They live on every continent except Antarctica, from the Arctic Circle to southern Patagonia. Some put forth one showcase bloom, while others explode in a waterfall of color.
They exist in impossibly complex shapes, in every hue except black, with scents that range from aromatic perfume to rotting liver.
The largest family of flowering plants, orchids have long captured the imagination of botanists, gardeners and artists. Franklin Park Conservatory showcases what all the fuss is about in "Orchid Forest," an indoor exhibit of art and horticulture running through April 3.
Franklin Park Conservatory 1777 E. Broad St., Near East Side 614-645-8733 Homepage
"There seems to be a real mystery to them," conservatory spokeswoman Lori Kingston said. "That's been true for ages and ages and ages. I think it's the multitude, variety, color and the unique shape."
Diversity reigns throughout the conservatory, now home to thousands of orchid additions and informational material highlighting the secret life of this favorite global plant.
The Tropical Rainforest biome is peppered with vibrant, equatorial specimens that drip from rocks, cascade around water features and pop among palm fronds. Their cousins have overtaken the Show House, where flowers fill a large wall and other unique architectural displays shining brightly beneath the greenhouse ceiling.
"There's been some reimagining of that space," Kingston said. "We try to change it up a little bit each year."
Walking through, you'll learn that most orchids rely on a single bird or insect for reproduction and that every orchid has a labellum, or lip, that acts as a landing spot for potential pollinators.
To help bring the forest to life, classes and other events will be offered during the exhibit run. A Hawaiian luau will be held in the Palm House from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Feb. 26, and guided tours are offered at 11 a.m. each Saturday through March 18.
"Every orchid is different," said Nancy Wagener, president of the Central Ohio Orchid Society. "One of the things that I like about orchids is that they grow so differently than annuals or perennials would in our gardens."
The orchid society's members will answer visitors' questions from 1 to 4 p.m. every Sunday through March 18.
Here are some photos of the lovely flowers strewn about: