Dec 29th, 2014

An Unexpected Treat During Dominion GardenFest of Lights: Orchids

by Jonah Holland, PR & Marketing Coordinator, Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden

Yellow and Brown Orchid

Oncidiums or dancing lady orchids. Photo by Don Williamson


Phalenopsis orchid. Photo by Don Williamson.

One of our dedicated volunteers, Tom Driscoll, mentioned that one of his favorite parts of volunteering in the Conservatory during Dominion GardenFest of Lights is he gets to spend time around the most wonderful fragrances: orchids! Did you know that many types of orchids only produce fragrance at night because they are moth pollinated? In the Conservatory, the large “corsage” orchids (cattleyas) and the tiny dancing ladies orchids (oncidiums) have the most scent, while most of the very showy sprays (dendrobiums and phalenopsis) have very little, if any.

Oncidium 'Sharry Baby'

Oncidium ‘Sharry Baby’ — Driscoll nicknamed this one the ‘chocolate’ orchid.

Here are some tips if you want to plan your GardenFest visit around the smelling of blooms:  The fragrance is strongest just after dark then fades later in the evening.

Twin lavender and purple cattleyas

These cattleya orchids are most fragrant at night. photo by Don Williamson.

The fragrance is strongest right after a blossom opens, and the smell fades as it ages, but can remain strong for days. Driscoll continues, “Of the two sprays of blossoms on the “chocolate” orchid, the lower, fresher one was much stronger last night than the higher, older one. Similarly, some of the large corsage orchids with the spicy and musky scents have faded in scent considerably over the last couple of weeks, but newer ones with softer floral fragrances had opened last night and were very fragrant and it has a delightful, soft scent.”

Driscoll explains at night the room has an entirely different smell and ambiance than during the day. “Last Monday evening when I volunteered there, we sniffed chocolate to hints of spice, musk, and delicate, fresh floral scents. Looking forward to what my nose and eyes find there on my next shift.”

Rhyncholaeliocattleya George King 'Serendipity'

Rhyncholaeliocattleya George King ‘Serendipity’

Rhyncholaeliocattleya S. M. Damon

Rhyncholaeliocattleya S. M. Damon


Jonah Holland is Digital Content Manager at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, where she has worked for 14 years overseeing social media, the blog, and the website. She is also a mom, yogi, open water swimmer, gardener, and seeker. She's been known to go for a walk in the Garden and come back with hundreds of plant photos, completely inspired to write her next blog post.

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