By Nancy J. Farrier
|Kew Gardens Orchid Show - AndyScott Photo|
Orchids have such a delicate and unique beauty that we are drawn to them. The exotic nature of the flower has us oohing and aahing over them at the grocery story floral display or even when we see them in pictures. But for many years, orchids were a hidden treasure that most of the world didn’t know about. What happened when those gorgeous blooms were first brought to society?
|Wild Orchid - Dejan H.|
Orchidelirium is the term used for an obsession with orchids. There is an interesting quote in Susan Orlean’s book, The Orchid Thief—“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.”
In the Victorian era in Britain, it became popular to finance an expedition to other climes to discover new and beautiful plants. These expeditions were hard and cost lives, but were often romanticized. Those plant collectors brought back treasure in the form of orchids. The beauty and uniqueness of the orchid made them wildly popular among the wealthy, prompting even more expeditions.
Because of the costliness of bringing orchids to England, people were paid to nurture and grow the orchids. This did not go well because most people had no idea what environment worked for orchid. It was assumed they needed warmth and little sunlight, so they were put in “stove-houses” where there was constant heat from a stove and very little light. The orchids needed fresh air and, depending on the variety, a certain level of sunlight. Because of the difficulty in growing them, orchid habitats were decimated as people were paid to journey to other places and bring back the exotic treasures.
Panama Wild Orchid
|Angraecum susquipedale |
Photo by Bernard DuPont
Orchids captured the interest of Charles Darwin and he published a book in 1862, Fertilisation of Orchids.Darwin received a specimen of Angraecum sesquipidale from a friend and because of the long spur on the flower, he said it could only be pollinated by a moth specific to this plant. Forty-one years later that moth was found and is the only one to pollinate that orchid.
Until this time in England, botany was considered a female pastime, not worthy of men’s attention. After the orchidelirium began the study of botany grew in popularity and led to many discoveries of different plants and their uses. There is now a world-wide interest in orchids and although the plants found in the grocery store are hybrid, not resembling their native counterparts, there are still people who propagate the wild varieties of orchids. You can often see these if you attend an orchid show, which is always fun and full of beauty.
I once heard an expert speak on orchids and he said there are over 30,000 different orchids throughout the world. The fascinating tidbit was that each orchid has its own pollinator that is different from other orchids and made for that specific plant. His talk was fascinating as he described some of the different insects, etc. that pollinate these beautiful plants.
|Monkey-face Orchid, Panama|
Photo by Dick Culbert
Do you like orchids? Have you ever been able to grow one and get it to bloom? Have you seen the wild varieties in their natural habitat or in a show? I remember when my daughter and I were in Oregon walking a trail and found some native orchids in bloom. We were thrilled and they were so beautiful. Note: Today, harvesting orchids in the wild is strictly prohibited.
Nancy J Farrier is an award-winning, best-selling author who lives in Southern Arizona in the Sonoran Desert. She loves the Southwest with its interesting historical past. When Nancy isn’t writing, she loves to read, do needlecraft, play with her cats and dog, and spend time with her family. You can read more about Nancy and her books on her website: nancyjfarrier.com.