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Orchid Programs


The Orchidaceae is one of the largest families of flowering plants and contains over 25,000 species found nearly the world over. Orchids are most diverse in the tropics, and reach their highest diversity in Andean South America. As many as 70% of orchids are epiphytic and are of particular interest to Selby Gardens where the study and conservation of epiphytic plant groups is our mission. Orchids were central to the founding goals of Selby Gardens, and the three senior scientists tasked with establishing the Gardens as a research institution were orchid botanists (Drs. Calaway Dodson, Carlyle Luer, Kiat Tan). Dr. Carlyle Luer designed the official seal of the Gardens that features prominently an orchid along with a bromeliad and gesneriad, the two other focal plant families studied at Selby Gardens.

The more common, often-showy orchids are easily recognized by plant lovers and can be characterized by flower parts in threes, normally with a lower lip, sometimes specialized into a cup or “slipper.” Other orchid species are less characteristic, often with small, nearly microscopic flowers and miniscule leaves. Many orchids have striking scents, sometimes quite pleasant but occasionally putrid in odor, the latter being meant to attract flies or beetles as pollinators. Orchids make up a major portion of epiphytic floras and are integral to canopy ecosystems in supplying food and shelter for a surprising array of animals.

To learn more about orchids and the collections, research and conservation efforts going on at Selby Gardens, please visit the Orchid Research Center (ORC) area.

Orchid Research Center


The Orchid Research Center (ORC) was established to conduct scientific studies of living and preserved, wild or cultivated species orchids. Over the years ORC staff and many volunteers have amassed a collection of more than 20,000 taxonomic reference files, a large collection of books on orchid science and horticulture, and a large collection of photographic slides and digital images. Additionally, Selby Gardens’ holdings of more than 28,000 liquid-preserved specimens, some 40,000 pressed and dried orchid specimens, and over 4000 live orchid accessions which provide a wealth of materials for many types of studies, including classification, morphology, anatomy, and physiology. Geographically, the ORC is well-represented by collections from Mexico, Central America, Andean South America and Venezuela and has major taxonomic strength in the Pleurothallidinae. Important collectors represented include Carlyle Luer, Calaway Dodson, John T. Atwood, Stig Dalström, Donald D. Dod, Robert L. Dressler, G.C.K. Dunsterville, Rodrigo Escobar, Eric Hágsater, Alexander Hirtz, and Roberto Vásquez..

The ORC is not currently accepting specimens for identification from the public, but its resources are available to qualified students of the Orchid Family. Please contact us for more information.