Saturday, April 02, 2011

The Orchid Exhibit


So a little known fact about me is that I am a florist - it is what I actually went to school for. So when I saw that the orchid exhibit was open at the Smithsonian I knew I had to go.

And honestly, I had expected sights like this...

And yeah even this:
(nope not pregnant - sunburned and tired NOT glowing)

But what I wasn't prepared for was how much I was going to learn about Orchids.

Did you know that the vanilla bean comes from and Orchid Plant

Though vanilla is a well-known scent and baking ingredient, it is not well known that the familiar vanilla pods come from an orchid plant. The vanilla orchid is one of the many orchid plants that are easy to grow indoors. This orchid plant has an interesting history. The pods from this orchid are used for the well-known vanilla flavor and vanilla scent.

Most of the vanilla flavor and scents we are familiar with come from artificial production. True natural vanilla comes from a seedpod from the vanilla orchid. Vanilla planifolia is the species that is grown for commercial vanilla flavor and scent. This orchid will climb like a vine, often up a tree trunk that provides the partial shade it prefers. The vanilla orchid plant’s flowers are large and can be white, greenish yellow, green, or cream in color. Each vanilla orchid bloom opens in the morning and closes in the evening, never to open again. If an orchid flower is not pollinated (from stingless bees, hummingbirds, or by hand), it will be quickly shed.

Though a vanilla plant may be high maintenance outdoors, bringing this orchid plant indoors will make the job of growing a vanilla orchid plant easier. Getting actual vanilla pods from this would prove more difficult. Indoors, the vanilla orchid rarely flowers or produces fruit. One of the main hindrances growing this orchid plant indoors is the lack of high humidity. Considering this orchid plant has the potential to reach a height of 300 feet (in a tropical environment), if you are successful in providing an indoor environment that your vanilla orchid plant will thrive in, this orchid plant may become more than you can handle indoors! With a little care you can grow a vanilla orchid indoors for the foliage. With a lot of care and environment management you can get it to bloom and produce the beautiful orchid blooms and fragrant vanilla pods.

The history of the vanilla orchid dates back to its discovery in Mexico where the Totonaco people first cultivated the plant. The legend is that the blood of two fallen lovers marked the spot where the vine grew and the vanilla scent is aroma of true love and beauty. In the early 1700’s the vanilla orchid plant was introduced to English gardens and grew in popularity. During the 1800’s the vanilla orchid was actually smuggled out of Mexico and Central America. As orchids became popular and rare in the 1900’s, they brought high bids at auctions.

Vanilla is a popular flavor and scent that all started with the discovery of the vanilla orchid centuries ago. Though many foods contain artificial vanilla flavor and your favorite vanilla scented candle may have synthetic vanilla scent added, you can still find real vanilla from the beautiful vanilla orchid plant with a little searching. There is nothing like seeing the familiar brown specs in each delicious spoonful of vanilla ice cream made with real vanilla and eating it in a room with natural vanilla scented candle burning.

Or how it can and has been used in Chinese medicine

Orchid Medicine

Orchids, particularly the species Dendrobium officinale, have been used as medicinal herbs for centuries. New research has discovered many new applications of the different orchid species, and today there are at least 50 orchid species used especially in traditional Chinese medicine formulas.

The use for dried orchids ranges from immune system build-up, to cancer treatment, eye-sight improvement, regaining strength after healing (for healers) and quick recovery after sex.

The parts of the orchids used most frequently are the stems and bulbs, as they are designed to keep the plant alive during dry season, and hence are rich in nutritive substances.

It really is quite amazing to me that these beautiful "decorations" also have so much value in health and healthy living!

Did you enjoy this informative type of blog post? Would you like it if I checked out more museums on occasion and let you know what I learned?

I think I have one more quick DC post and then I am on to THIS week! Not bad only exactly a week late - but hey this has been a pretty stressful week with some difficult personal decisions and some health issues (both I am planning on talking about in upcoming posts) and wakes funerals and a wedding!

Have a great weekend, and really would you like more posts like this or was it a bore?


Missy said...

I'd have loved to go to that. Wow! And no, I never knew the vanilla bean was from an orchid. Maybe that's why the real thing is so pricey!

That dress is real pretty by the way -- very apropos for the occasion. (0:

Laura said...

I loved this post! Please tell me more about your adventures and what you learn!

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