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Endless Forms: The Orchid Show 2018

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Dr. David Berry, Curator, The Orchid Show: Endless Forms

By Dr. David Berry

Many botanical gardens host orchid shows, but few if any are able to do it more completely than Marie Selby Botanical Gardens. As home to the finest scientifically documented orchid collection in the world, Selby Gardens is uniquely placed to explore the beauty and diversity of one of the most intriguing families of flowering plants on earth. For the second year in a row, Selby Gardens will be presenting a show that combines a dazzling display of living orchids in the Tropical Conservatory with an elegant exhibition of orchid treasures from its bibliographic and preserved collections in the Museum of Botany and the Arts.

The theme of the 2018 Orchid Show is “Endless Forms,” emphasizing the remarkable range of shapes and sizes of different orchid species (October 12 – november 25, 2018). The phrase is drawn from the famous final line of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, in which he stated that “from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.”

The Tropical Conservatory will be filled with spectacular orchids, including rare and unusual specimens from Selby Gardens’ living plant collection. Visitors will be exposed to the extraordinary variety that exists among the more than 27,000 orchid species found nearly the world over. Form will be emphasized by a series of large sculptural elements, located throughout the conservatory, from which epiphytic orchids will be suspended in dramatic fashion.

The walls of the north gallery of the Museum of Botany and the Arts will be covered with groupings of orchid species, each consisting of a print, pressed herbarium specimen, and fluid-preserved spirit specimen. The groupings will enable comparisons between various types of botanical evidence, each with its own particular benefits to the botanist. Two table cases in the middle of the gallery will contain rare botanical books from the Selby Research Library. Highlights will include A Monograph of Odontoglossum, an impressive oversized volume published by British horticulturalist James Bateman in 1874, and Illustrations of Orchidaceous Plants, produced in the 1830s by Austrian artist Francis Bauer, considered one of the greatest botanical illustrators of all time.

The south gallery will feature three main elements, each of which will address the subject of form in a different way. The centerpiece of the gallery will be a table-top terrarium filled with living orchids, enabling close investigation from multiple perspectives. In addition to the terrarium will be a screen with animated 3-D models of orchids, produced in partnership with the Institute for Digital Exploration (IDEx) at the University of South Florida in Tampa, and a series of panels with images of and information on the six most common genera of orchids, each identifiable by the distinctive shape of its flower.

The Orchid Show: Endless Forms presented by Better-Gro will be accompanied by an assortment of educational programs and events offering something for every orchid enthusiast.

Lead sponsors include Williams Parker, MISH New York, Gold Coast Eagle Distributing, Total Wine & More, State of Florida, Department of State, Division of Cultural Affairs and the Florida Council on Arts and Culture and Sarasota County Tourist Development Tax Revenues. Additional support is provided by The Ringling, Sherran Blair (in memory of Mary Perry), Alice Rau, Triad Foundation and University of South Florida.

Exhibition curator Dr. David Berry is the Assistant Director of Academic Affairs at the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art. He has worked as a consultant with Selby Gardens since 2014. He is the guest curator of the Orchid Show in the Museum of Botany and the Arts.