The Smith­so­nian’s 18th an­nual or­chid ex­hibit, ”Or­chids of Latin Amer­ica,” will run at the U.S. Botanic Garden through April 21.

The Washington Post Sunday - - ARTS - BY LON­NAE O’NEAL PARKER oneall@wash­post.com

The “Or­chids of Latin Amer­ica” room feels far away from the busy Washington streets, and the soar­ing ro­tunda with the gi­ant elephant, old and well pre­served. This Na­tional Mu­seum of Nat­u­ral His­tory ex­hibit is set apart from them all by a bend in a first-floor hall­way. It is co­cooned in alive­ness; walled off by smell and the prom­ise of warm sun. Thou­sands of or­chid species flour­ish through­out Mex­ico, South Amer­ica and the Caribbean, the ex­hibit text tells us. In­dige­nous peo­ple use them in their daily lives. They show up in folk­lore and cul­tural tra­di­tions; there is or­chid bi­ol­ogy, con­ser­va­tion, evo­lu­tion and nationalism. There are or­chids to fes­toon and or­chids to bury. The ceil­ing lights un­du­late, mov­ing through the fo­liage like breezes through the vines. Pink and green flow­ers have names like Heart Joy, while or­ange and co­ral are a Half-Moon Won­der­land, and Fi­esta Girl is or­ange and red. Visit a world, but sit on a bench, be there and here, watch­ing as mu­seum-go­ers snap pho­tos and mur­mur over wafts of fra­grance that also fill plazas and pub­lic squares thou­sands of miles away. All too soon, it is clos­ing time and se­cu­rity guard voices urg­ing vis­i­tors to exit echo off gray walls, but some still linger at the flow­ers; at all the leaf life, usu­ally ex­tinct in this place, and a last scent of spring be­fore the out­door win­ter chill.


IN BLOOM: A Laelia colom­biana flower, above, is among the beau­ties on dis­play in the “Or­chids of Latin Amer­ica” ex­hibit, as is an Epi­den­drum “Peach Glow,” top right, and a Den­dro­bium amethys­toglos­sum.

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