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Selby Gardens’ 2021 Orchid Show Hits the Heights in Sarasota

Aerialists from the Tree Top to the Big Top! provides a fascinating exploration of the intersection of nature and entertainment at Selby Gardens’ Downtown Sarasota campus.

Presented by Marie Selby Botanical Gardens October 7, 2021

Selby Gardens’ annual Orchid Show brings together two of Sarasota’s most renowned legacies: orchids and the circus. In collaboration with the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art (The Ringling), The Orchid Show 2021: Aerialists from the Tree Top to the Big Top!, presented by Better-Gro®, celebrates the breathtaking beauty of orchids in treetop canopies high above the forest floor with the artistry and spectacle of the circus, particularly the aerialists who perform extraordinary feats of human ability high above captivated crowds. Pairing astonishing air plants with amazing aerial acts enables a fascinating exploration of the intersection of nature and entertainment.

“We are thrilled to present this year’s Orchid Show in collaboration with The Ringling,” says Jennifer Rominiecki, president & CEO at Selby Gardens. “It is a wonderful opportunity to share the stories of our unique legacies in a creative and engaging way—one that has never been done before.”

The show is deeply rooted in Selby Gardens’ status as possessing the world’s best scientifically documented collection of orchids. As always, the Orchid Show highlights the diversity and richness of the Orchidaceae family, one of the largest families of flowering plants on earth.

The synergy with Sarasota’s extensive circus history fortifies the theme of this year’s show. Once the winter quarters of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, the city remains the home of many circus performers and their families. In addition to The Ringling, housing the finest circus collections in existence, Sarasota is home to the Circus Arts Conservatory and the associated Sailor Circus Academy, the oldest youth circus in America.

“The real beauty of this show is that it is something unique about Sarasota as a place,” says Dr. David Berry, vice president for visitor engagement and chief museum curator at Selby Gardens. “Orchids are central to Selby Gardens and its mission and stature as a major and defining cultural institution. Factor in The Ringling and its circus heritage, and you have a show that is truly special.”

The display of living plants in the Tropical Conservatory relates the beauty and diversity of epiphytic orchids to the drama and theatricality of aerial acts, such as wire walkers and trapeze artists. The display features an abundance of orchids of bright colors and bold patterns suspended from various heights and suggestive of certain aerial acts, creating a spectacular show.

The north gallery of the Museum of Botany & the Arts showcases vintage circus posters featuring high-flying circus performers, on loan from the Tibbals Circus Collection at The Ringling. The posters are some of the finest examples of the art of lithography, which is also well represented among the botanical illustrations housed in Selby Gardens’ Research Library. The south gallery focuses on epiphytes, as illustrated through specimens from Selby Gardens’ research collections. The gallery also highlights attributes of orchids, such as color and pattern, which enable these often showy plants to “perform” for their respective pollinators.