When Spring is only just beginning to appear to British gardens, Kew stages its colourful, annual Orchid Festival. The Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew focused on Indian orchids and culture this year.
The Princess of Wales Conservatory was a riot of colour during our Sunday afternoon visit. You can sample what we saw on the following video:
The conservatory was full of enthusiastic visitors - both young and old. I lost track of the number of different languages spoken around me as I wandered around the magnificent displays with my elder son. It seemed to be a photographers' paradise. We saw amateurs snatching shots on their smartphones, as well as more advanced photographers with the best cameras and lenses available on the market.
|Kew's beautiful orchids provide plenty of photo opportunities|
Kew Gardens are not just brilliant at staging popular events like the annual Orchid Festival for the public. The Botanical Gardens also carry out valuable scientific research and have an important educational role. They teach schoolchildren about the natural world, as well as offering advanced training for expert botanists at the other end of the spectrum. It therefore came as no surprise that brightly-coloured signposts informed visitors about orchids and Indian culture.
|One of Kew's brightly- coloured and informative signs|
The above sign informed visitors about the rich diversity of Indian orchids. It explained that orchids are often divided into 3 main groups based on their habitat:
- terrestrial orchids grown in the ground and have underground roots
- lithophytic orchids grow on rocks
- epiphytic orchids grow attached to trees
|An elderly visitor in the medicinal plant section|
Indian orchids are extremely vulnerable to deforestation as more than half of Indian orchid species grow on trees. Kew's scientists are currently working on a checklist of Indian orchids as part of the Flora of India project in cooperation with Indian botanists.
Another sign informed visitors about medicinal plants. Up to 80% of Indians use some form of traditional medicine. Some 79 species of orchid are used in this way.
I was somewhat baffled when I saw a small-leaved, green plant apparently sitting on the best spot amid the elaborate, colourful displays. The puzzling choice only made sense once I spotted Kew's informative sign.
|Holy Basil or Tulsi is sacred plant to India's Hindus|
Holy basil (Ocimum tenuiflorum) is a sacred plant to Hindus. They call it Tulsi, meaning 'the incomparable one'. The leaves are an essential part in the worship of Vishnu. Signs also highlighted the importance of other plants in Hinduism and Sikhism. 80% of the Indian population is Hindu. Flowers have deep meanings and are used to celebrate, worship and mourn.
Flowers are not used in worship to the same extent in Sikhism. Kew's sign carries a powerful and relevant message in this age of climate change:
Life depends on nature, and an awareness of the sacred relationship between humans and the environment is necessary for the health of the planet and human survival.It's a neat summary for the importance of Kew's plant conservation work. All the world's people share a deep connection to, and dependence on Nature.
|Karen at Kew's Orchid Festival 2017|
Email Karen for further information via firstname.lastname@example.org in French, German or English.