Orchids have no equal: They are breathtakingly beautiful, delicate, long-blooming, long-lived, fascinating in fragrance and form, and extremely varied. Few pleasures in gardening surpass the thrill of seeing orchids thrive and bloom.
Once rare and expensive, orchids now outsell every other houseplant, surpassing even African violets, chrysanthemums, and poinsettias.
Orchids cleverly produce flowers resembling the pollinator that they want to attract. Ophrys apifera has the appearance of a female bee visiting a pink flower. Thus, it attracts the attention of male bees. When one lands on the orchid, he’s dusted with pollen, which he then spreads when he flies away.
Should I really buy an orchid?
We’ve all seen orchids at supermarkets and home stores and wondered if they’re a smart purchase. “Absolutely,” says Marc Hachadourian, curator of Glasshouse Collections for the New York Botanical Garden. “Inexpensive orchids are no less likely to thrive. Just choose a strong, healthy-looking plant.”
Which one should I buy?
• Every orchid has a characteristic, highly evolved lip, a petal that protrudes in a blossom of three petals and three sepals, some fused together.
• Every orchid has evolved to attract a particular pollinator, which has led to orchids’ enormous variety in appearance.
• Orchids are either epiphytic (air-growing) or terrestrial (earth-growing); most tropical orchids are epiphytic. In the wild, epiphytes cling to trees and stumps, drawing moisture from the mist and rain and decomposing leaves.
Looking to freshen up your garden?
Some orchids have an amazing fragrance. Among the most sweet-smelling are …
• Angranthes Grandalena: sweet jasmine
• Brassavola nodosa: freesia or lily-of-the-valley
• Cattleya walkeriana and hybrids: cinnamon and vanilla
• Maxillaria tenuifolia: roasted coconut
• Miltoniopsis santanaei: roses
• Neofinetia falcata: jasmine
• Oncidium Sharry Baby: vanilla and chocolate
• Phalaenopsis bellina: freesia with a touch of lemon
• P. violacea: spicy, cinnamon
• Rhynchostylis gigantea: powerful citrus
• Zygopetalum: hyacinth
It’s true what they say: “Sooner or later, every gardener succumbs to orchids.” –Tovah Martin, horticulturist and garden writer (b. 1953).
For more flower and gardening advice, get a copy of The 2015 Old Farmer's Almanac!