Selby Gardens Kicks Off 50th Anniversary Season with Orchid Show

Here's a sneak peek at the show, which opens Saturday.

By Kay Kipling October 5, 2023

It's time to view the orchids on display in Selby Gardens' conservatory.  

Marie Selby Botanical Gardens is well-known for a number of reasons, but orchids may be what first spring to mind for many visitors. That’s why it’s fitting that the gardens’ 50th anniversary season should kick off with its annual orchid show, celebrating both the history of the downtown campus gifted by Marie Selby and the beauty and scientific relevance of the flowers themselves.

The show officially opens to the public on Saturday, Oct. 7, to run through Nov. 26, but a media preview on Thursday morning granted a sneak peek of the exhibits and some insights from Selby staff.

Gorgeous colors blend in the show's orchids.

The tour began with living orchids in the gardens’ conservatory, creatively and distinctively designed to highlight a number of different orchids in different ways. Some hang on rocks over a pond created just for this show, as they would grow naturally in their tropical habitats. Some are placed against cork or paired with little custom three-dimensional pots; some ornamented with driftwood and framed by ferns and moss.

Entering the conservatory.

There’s even a sort of “family tree” sculpture to indicate just how widespread the orchid family is. (It happens to contain about 28,000 species, and Selby has a strong representation of many of them in its collection, but the orchids on display here are actually provided by growers for the most part.)

The living plants provide much of the “ooh and aah” factor here, but for those interested in scientific background—and the people involved in acquiring and documenting Selby’s orchids—the exhibit in the gardens’ museum will fascinate. The first thing you notice as you step inside is a large, seldom-seen photo of Marie Selby (with her dog, Riggles) dating from the 1920s, along with a few botanical illustrations set in the windows. Continuing the tour, you see more highly detailed illustrations, rare books, pressed and dried plants, jars filled with tiny spirit specimens, and photos of some of the leading Selby scientists and the orchids discovered by and named after them.

Books, photos and preserved specimens help tell the story of orchids within Selby's museum.

You’ll also learn a bit about “orchidmania,” which took hold of much of the 19th-century aristocratic world of Europe. There’s even a portion of a pamphlet bearing the name of Charles Darwin and relating to his Notes on the Fertilization of Orchids—perhaps not quite as ground-breaking a work as his 1859 publication On the Origin of Species, but still notable for his later-proved assertion that a moth with a very long proboscis was the pollinator for one lovely orchid featured in a book below the pamphlet pages.

A carefully curated display in the conservatory.

Overall, though, as associate director of horticultural exhibits Nathan Burnaman puts it, the exhibit “lets the orchids do all the work,” sure to grab the attention of visitors.

For more information on “The Orchid Show 2023: A 50th Anniversary Celebration,” visit selby.org.

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