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Beyond its Sheer Loveliness and Tropical Setting, Cleveland Botanical Garden’s ‘Orchids Forever’ Emphasizes Relationships

Fri., Feb. 4, 2022

By Janet Podolak, Food and Travel Writer- For the News-Herald

Annual orchid show brings together beauty, knowledge and warmth

This purple Paphiopedium “Odette’s Whim,” a variety of slipper orchid, is found in one of the towers of orchids at the entrance to “Orchids Forever,” the 16th annual flower show at the Cleveland Botanical Garden. (Janet Podolak — For The News-Herald)

“Orchids Forever,” on through March 13 at the Cleveland Botanical Garden, expresses with its name the hope that the prolific flower will not become extinct with the disturbances wrought by the climate crisis.

Today, thousands of orchids in every color and shape are found on all the continents and in every ecosystem, their resiliency largely preserved by their pollinators. Those pollinators — some unique to specific orchids — include bees, wasps, moths, butterflies and even hummingbirds.

The pollinators are represented by the exhibit’s graphic cutouts hanging from the ceiling of the garden building, including the humid Costa Rica and dry Madagascar glasshouses. They serve to illustrate the wide variety of climates in which orchids can thrive. Captions on panels tucked amid the many orchid displays explain the pollinator-orchid relationships and the vital synergy that exists between them.

Some of the most striking displays of the flowers are clustered in 8-foot towers, drawing the eye upward to view the orchids from beneath and taking in the graphic cutouts. The towers of orchids greet visitors entering the exhibit and continue within the glasshouses, where, in some places, wires holding planters full of orchids blend in with the jungle roots hanging from above.

Many will take the advice of Jill Koski, president and CEO of Holden Forest and Gardens, and find joy in the humid warmth of the Costa Rica biome as they become immersed in the brilliant colors and unusual shapes of flowers in “Orchids Forever.” But beyond the waterfalls and butterflies, there’s lots to be learned about orchids by taking time to read the placards at the displays.

You learn, for instance, that the vanilla orchid (Vanilla planifolia), the only one producing edible fruit, can be pollinated only by the Melipona bee, a native to Central America. The vanilla orchid’s pollen is very inaccessible, and only the Melipona bee can reach it.

A Cleveland Botanical Garden horticulturist places a pot of orchids amid the spiny plants in the dry Madagascar glasshouse, where the contrast is unmistakable. (Janet Podolak — For The News-Herald)

But because Madagascar has the world’s largest producer of vanilla, orchids there must be hand-pollinated to produce vanilla beans. The difficult process makes vanilla very expensive.

Likewise, the 10- to 15-inch-long spurs at the base of the Angraecum sesquipedale hold a very small amount of nectar that can be reached only by the proboscis of a tiny moth. It’s nicknamed Darwin’s orchid, as Charles Darwin was the first to recognize that relationship. Ever since, that relationship has been an element in Darwin’s theories of evolution.

Eight-foot towers of orchids allow a close-up look at many different flowers, as well as the opportunity to view them from beneath. (Janet Podolak — For The News-Herald)

“There are thousands upon thousands of types of orchids,” said Caroline Tait, vice president of horticulture and collections for both the Botanical Garden and its sister attraction in Lake County, Holden Arboretum. She came here after 25 years at England’s Coton Manor Garden, named Britain’s favorite garden in a national poll.

“Orchids’ survival is connected to the success of other living things,” Tait said.

Lady Slippers, North America’s own wild orchid, is endangered in many places and listed as “of special concern” by the Native Plant Protection Act. Look for a beautiful purple Slipper orchid (Paphiopedilum) in an orchid tower near the show’s entrance.

A variety of Lady Slipper also can be found blooming during May in the Myrtle S. Holden Wildflower Garden at Holden Arboretum.

Yankee Magazine gives this bit of lore to explain its name: “Native American folklore tells the story of a young maiden who ran barefoot in the snow in search of medicine to save her tribe, but was found collapsed on the way back from her mission with swollen, frozen feet. As a result, beautiful lady slipper flowers then grew where her feet had been as a reminder of her bravery.”

‘Orchids Forever’

Where: Cleveland Botanical Garden,11030 East Blvd.

When: Through March 13 — 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays,10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturdays and noon to 5 p.m. Sundays.

Admission: $16 adult; $12 children 3 to 12; free for members of Holden Forest & Gardens

Read the article on the News-Herald’s website here.

Janet Podolak

Food and Travel Writer- For the News-Herald

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