dragon spirits.

In a mirror exhibit, the Garden also showcases the Daily Offering Spirit House – demonstrating how the Thai people’s offerings of flowers, fruit, incense — and strawberry soda (really?!) keep the spirits in a good mood and ensure good fortune.

The fragrant orchids are represented by the Cattleya oncidium – or “corsage orchid” – that in earlier times brought on good moods for all the lucky ladies who’s prom dates showed up with an orchid – – and Oncidium Irish Mist ‘Big Hot Sun.’

I was intrigued with the small Mai Dat – a tribute to the tradition of clipping trees and shrubs into a variety of shapes – a kind of topiary that dates from the 13th century and not unlike a kind of bonsai except that mai dat is meant to be “abstract and fanciful.”

One is hopelessly and lovingly drawn to the center of the Conservatory where the crowning pinnacle of any NYBG show reigns. Here for the Orchid Show, there is a replica of a Sala or place of relaxation from the sun — and life. It is an homage to famed contemporary landscape design architect: Mom Tri, a descendent of King Rama IV – evoking a traditional Buddhist Thai garden. 

The Sala featured a temple-like hardscape structure studded with boatloads of phalaenopsis orchids — on a topiary elephant “saddle” and on moss balls, along with those glorious Vandas – with their epiphyte kind of necklaces hanging below. Those epiphyte roots help absorb moisture and catch falling detritus, explained Christian.  

The Sala should be viewed also for the plant compositions created by NYBG curators. Please notice the elegant slipper orchids: paphiopedilum, ‘Silver Dollar’ Maidenhair ferns, and gorgeous rocks, placed ever so stylishly.

Philodendrons and ferns and bromeliads et al are the backdrops and foils for the show dazzlers but should not be overlooked.

My hands-down favorite display is the diminutive pool of black water — accessorized with orchid petals of varying shades of fuschia, red and white. Surrounding the mysterious and captivating pool are more slipper orchids and white Dendrobium ‘Mini Snowflake’ orchids, and delicate Maidenhair ferns.
I dare you to stop looking! 

But I also especially loved a color composition up front in the display. The curators worked the yellow, burgundy and greens to subtle triumph. Look for the Oncostele ‘Wildcat’ – glowing with afternoon sun – low ground cover – Spathoglottis yellow orchids, hibiscus, fuschia-colored leaves… Take it all in.

There is also another grouping of lanterns by the sala — the bamboo lanterns in a group of nine: a lucky number in Thailand. 
The Thai word for nine is gao, “similar to ‘progress’ and for ‘rice’ a staple food.” Even the pot containers are clustered in lucky number compositions. 
I confess I’m superstitious; to learn how Thais have lucky and unlucky numbers and traditions, resonated with me!  
I plan to return during one of the Orchid Evenings — for nothing else but to experience the magical glow of these lanterns surrounded by orchids. Yet there is also dance and music — and cocktails!  A trifecta of plant-entertainment, especially during the winter.  What’s better than being in a seductive greenhouse with all those hot-hot beauties when it’s cold outside.  Romance is surely “in the air.”

I’ve often referred to orchids as “jewelry” and you’ll understand why when you view the Orchid Show — the displays are priceless and elegant and glamorous. It seems appropriate then that a key sponsor of the Orchid Show is Baccarat (Thank you, Baccarat.)

There is a plethora of spot-on programs developed for the Orchid Show. Especially The Orchid Evenings — sigh — I can’t wait to experience those Thai Lanterns glowing at night in the Conservatory…

Orchid Evenings

Saturdays: March 4, 11, 18, and 25; April 1 and 8

Fridays: March 31 (LGBT Night) and April 7

6:30–9:30 p.m. (entry times at 6:30, 7, and 7:30 p.m.)

Stroll through The Orchid Show: Thailand in the lush Conservatory, while music, dance, and unmatched beauty create one of New York City’s most unique and spectacular evening outings. On April 1 and 8, visitors can also upgrade their experience with the Young Garden Circle Lounge for skip-the-line access; free parking; a private open bar featuring beer, wine, and specialty cocktails; complimentary light bites; and a live DJ making for an unforgettable night. Advance tickets recommended. Cash bar available.

Film Screenings

Vanilla: The Sacred Orchid

Saturday, February 18 and Sunday, February 19; 1, 1:30, and 2 p.m.

In Ross Hall

Learn the intriguing life process—from flower to pantry—of a favorite flavor. This scenic film examines the full-year cycle of this spice from Veracruz, Mexico. The vanilla orchid is still cultivated by the same indigenous people who have been growing it for centuries. The film is directed by Curtis Craven and runs 26 minutes.


Saturday, February 25 and Sunday, February 26; 2 p.m.

In Ross Hall

In this popular 2002 feature film inspired by Susan Orlean’s book The Orchid Thief, Nicolas Cage plays Charlie Kaufman, a lovelorn L.A. screenwriter overwhelmed by feelings of inadequacy, self- loathing, and the screenwriting ambitions of his freeloading twin brother, Donald (also Cage). While struggling to adapt The Orchid Thief by Orlean (Meryl Streep), Kaufman’s life spins from pathetic to bizarre. The lives of Kaufman, Orlean, and John Laroche (Chris Cooper), the orchid poacher and subject of the book, become strangely intertwined as each one’s obsession collides with those of the others. (114 minutes, Rated R)

Dance Performances

Magical Thailand—A Journey with the Somapa Thai Dance Company

Saturdays and Sundays, March 4–April 9

Performances at 1 and 3 p.m.

In Ross Hall, or seasonally in Conservatory Plaza

The Somapa Thai Dance Company takes you on a journey to experience beautiful and magical Thailand. The Washington, D.C.-based dance company introduces audiences to Thai performing arts and culture with graceful classical and folk dances from various parts of Thailand.

The Orchid Show Tours

Tuesdays–Fridays; 12:30 and 2:30 p.m.

Meet at the Conservatory Entrance

Tour The Orchid Show with an expert guide. Get a brief introduction to the biology of orchids to learn what makes them so different from other flowers, and learn about some of the current research projects that our scientists are working on.

Roaming Guides

Saturdays and Sundays; 10 a.m.–4 p.m.

In the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory

Garden guides highlight parts of the permanent collection and special exhibition to add insight to your experience of The Orchid Show. They will provide an in-depth look at rare and extraordinary orchid specimens on display.

Orchid Care Demonstrations

Saturdays and Sundays; 2:30 and 3:30 p.m.

In the Conservatory GreenSchool

Join NYBG experts as they discuss the basics of orchid care and how to choose and successfully grow these exotic plants.

Orchid Expert Q&A
Saturdays and Sundays; 1:30–4:30 p.m.

In NYBG Shop

Drop in and ask about orchid care tips. Get help selecting the proper orchid for your home.

Also During The Orchid Show

Thousands of top-quality orchids, from exotic, hard-to-find specimens for connoisseurs to elegant yet easy-to-grow varieties for beginners, are available for purchase at NYBG Shop, along with orchid products and books. During The Orchid Show, visitors can enjoy a selection of dining options at the Hudson Garden Grill, NYBG’s full-service restaurant, which will have Thai-inspired offerings, and at the Pine Tree Cafe

It’s cold outside — get to the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory for the 15th Annual NYBG Orchid Show 


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