"A mulched bed of naturalized Angraecum species is part of the permanent orchid collection at the Atlanta Botanical Garden."
In their never ending quest to lure visitors, botanical gardens often supplement their own collections with blooming plants that they have obtained elsewhere. Orchids are inherently unpredictable, both in their blooming time and showiness, so they are particularly vulnerable to being outsourced. It takes the highest level of horticultural expertise to design, procure, and annually produce an orchid collection for public display that blooms at all the right times and delivers sufficient flower power. The Atlanta Botanical Garden has set the standard for institutions hoping for relevance in today’s orchid craze.
Within the garden is the Fuqua Orchid Center, a relatively new complex, which is “home to the largest collection of species orchids on permanent display in America.” The plants are shown in two tropical greenhouses – one that simulates a cool and foggy cloud forest and the other a hot and sticky rainforest. The different climates allow for a wide range of orchids to thrive.
"A dripping wet Coelogyne species hangs from a tree branch in the rainforest house of the Atlanta Botanical Garden."
Of particular interest is the cloud forest or ‘high elevation’ house which requires a perpetual fog as found on a mountain that is 6,000 to 10,000 feet above sea level. The orchids that grow in this environment are not commonly seen in captivity and include well grown examples of naturally occurring odontoglossums, masdevallias, and phragmipediums. Hats off to the plant growing staff who are able to pull off this botanical marvel.
The rainforest house supports warm growing genera from around the world. Here we find a mulched bed of assorted and rare angraecum species (Comet Orchid) with their distinctive white and green flowers and trademark spurs that originate in Madagascar; a rocky creek bed lined with sequentially blooming Colombian Phragmipedium schlimii which always seems to have a blossom or two; and a cork tree loaded with the often overlooked and brown petal twisted Asian Phalaenopsis mannii. Closer to home are the popular Central American and Mexican genera with many examples of brassavola, epidendrum, laelia, and encyclia orchids. Bunches of mature Laelia anceps with their 4 foot long flower spikes bedazzle onlookers.
"Bunches of long-stemmed Laelia anceps give visitors a taste of Mexican orchid genera."
The Garden’s focus on orchids extends beyond typical ornamental horticulture and into conservation and education. Their state-of-the-art seed germination and cloning laboratory enable researchers to reproduce rare or endangered plants which are then reintroduced on site or made available to nurseries, universities, and other botanical institutions.
One of the secrets of the Garden is its close association with the local orchid society. Not only are the monthly society meetings and annual shows held on the grounds, but the Orchid Center draws on the tremendous expertise of the society membership, many of whom have world class private collections.
With its well-designed facility and ever-changing displays, the Atlanta Botanical Garden attracts heavy crowds. Surprised guests might even encounter local resident and former President Jimmy Carter, who frequents the conservatory with his granddaughter.