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Botanical Garden orchid display steals the show in S.F.

| 17 March 2005

"Reflections" was the open-ended theme for the juried exhibits at this year's San Francisco Orchid Society's 2005 show at Fort Mason, but Jerry Parsons, a museum scientist at the UC Botanical Garden (UCBG), decided to eschew mirrors and water for a less-literal interpretation of the concept. Using 19th-century botanical illustrations and props alongside 30 living specimens from the garden's stellar orchid collection, he wowed crowds of orchid lovers - and the judges.


Botanical Garden museum scientist Jerry Parsons shows off a Mexican orchid, Oncidium maculatum, that won a blue ribbon at the San Francisco Orchid Society's 2005 show over Presidents' Day weekend. Below is Dendrochilum latifolium, a specimen collected in the Philippines. (Janet Williams photos)
The Botanical Garden's exhibit, titled "Orchid Reflections: Past and Present," took 34 ribbons - 14 first-prize, 13 second-prize, 7 third-prize - and three show trophies. The latter were for Best Plant from Another Genus (for rarer orchid genera, in this case a Botanical Garden specimen with lavender and maroon blossoms from tropical Africa, Ancistrochilus rothschildianus), Best Foliage Plant (for Malaxis metalica from Borneo, which boasts glossy wine-red foliage and translucent blooms that mimic, and attract, gnats that pollinate the plant), and the coveted Orchid Digest Best Overall Exhibit by a Non-Commercial Grower (for plant variety, plant quality, educational value, and exhibit design).


Parsons' design - installed by Parsons, Garden horticulturist Judith Finn, Berkeley students, and garden volunteers - incorporated exquisitely detailed botanical drawings, wire stands used to display plants in 19th-century conservatories, and bell jars that Victorian collectors placed over their orchids to increase humidity. "At the time they thought all orchids came from steamy-hot jungles," notes Parsons. "We now know that's not the case."

The longtime UCBG staffer (and former Orchid Society president) oversees the garden's Australasian and orchid collections, the latter of which is open only to members on special tours (though exceptional blooms are frequently displayed in the tropical house, which is open to the public). While many growers displayed hybridized varieties at the orchid show, the garden's entries, like its scientific collection, was made up exclusively of species gathered in the wild (some orchids in the UCBG collection date back to the 1940s). The San Francisco orchid show, one of the largest in the West, took place over Presidents Day weekend.