Orchids: The Colours of Colombia at Kew Gardens

Orchids: The Colours of Colombia at Kew Gardens

Kew Gardens’ annual festival of orchids, which brings a riot of colour to the depths of the grey London winter every February and March, celebrates the colours and incredible plant life of Colombia this year, and we couldn’t be more proud!

Opening a week ago on February 9th and running through until March 10th, The Princess of Wales Conservatory at the world famous Royal Botanic Gardens has been transformed with a special route guiding visitors past incredible displays of colourful orchids and representations of Colombia.

Orchids represent one of the two largest families of flowering plants; there are around 28,000 recognised species (accounting for between 6-11% of all seed plants) widely distributed around the planet, from Colombia to Cornwall just like our rum. All share the same characteristics of delicate, colourful and bilaterally symmetric blooms, and they often have a pleasant scent that makes them popular as houseplants and as a source of inspiration for perfumers. Colombia ranks second in the world for biodiversity, and is home to the largest number of orchid species in the world – 4,270 of the 51,000 plant species known to exist in the country are orchids! Colombia’s national flower is the endemic (and critically endangered) Christmas orchid (Cattleya trianae), named after prominent 19th century Colombian botanist Jose Jeronimo Triana and chosen because the lip of the flowers is coloured red, yellow and blue like the Colombian flag. It grows in the Cloud Forests 1500-2000 metres above sea level in the Colombian Andes. The Christmas orchid, like the majority of orchids found in Colombia, is epiphytic which means that they grow on other host plants (usually trees) and because they are not connected to the soil they take the water and nutrients that they need from the moisture in the air and decomposing organic material such as bark and leaf litter that has fallen and been trapped by branches. The greatest diversity of epiphyte species in the world is found in the cloud forests of the Nariño department in western Colombia.

Kew Gardens’ festival of orchids has been billed as “a carnival of colour”, and alongside the orchid displays there is also a carnival of animals (including a toucan and a sloth), an incredible installation of hundreds of butterflies suspended from the glass roof of the conservatory, a floating golden display representing the legend of El Dorado and a recreation of Caño Cristales (The Crystal Channel, or “River of Five Colors, so called because of the colourful aquatic plants that grow in it).

As well as regular visiting hours, Kew Gardens are also running “After Hours” evening events on select Thursday and Friday evenings with live music, talks, workshops and Colombian inspired street food and drinks. During this half term week there are daily activities for families inspired by the Barranquilla Carnival with flower costume making, drumming, dancing and an hourly parade. There will also be a special Rathlee Rum sampling session in the gift shop at Kew Gardens from 1-5pm, so if you’re planning a visit then do set aside some time for a tasting with James! You can also purchase bottles of Rathlee’s Golden Barrel Aged Rum in the gift shop to take home and enjoy, in case you want to keep the Colombian vibes going after you’ve left the conservatory!