Exploring the Highlands of New Guinea
The exhibit will all be on display in the Conservatory's Highland Tropics Gallery over the course of a four year run that began in November 2010. Visit highlands.famsf.org for more information.
On Show in the Highland Tropics Gallery
Rhododendrons, fern fronds, and orchids emerge through the moss and misty mountains of the montane forests of New Guinea—some of the last wild places on Earth. You can step into this world, if just for a day, by visiting the multi-facility exhibit Exploring the Highlands of New Guinea: Art, Science, and Conservation.
The exhibit, funded through a grant from The Christensen Fund, was collaboratively developed by Bay Area educators, the Enga Tradition and Transition Centre of the New Guinea Highlands, the California Academy of Sciences, the de Young Museum, and the Conservatory of Flowers. The resulting multimedia program includes a field guide, lesson plans, podcasts, video clips, web page , and exhibits. Visitors to the exhibits will have the chance to experience first hand some of the natural, artistic, and cultural beauty of this amazing country.
Learn about the island of New Guinea and how it is the second largest island in the world. Located in the southern hemisphere of the Pacific near the equator, it houses the New Guinea Highlands which are an expansive region composed of several mountain ranges that form a central ridge along the tropical island.
Scientists think that the first communities were established in the Highlands of New Guinea somewhere between 40,000 and 60,000 years ago. Today, Highlanders live in the many villages that stretch along the center of the country. The flora and fauna of New Guinea are an essential part of the lives and culture of the New Guinea Highlanders. New Guinea has over 3,000 orchid species, more than any other country in the world. The New Guinea Highlanders use the flowers, stems and leaves of orchids for weaving basketry, wickerwork, crocheting carry bags, and fashioning jewelry and personal adornments.
The Conservatory of Flowers has acquired Diplocaulobium regale and hundreds of other New Guinea Highland orchids specifically for this exhibit. Dendrobium cuthbertsonii will awe you with its proportionately large flowers that some say lure bird pollinators by mimicking Vireya rhododendron blooms. Grasping epiphytic roots and matting miniatures will be showing off their adaptation skills as well.
What You'll Learn When You Visit
The Vireya Rhododendron belongs to the plant family Ericaceae. Over 200 species of Vireya Rhododendrons are found in the cool climate of the Highlands. Some botanists believe that the flower of the Dendrobium cuthbertsonii mimics that of the Vireya Rhododendron orchid to help attract pollinators.
Highland orchids have adapted unusual flower shapes, sizes, colors, scents and textures to attract pollinators. Plants in the Highland Tropics rely on pollinators, such as insects or birds, for survival.
Bilum is a very important form of weaving in New Guinea. Just about anything goes into a bilum bag from personal items to harvests from the garden. Traditionally, natural fibers from bark or twigs are used. The stem fibers of the Diplocaulobium regale orchid are used in weaving bilum.
Thick succulent leaves on Highland orchids are used to store water and prevent evaporation. Some orchids have swollen stems called pseudobulbs, where water and food are stored.
Approximately 70% of orchids are epiphytes. Epiphytic orchids grow on trees for support and sunlight but do not rely on their host for food and water. Instead these orchids absorb water and nutrients through their own root system.
During the heat of the days sunlight, most plants open pores in their leaves to take in carbon dioxide from the air for photosynthesis, while allowing some water to escape. Because Highland orchids can't afford to lose water, they photosynthesize by opening their leaf pores during the cooler temperature of the night and use the converted carbon dioxide for nutrients throughout the day.