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Orchids by night: A biodiversity spectacular

Orchids are incredibly beautiful, especially when illuminated at night. This photo essay takes in the magnificence of Kew Garden’s annual orchid display.

Display of flowering orchids at Kew Gardens, London. Image by Tim Sandle
Display of flowering orchids at Kew Gardens, London. Image by Tim Sandle

There are many impressive and beautiful plants around the world but none with the range and diversity of orchids. To travel the world to see the variety of spectacular orchids is one way to take in their beauty; another way is to visit a curated collection.

Spectacular orchid on display at Kew Gardens. Image by Tim Sandle

One of the world’s leading collections of orchids is hosted at Kew Gardens in London (the Royal Botanic Gardens), crossing the period between the end of winter and the start of spring. While the display of orchids, held within one of the magnificent glass houses at Kew, runs for several weeks, selected ‘Orchids By Night’ events take place and the contrast of the darkness outside against the colour of the orchids inside adds a special atmosphere.

Magnificent orchid specimen at Kew. Image by Tim Sandle

Digital Journal visited the orchid display and took in the wonder of the botanical spectacle. The 2023 event was inspired by the biodiversity of Cameroon, with the orchids housed in the Princess of Wales Conservatory.

Kew Gardens is a World Heritage Site, consisting of 121 hectares (300 acres) and it is one of the largest gardens in the world.

Orchids are a diverse and widespread group of flowering plants with colourful and fragrant blooms.

Orchid at night, Kew Gardens. Image by Tim Sandle

Orchids are one of the largest families of flowering plants, with about 28,000 species and 100,000 hybrids and cultivars.

Intensity of colour. Orchid at Kew, image by Tim Sandle

Orchids vary in size, shape, and habitat, growing on every continent except Antarctica. The global distribution of known orchids is:

  • Oceania: 50 to 70 genera
  • North America: 20 to 26 genera
  • tropical America: 212 to 250 genera
  • tropical Asia: 260 to 300 genera
  • tropical Africa: 230 to 270 genera
  • Europe and temperate Asia: 40 to 60 genera

Almost all orchids are included in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

Princess of Wales Conservatory at Kew Gardens. Image by Tim Sandle

Most orchids come from humid, tropical regions, so they do best in a humid atmosphere.

Superb specimen, orchid at night. Image by Tim Sandle

Orchids are an ancient plant, dating back to the time of dinosaurs, with seeds traced back to 15-20 million years ago.

An unusual orchid at Kew. Image by Tim Sandle

Orchids need bright but indirect light.

Vibrant colours of orchids. Image by Tim Sandle

Orchids have evolved special features like pollinia (mass of pollen grains that is the product of each anther lobe of some flowers) and epiphytes (being able to grow on the surface of another plant) to adapt to their environments.

Visitors admiring Orchids By Night, at Kew Gardens. Image by Tim Sandle

Orchid flowers have three sepals, three petals and a three-chambered ovary.

Delicate beauty of orchids. Image by Tim Sandle

The dried seed pods of one orchid genus, Vanilla (especially Vanilla planifolia), are commercially important as a flavouring in baking, for perfume manufacture and aromatherapy.

Orchids over water at Kew Gardens. Image by Tim Sandle
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Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, business, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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