A Behind the Scenes Look at the Orchid Show

    A Behind the Scenes Look at the Orchid Show
    By: Paul Langdon

    For over a century the Orchid Show at the Missouri Botanical Garden has remained one of the most popular annual events St. Louisans have to look forward to every winter. Between January 27 and February 25, 2024 visitors to the Garden’s Jack C. Taylor Visitor Center’s Emerson Conservatory will witness a sampling of the Garden’s extensive permanent collection.

    “Orchids are a long part of the Missouri Botanical Garden’s history, dating back to the 1800s. The Orchid Show itself is more than a hundred years old and is a beloved tradition for the St. Louis community,” says the Missouri Botanical Garden’s Senior Public Information Officer Catherin Martin.

    Maintaining this collection for such a long time is no small feat, and requires year-round attention from scientists working in the Garden’s greenhouses. “Our horticulture staff take really good care of our orchids here,” explains Daria McKelvey, the Supervisor of the Kemper Center for Home Gardening at the Missouri Botanical Garden. “They’re constantly having to make sure that our orchids are properly watered. Some of them like dryer conditions, so we’ll back off on watering for them, and some of them like more moisture, so we’ll water them a little bit more frequently. We’re also making sure that they don’t have any pests and diseases, removing any spent flowers to ensure health, and one of the other things too is, of course, our orchids grow like any other plants. And so, often times, we have to do a lot of repotting.”

    Orchidaceae is one of the biggest plant families on earth and the Garden’s orchid collection is made up of roughly 6,500 individual plants, representing close to 700 unique genera. But even with such a massive number of species on hand, the contents of their greenhouses still only serve as a sample of about one-fifth of the known orchid genera. “Most orchids cannot be gown in a greenhouse environment or in a home, because they have very specific growing requirements. Some of them have to have a symbiotic relationship with certain fungi and it’s very hard for us to replicate that in a greenhouse,” McKelvey clarifies. “So those kinds of orchids actually have to be studied where they occur in nature.”

    Given the biodiversity within this family of plants, it’s easy to imagine the many different scientific possibilities that could blossom from their further study. But many of the plants comprising the Missouri Botanical Garden’s orchid collection can be classified as threatened and endangered in the wild, making their conservation that much more important.

    “Having this massive collection allows us to conserve these plants, so that we can have them for future generations, and also learn about them so that we can translate that into any other projects,” says McKelvey.

    The hard work and diligence of the Missouri Botanical Garden’s horticulture staff is usually kept behind the scenes in greenhouses that are off limits to regular visitors. But now through February 25th you can witness the result of their efforts on display in the Emerson Conservatory. Details about the Orchid Show, Orchid Nights on February 8th and 22nd, and the permanent orchid collection can be found on www.mobot.org.