"Generally speaking, orchids seem to drive people crazy," wrote Susan Orlean, author of "The Orchid Thief".
The free exhibit offers opportunities to make garlands, get an orchid "tattoo", learn how to pot an orchid to take home, how to take care of it, and much more.
The exhibit will explore orchids' importance in Latin American folklore and cultural traditions, and highlight conservation and preservation efforts for the plants and their habitats.
Orchids are the national flower of Belize, Brazil, Columbia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, and Venezuela.
The orchid family, Orchidaceae, is one of the largest and oldest among flowering plants, the Smithsonian says. An estimated 25,000 species live in almost every type of environment and continent except Antarctica.
Learn more in "Orchids Around Us", Smithsonian Gardens' resource page.
And learn more from "The Orchid Thief":
"The people who love orchids love them madly, but the passion for orchids is not necessarily a passion for beauty. Something about the form of an orchid makes it seem almost more like a creature than a flower," Susan Orlean wrote. "Many orchids are strange-looking, and others have bizarre shapes and jarring color combinations, and all orchids are rather ugly when they aren't in flower."
Don't expect to find any ugly ones, although that's in the eye of the beholder, at the Smithsonian's annual orchid exhibition.
For more info: "Orchids of Latin America", Jan. 26. through Apr. 21, National Museum of Natural History, www.mnh.si.edu, on the National Mall, Constitution Avenue at 10th Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 202-633-1000. Free admission. Smithsonian Gardens, www.gardens.si.edu, has designed and managed the Smithsonian’s grounds and interior plant displays in Washington since 1972. U.S. Botanic Garden, www.usbg.gov, was established by Congress in 1820, and is one of the oldest botanic gardens in North America. Located on Capitol Hill, it has more than 12,000 orchids.