Orchids are weird. Exotic, yet vanilla (literally, culinary vanilla comes from the Vanilla planifolia varietal). Sometimes waxy, sometimes fuzzy—a confusion of textures. Pillars of the most elaborate arrangements and the most basic corsage. A mainstay of high-art arranging and corporate lobbies. And that’s before you even get into the personalities of individual species. Consider, for instance, the Paphiopedilum, or slipper orchid, so named for the shoe-like appendage, called a labellum, into which pollinating insects crawl. Some 60 species fall into this subfamily, appearing striped or spotted, with “strange hairs and warty bumps,” as described by one of the informational plaques in the New York Botanical Garden’s Orchid Show—gorgeous and a little grotesque at the very same time.   

Photo: Chloe Schama

Alongside its excavation of the past, the show is setting something of a precedent. In its 20 years, there has never been a female guest designer, Kwong says, and she has leaned into that, putting this show into place using an all-female team. She has also dedicated the show to her grandmother, whose Chinese name, she tells me, means “healthy orchid.”

The New York Botanical Garden’s Orchid Show: Natural Heritage is up from Saturday, February 18, 2023 – Sunday, April 23, 2023.

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