Documents: Special Interest: Orchids:

Orchids at Kew: A Plant-hunters’ Paradise

8 February to 9 March 2014 - Princess of Wales Conservatory
by Kew
November 3, 2013

Explore a hidden world of exotic orchids and tropical plants in Kew’s Princess of Wales Conservatory, as we take you on a journey back in time, retracing the footsteps of the intrepid Victorian plant-hunters.

Enter the hot and humid glasshouse and be transported into a tropical rainforest, full of horticultural displays of exotic colour, sound and smell; a vision of paradise. Put yourself in the shoes of the passionate plant-hunters of the 19th century, as they embarked on missions to discover rare and beautiful orchids growing in remote outposts of the rainforest, to be collected in the wild, brought back to Britain and studied here at Kew.

Hear inspiring tales and read firsthand accounts of famous plant-hunters from Kew’s archive, revealing an obsession with orchids and the perils of going on expedition. Explorers encountered tropical diseases, monsoon downpours and venomous predators on a daily basis, all in search of their treasured finds. Charles Darwin, in a letter to Kew’s then Director Joseph Hooker, wrote, 'I was never more interested in any subject in my life, than in this of orchids, research and conservation work’.

RBG Kew now has one of the oldest collections of living tropical orchids dating back to 1770, as well as the largest Orchid Herbarium in the world which holds over 400,000 preserved specimens. With some species now thought to be extinct in the wild, Kew’s collection of living and preserved orchids is an invaluable resource for the scientific community.

Learn more about modern day Kew botanists who are carrying on the important work of the pioneering plant-hunters, with recent expeditions to collect and study wild orchids around the world and ongoing research.

Mark Chase, Keeper of the Jodrell Laboratory at Kew and a self-confessed orchid addict says, 'They're not only beautiful, but many of the very small ones are also full of intricate detail. This really leaves you with the impression that there is a whole other world out there that exists just below our usual frame of reference, a world of small insects about which no one knows anything and that pollinate these tiny orchids. It's fascinating when you begin to delve into the world of orchids – it's an addiction.'

Plant-enthusiasts will discover how the familiar and much loved cultivated orchid species that grow in our homes actually derive from wild ancestors; tracing their genetic journey back to the rainforest.

Finally, special activities for children will take place during half term, designed to inspire the next generation of plucky plant-hunters!

More about orchids -

More about the Princess of Wales Conservatory -

The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew is a world famous scientific organisation, internationally respected for its outstanding living collection of plants and world-class Herbarium as well as its scientific expertise in plant diversity, conservation and sustainable development in the UK and around the world. Kew Gardens is a major international visitor attraction. Its landscaped 132 hectares and RBG Kew’s country estate, Wakehurst Place, attract over 1.5m visits every year. Kew was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in July 2003 and celebrated its 250th anniversary in 2009. Wakehurst Place is home to Kew's Millennium Seed Bank, the largest wild plant seed bank in the world. Kew receives approximately half its funding from Government through the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). Further funding needed to support Kew’s vital work comes from donors, membership and commercial activity including ticket sales.

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