A special exhibition of New Guinea orchids in the Highlands gallery of the Conservatory of Flowers

The Highlands Gallery

With almost two thousand plant species represented in its exhibits and floral displays, The Conservatory of Flowers joins a distinctive circle of modern American horticultural museums that are on the cutting edge of botanical interpretation and conservation education. This museum of living plants delivers a moving message about the rapid changes in tropical habitats worldwideand efforts currently underway to conserve these special places. The Conservatory of Flowers is one of only four institutions in the U.S. to feature a highland tropics display.

A primary feature of the Highlands Tropics Gallery is the Conservatory’s large and renowned collection of delicate high-altitude orchids. New Guinea orchids are now on display in the Conservatory of Flowers Highland Tropics gallery. A dedicated presentation of the orchids can be found in the southwest corner of the gallery on tree branches dense with orchids.

Two outstanding orchids have been acquired by the Conservatory of Flowers for the exhibition: Dendrobium cuthbertsonii and Diplocaulobium regale. Dendrobiumcuthbertsonii is a small plant (approximately 2 inches tall) and is a great representation of adaptation. Typically epiphytic it also grows lithophytically or terrestrially. Its leaves have warty protuberances that are thought to help shed excess water and prevent the buildup of sun-blocking moss and algae, and that may offer protection against some insect pests. Additionally, this little plant has disproportionately large, showy flowers that equal the size of the plant. The bird-pollinated flowers are produced in red, pink, yellow, orange, and bicolor and can last for three months. The Diplocaulobium regale, which is not widely available commercially, is not as floriferous and only flowers for a day or two. However, this plant is a prime example of the importance of plants in the material culture of the Highlands.Diplocaulobium regale is noted for its use as the yellow fiber used to decorate bilums.

Caring for Highlands orchids on view at the Conservatory of Flowers

These high-elevation plants have specific cultural requirements and can present challenges in meeting their unique care needs. The plants will require regular monitoring and daily watering. Rotation of the plants from the gallery to the support greenhouse for a rest period will be a crucial step in maintaining their good health. Repotting, remounting, and pest control will be additional keys to the well-being and survival of these plants over the course of the exhibition. It will be of the utmost importance to remain acutely aware of the orchids’ needs for the right balance of light, humidity, fertilizer, moisture, and appropriately maintained media. That being said, the Highland Tropics gallery and thesupporting cool greenhouse at the Conservatory offer these plants a friendly environment.

Image Gallery

Tree branches dense with orchids on view in the southwestern corner of the gallery
Tree branches dense with orchids on view in the southwestern corner of the gallery
Diplocaulobium regale in the Conservatory of Flowers nursery
Detail of orchid fiber used to decorate a bilum
Highlands Tropics plants on display
Eric Imperiale discussing Highlands Tropics plants on display
Eric Imperiale, Nursery Specialist responsible for the Highlands Tropics collection