As October winds down, fall is finally here, bringing with it pumpkin patches, trick-or-treating and, just maybe, temperatures below 75 degrees. In Sarasota, there’s one sure sign of the new season: Marie Selby Botanical Gardens’ annual Orchid Show, which opened Oct. 12 and runs till Nov. 25.
This year’s show “Endless Forms” is based on Charles Darwin’s famous final line in his 1859 On the Origin of Species: “There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one, and that…from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and being, evolved.”
Selby manifests this idea of the ‘endless forms’ of orchids, science and art throughout the entire exhibit. In the Tropical Conservatory, specimens from Selby’s living plant collection are assembled in a variety of artistic arrangements. In the Payne Mansion Museum of Botany and the Arts, Selby showcases three scientific forms of evidence to illustrate some of the ‘endless forms’ orchids have been represented in.
According to Senior Vice President Mike McLaughlin, who oversees horticulture, collections and facilities at Selby, there are several themes in the greenhouse exhibit, including plant size, leaf forms, flower forms and stems. The many different types of orchids in the greenhouse showcase these themes, and the beautiful diversity that exists in this plant family. In this component of the exhibit, the museum has created several sculptural elements to display thousands of orchids, including an infinity loop, a ribbon of orchids that stretches around the entire room and “vandbrellas,” a term the design team coined for the umbrellas hanging from the ceiling covered in Vanda orchids.
“We had a lot of fun with shapes and forms,” McLaughlin said.
Planning for the conservatory exhibit took a year in total, and six to eight months on paper. Brainstorming for each year’s theme is collaborative, but the horticulture department is responsible for “running with it” once the theme is decided, according to McLaughlin. To get ready for the exhibit, the team stripped everything out from the greenhouse, save for a few potted plants, and closed the conservatory for two weeks to set up the show.
The exhibit focuses on four ways of representing and preserving orchids: herbarium, spirit, bibliographic and living. These forms are showcased throughout the exhibit’s two components: the conservatory and the galleries in the Payne Mansion. A herbarium is a collection of pressed plant specimens. Spirit specimens are specimens that have been preserved in spirits and retain their three-dimensional shape. Bibliographic refers to scientific prints of orchids in books. And living, of course, refers to an actual living plant.
In the Museum of Botany and Art’s North Gallery, there are seven trifectas, another term coined by the exhibit team. Each trifecta is a collection of a botanical print, a herbarium specimen and a spirit specimen of the same orchid, to further illustrate the idea of the ‘endless forms’ of orchids. But finding three different specimens of the same orchid was no easy feat. To create these trifectas, the team pulled from 150,000 herbarium specimens, 2,500 botanical prints that date to more than 100 years old and 25,000 spirit specimens. The trifectas also present a playful twist on the traditional fields of art and science, with botanical prints, originally used for scientific study and research, functioning as forms of art.
The South Gallery—the more “experimental” gallery, according to the exhibit team—houses a 3D model of a Dendrobium orchid, the result of a partnership with the Institute for Digital Exploration at University of South Florida-Tampa (USF).
“Having all the tools of botanical study dating back hundreds of years up to the modern day, [takes the exhibit to the] next level compared to last year’s show,” Vice President of Botany Bruce Holst said.
“Endless Forms” hopes to drive home the point that all these forms—living, pressed, prints and spirits—have different uses, scientific and artistic, and serve as valuable forms of scientific evidence.
All photos by Matt Holler courtesy of Selby Gardens.
The Orchid Show: Endless Forms will be on display daily from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m., Oct. 12 – Nov. 25 at Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, 900 S. Palm Ave., Sarasota. Tickets are free for members and $20 for adults.