Every fall, the Marie Selby Botanical Garden in Sarasota celebrates the wonder of orchids with a show unlike any other. For good reason: The garden specializes in epiphytes, plants that grow upon other plants to take advantage of brighter light in the upper canopy of a forest. These include orchids, “air plants,” bromeliads and gesneriads – all of which produce spectacular flowers and, often, unusual colors and shapes of leaves as well.
The Selby Garden contains the most diverse living and preserved collection of epiphytes in the world. Orchids are the largest species of flowering plants in the world, with more than 27,000 varieties, and about 70 percent of them are epiphytes.
This year’s Selby Garden Orchid Show, on display through Nov. 25, celebrates the “Endless Forms” of orchids and bromeliads. In the tropical conservatory, orchids are suspended from a ribbon of moss that runs overhead. An infinity symbol turned on its side holds other orchid treasures.
In the Museum of Botany and the Arts in the historic Payne House, visitors can also see an unusual display combining art and botany: For several types of orchids, a colored print drawing is grouped with a dried and pressed sample and a fluid-preserved spirit specimen. In another room, a computer displays 3D modeling of various orchids in a continuous loop, a terrarium and several rare botanical books from the Selby’s collection.
The exhibit’s name, “Endless Forms,” is taken from the last line of Charles Darwin’s Origin of the Species: “There is grandeur in this view of life … from so simple a beginning, endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.”
Luckily for year-round visitors, the Selby Garden has orchids and other plants in bloom every month of the year. While October and November are considered orchid season because of the number of orchids in bloom at that time, no matter when you visit, you will see a wide variety of shapes, sizes and colors of these “most beautiful and most wonderful” flowers, often including rare and unusual varieties not found anywhere else.
The Selby Garden is kid-friendly with a children’s rainforest garden, colorful play structures and a banyan grove that includes treehouse-like structures for everyone to climb into for a view of Sarasota Bay and the sailboats bobbing on moorings at the city marina.
The outdoor gardens are at their best in the winter months when it’s comfortable to wander through mangroves and tropical plants. In addition to the orchid house, Selby Garden also has display gardens for butterflies, bonsai, bromeliads, fragrance plants and edible garden plants.
The Selby Garden has a small café on the grounds and a shop where you can buy orchids, succulents and other plants to take home with you. It is a 5-minute drive or 20-minute walk to the shops and restaurants of downtown Sarasota.
The orchid show at Selby Gardens takes place every October and November with a different theme each year. For details, visit https://selby.org/