“When a man falls in love with orchids, he’ll do anything to possess the one he wants. It’s like chasing a green-eyed woman or taking cocaine. . . it’s a sort of madness,” proclaims an orchid hunter in Susan Orlean’s bestselling book The Orchid Thief.
Orchids are stunning and aristocratic members of the most beautiful, fragrant, colorful and diverse plant species in the world, the Orchidaceae. Orchids are perennials that have two basic growth patterns, monopodial and sympodial. Monopodial has a stem growing from a single bud (the kind you can buy at the grocery store) whereas sympodial produces a series of adjacent shoots which grow and continue to be replaced as they age.
In the nineteenth century, during the height of orchid delirium, wealthy aristocrats sent orchid hunters out across the globe to find new, rare and unique orchids. This custom is now illegal which means that it still happens with regularity, with orchids selling for tens of thousands of dollars on the black market. Today, Orchids are considered to be the 14th anniversary flowers with Pink orchids conveying affection, white orchids signifying purity, red orchids representing love and understanding, and yellow orchids representing fertility.
With environmental changes such as deforestation wiping out much of the plants wild habitat, many countries are standing up to protect them- literally. In 2010, police in England stood guard around the clock to protect the last known wild lady slipper orchid from thieves and in Ecuador, guarded rainforest reserves have been created to protect the Dracula orchid. Here in Florida, scientists are breeding rare cigar orchids and planting them back (replacing what has been taken) in their native habitat in the Everglades and they are glorious to spy- here are a few pictures of them in full bloom.
Orchids constitute around 10 percent of all plant species on the planet, the largest of all plant species. Scientists know of over 25,000 species of wild orchids, and nearly 10 times that number of hybrid varieties and hundreds of new wild species are discovered every year.
With orchids being seemingly so intimidating, there is a tremendous amount of support and guidance available for those who want to give it a try. They really are some of the easiest plants to care for if we don’t over think it. Your reward for not overthinking it…? Weeks, if not months, of breathtaking flowering sprays of fabulous.
Many are afraid of orchids, but you need not be. Start simple to help shed the trepidation with the fabulous book Orchids for Dummies. There is also a beautiful Encyclopedia of Orchids, for those who wish to indulge in the extraordinary beauty of this enormous and diverse plant species.
Orchid flowers range from tiny to very large, a rainbow of nearly solid colors to heavily patterned or having different colored sections, and no fragrance to heavily fragranced. There are numerous types of orchids commercially available to choose from. Here are photos of 25 of the most beautiful orchids to see just how different they can be. Below is a list of great species choices to start with.
Phalaenopsis (“moth orchids”) are called beginner orchids because they are very tolerant of imperfect conditions and treatment, including temperatures in the upper 70s. They usually bloom for two or three months and do that once or twice a year. A tip for buying or giving one: Count the buds on the stems, rather than focusing on the opened flowers.
Dendrobium is another tough one ‑ tolerant of dry air and flexible about indoor temperatures.
Vandas do best in a hanging basket with lots of air circulation around their roots. If you grow them in pots, provide support for the tall stems. They will bloom indoors, given warm temperatures and excellent light.
Cymbidiums are show-stoppers for their long flower spikes with 20 or 30 flowers on each, and long strappy leaves. They do best in cool rooms, not to exceed 70 degrees, with bright light.
Paphiopedilum (Lady Slipper Orchids) are the ones with the little pouch and colorful, sideways flaring petals. They can bloom inside with bright, indirect or fluorescent light. Humidity is especially important, and cool nighttime temperatures (below 65 degrees).
Oncidiums seem to be more available in stores lately, offering lovely fragrance, a large variety of colors and forms, and long-lasting sprays of small flowers. Bright light, warm daytime temperatures, and lower nighttime temperatures are preferred.
Miltonias (Pansy orchids) offer outstanding fragrance and adorable blooms. They flower for four to six weeks on thin, arching stems. They are particularly demanding about humidity so provide water trays and aim for sixty percent humidity.
Orchid expert Bill Arthurs, in an interview by Pam McLennan of EpochTimes, noted that “people often don’t have success with orchids because they’ve selected an orchid to live in an area that is drastically different from its natural climate. Orchids grow in ‘different climates, different light intensities, different methods of growth, from tropical rain forests to almost desert conditions, so I can understand why people will buy an orchid and it won’t act very well under their own growing conditions, because it’s not the same as the condition the orchid was growing in the wild,’” he said.
Arthurs went on to explain that “there are two types of orchids: terrestrials that grow in soil and epiphytes that grow on trees. Terrestrials include the ‘lady’s slipper’ varieties that do best in their native habitats where there are specific mycorrhiza fungi that support the vascular roots of the plant. Epiphytes are grown in bark chips or sphagnum moss and require regular watering, particularly in the growing season.”
Unbeknownst to most, the climates that orchids grow in are wildly varying. From rain forests to cold rocky mountain tops to the arctic circle- in basically every habitat except for on glaciers. The majority however are air plants that grow attached to trees in the tropics.
Local sources for buying orchid plants range from specialty retailers like Driftwood Garden Center that have seasoned gardeners, to big box stores like Home Depot. However, if you are willing to drive a little further and make a day of it, heading east on U.S. 41 to Homestead, Florida will take you to a goldmine of various orchid wholesalers. They not only sell gorgeous plants of every size and species imaginable, but also pots, planting medium and they will do the repotting for you- usually at no charge.
Orchids have a cult following as do most things that are so extraordinary. The American Orchid Society, a 97 year-old society, was created to support such a following with a commitment to education, research and conservation and they have innumerable affiliate societies around the United States. The American Orchid Society website offers a truly extraordinary quantity of information to support all levels of orchid lovers and is a wonderful place to start if you’ve never taken the time to really learn about orchids and are interested.
If you’d like support here in Southwest Florida, we have the Naples Orchid Society and the Southwest Florida Orchid Society. They offer members classes, meetings and events throughout the year. The garden centers also usually have very knowledgeable staff. Want to go it on your own? There are so many ways to approach learning about orchids. Orchid magazines, software, webinars, books, shows, garden centers and societies are all great places to start.
If you are ready to get started, all you need are a few basics like bark-based potting medium, orchid food, moss, special orchid pots and a brightly lit window or outdoor space filled with bright, indirect light. Then it gets hard… selecting your new orchid. However, once you do, and you get the hang of it, you will be launched on a delightful new adventure that has the potential to become so much more.
As Joe Kunisch says in the bestseller Orchid Fever: A Horticultural Tale of Love, Lust, and Lunacy
“You can get off alcohol, drugs, women, food and cars, but once you’re hooked on orchids, you’re finished. You never get off orchids . . . never.”
Have ideas you’d like to add? Need more suggestions? Or want to share your experience? Let me know!
Julie Koester is CEO of Life with Moxie, a Lifestyle Revolution Company www.lifewithmoxie.com, CEO of Moxie Creed www.moxiecreed.com, skincare beyond chemistry. You can reach her at Julie@lifewithmoxie.com
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