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PHOTOS: Orchids of Latin America

Known for being particularly eye-catching, the orchids of Latin America are part of religious, cultural and even culinary life in the region

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Paphiopedilium appletonianum. Guillaume Paumier via Wikimedia Commons

From decorative arts to religious stories to regional recipes, orchids figure prominently in the cultures of Latin America. The Aztecs were said to value vanilla–made from the seed pods of a vining orchid–so highly that it was used to pay taxes. Early instruments were held together by glue made from the flowers. And some tortilla recipes called for Stanhopea blooms.

Representing their origins in Latin America, hundreds of orchids will be on display as part of the Natural History Museum’s “Orchids of Latin America” exhibit, opening January 26.

Complete with a Mexican plaza and a winding path through beds of the exotic flowers, the exhibit will feature nearly 600 flowers with a twice-weekly rotation to keep the blooms fresh. The show offers a warm escape from the bitter winter and a chance to see the flowers that were said to aid Montezuma in his encounters with his wives or that are still a featured part of religious ceremonies.

Cymbidium hybrid. Photo by James Osen, courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution

Oncidum cebolleta. Photo by James Osen, courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution

Cattleya labiata. Photo by James Osen, courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution

Psychopsis papilio. Photo by James Osen, courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution

Laelia anceps. Photo by James Osen, courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution

Masdevallia Macchu Picchu. Photo by James Osen, courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution

Odontoglossum pulchellum. User Orchi via Wikimedia Commons

Miltoniopsis hybrids. Photo by James Osen, courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution

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About Leah Binkovitz
Leah Binkovitz

Leah Binkovitz is a Stone & Holt Weeks Fellow at Washington Post and NPR. Previously, she was a contributing writer and editorial intern for the At the Smithsonian section of Smithsonian magazine.

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