Topics: Administrative, College of Sciences and Humanities

June 22, 2011

Cheryl LeBlanc, curator of the Wheeler Orchid Collection and Species Bank, prepares an orchid for display at the Indianapolis Zoo.
Some of the rarest and most exotic orchids from Ball State University's renowned collection are now on display at White River Gardens on the grounds of the Indianapolis Zoo, providing visitors with a better understanding of the vast diversity of nature.

Any given week, about 20 to 30 of Ball State's plants — from the largest university-based orchid collection in the country — are featured during the OMG! (Odd, Magical and Gorgeous) Orchids show, that runs through Oct. 30 in the Hilbert Conservatory. OMG! Orchids is included with regular zoo admission.

"Orchids are mysterious and exotic," said Cheryl LeBlanc, curator of the Wheeler Orchid Collection and Species Bank. "Sharing Ball State's orchids with thousands of zoo visitors allows them to learn more about nature's wild and amazing variety."

The zoo's initial orchid display is the largest off-campus exhibit by Ball State, she said. The collection was created in the early 1970s to conserve rare and endangered species of orchids, disseminate them for conservation and use the collection for research and education.

"We are opening people's eyes" to the amazing world of orchids, LeBlanc said. "Our plants come in nearly every size, shape and color."

Rotated on a regular basis according to bloom times throughout the season, orchids from the Wheeler Collection are joined in the exhibit by hundreds of other flowers that range from tiny blossoms to giant pitcher plants large enough to hold napping bats.

The orchids are surrounded by lush greenery and multicolored bromeliads that transform the conservatory into a tropical jungle. The facility also has water features, including a rock formation waterfall and other special decorative elements. Informative signage is supplemented by a unique scavenger hunt and interactive orchid-based activities for children.

The Indianapolis Zoo exhibit results from a request by Paul Grayson, the zoo's chief executive officer and a Ball State graduate, she said.

"This is an outstanding opportunity not only to educate thousands of zoo visitors about orchids but to promote the Wheeler Collection at Ball State," LeBlanc said. "We hope some people will be interested enough to make the drive to campus to see our entire collection."

The Wheeler Collection and other plants are housed in greenhouses that the university is seeking to upgrade through funding provided by the Ball State Bold capital campaign. The improvements will enhance faculty and student scholarship and support environmental studies and sustainability curriculum.