While I’m on an orchid kick, here is 6/7ths of my orchid collection. I blame it on Julie Zickefoose, this newfound interest in orchids. To be fair, it probably isn’t completely her fault. I’ve always had a love for green things, and have a tendency to collect plants and fill my house with them. There is such great satisfaction to be had in nurturing something, watching it thrive and thank you for your doting with beautiful flowers or lush greenery. I don’t really get cut flowers, as they seem beside the point – within a couple of weeks they’ve all died, and there’s nothing you can do about it. A potted plant will reward you time and again, with a little love and patience.
It’s only natural, then, that this love of green should eventually become focused into a particular area. My love of nature became focused in birds and moths, over time. While all sightings are exciting and have meaning, it’s the ones in these focal groups that really get you going. So it is with plants. And why it’s not completely Julie’s fault. But I think my budding (pardon the pun) interest in orchids and my recent desire to collect them over other equally interesting and worthy groups of plants is probably, at least partly, the result of reading Julie’s blog and her regular posts about her orchid collection. After all, when you read posts like this one, or this, or this, or this, or this … who could possibly resist the urge to go out and collect one or two or several for themselves?
Most likely, though, just on their own, Julie’s posts wouldn’t have tipped me over the edge. About four years ago, Dan bought me an orchid, a tropical ladyslipper hybrid of the genus Paphiopedilum. It was blooming at the time, and I enjoyed admiring the flower and was disappointed when it finally died and dropped off, a few weeks after bringing the plant home. But it was when the plant rebloomed the following winter that I really fell in love with it. Oh, the excitement and satisfaction of that new flower. Especially in combination with the stereotype that orchids are hard to care for and rebloom, I took great pride in that my plant had put out another inflorescence. I took this photo of it, and for a couple of years that was the image on my website’s front page.
Encouraged, perhaps, by my success in reblooming the Paph (as orchid enthusiasts call them; it’s certainly easier to say), I decided to go out and buy another one. This time I got a hybrid of the genus Phalaenopsis, a lovely white-and-fuscia individual, from the same grocery store where Dan had bought the Paph. That store had a pretty good assortment in their flower section, and they had all sorts of orchid types. I’m not sure why I settled on the Phal at the time over the other varieties. The Phalaenopsis orchids are among the easiest to grow at home, it turns out, and these days just about every store with a flower section has at least a few Phals for sale, but I rarely see the other orchid groups anymore. Perhaps Perth just isn’t big enough to support fancy orchids. I enjoyed the blooms on that plant while they lasted, and was delighted when it put out a second flower scape the following year. In all the moving about last year and then this, both of those spikes eventually died, but now that it’s settled again it’s putting out a new one.
I think it was the second orchid, the Phalaenopsis, reblooming that really did me in. Why was I more affected by the orchids than I have been by success with other plants? I don’t know. Maybe it’s that they’re easy to get, and they come in so many colours and varieties. And many are very showy. A lot of other flower groups can fall into one of these categories or another, but I think the combination of all three really appeals to my collector’s nature, and is the same reason that I “collect” birds and moths: easy to see, great diversity, and many are quite showy. With birds and moths, you’re simply collecting names on a list. Plants, however, require space and constant care. I need a room with bigger windows. I would love to have a greenhouse or sunroom addition to the house.
I’ve recently been reading a book called Orchid Fever by Eric Hansen. It’s a book my mom happened to have, which she lent to me shortly after I’d got my first orchids. It sat on my shelf, unread, for a couple of years. The new flower spike on the original Phal, timed with the disappearance of moths and most everything else outside, has tripped my orchid enthusiasm again (I suspect it will become my winter obsession, fueling me through the cold winter months when nature is scarcer; how nice that the plants bloom just when you need it most), and I decided to pick it up. I’m about halfway through. It’s a non-fiction book that explores the world of orchid enthusiasts: growing, collecting and showing tropical orchids. It’s a huge industry, worth about $9 billion globally each year (as of when the book was published in 2000). These days, most orchids are captive-grown in nurseries, rather than collected from the wild. In fact, these days, most of the orchids on the market probably aren’t pure species anymore, instead being artificial hybrids created by orchid enthusiasts to develop new and interesting colours, patterns or shapes of flowers. Hansen offers some interesting insights into many aspects of the cultivated orchid world through his own trips and interviews to learn more about the plants from the people who love them. More on that tomorrow.
Right now most of plants in my study are sitting on a shelf under a grow light. I’d had them on the windowsill, but have been afraid to leave them there while the new cat gets adjusted to the house. The other two never bothered them on the sill, but last week the new guy knocked off my Haworthia, above, from the windowsill. This might be the oldest plant that I own, although I think I myself have only had it about three years. The plants are very hardy, and put out lots of pups as they grow. My original plant was a large pup from a plant my mom had had for years. When I got it, I planted it in that 4″ square container on the left. At the time, it didn’t amount to much more than what’s currently in that 4″ square pot on the left. In three or so years it had grown so much it was overflowing the sides of the pot and I could barely get in with my thin-spouted watering can to water it. I’d been meaning to repot it for a while, but was eventually forced to get around to it when the cat knocked the top-heavy pot off the windowsill. Yes, all those plants came out of that one little 4″ pot on the left. It’s now split between the 4″ square and a 6″ round.
The year after I got it, the plant bloomed for me. How thrilled I was! I couldn’t recall my mom’s plant ever blooming. Where I lived at the time, it sat in an east-facing window, a huge picture window that bathed the apartment in bright light. Most of my plants loved that apartment, with few exceptions they all grew fabulously. I’ve moved three times since then, but haven’t found a spot that had nearly a nice light as that apartment. My window here faces west, not east, but gets lots of light. I’m hoping that it might encourage the newly-repotted haworthia to bloom again. They’re a plant of open areas in South Africa, and while they grow alright in darker areas, probably the bright light mimics its natural conditions better.
There are actually quite a lot of varieties of haworthias, too. Enough, in fact, that there’s an actual Haworthia Society of haworthia collectors and growers. I’ve been so pleased with the growth of my haworthia, and was so excited to have it bloom. So why did I get hooked on orchids but not haworthias? Couldn’t tell ya. Maybe I just didn’t have a blogger expounding the virtues of haworthias complete with intriguing photos of their collection at the right time.
Before I wrap up this very long-winded post, I’d also like to point out the couple of non-orchids on my shelf. The little pink impatiens are cuttings I took off my outdoor plant and rooted. The original plants were given to my by our neighbour at the lake, who was very, very generous with her extra seedlings. The colour of this one really appealed to me and I decided to see if I could overwinter it as a cutting. I brought it in with a couple of blooms on it, and it’s continued to grow and bloom and bloom even through the whole ordeal of putting out roots from the cut stem. What a fabulously determined little plant.
And the other, the tall one in the same water dish as the impatiens, is a cutting I took off one of my tomato plants before the frost, the only tomato cutting to root. A couple of weeks ago it started to bloom, and now it’s growing a couple of cherry tomatoes. You can just sort of see the larger blobs on the left side of the plant. The challenge will be getting the tomatoes to ripen. I’m hoping putting it under a grow light where I can lengthen the “daylight” hours might help encourage it.
My posts never seem to end up being what I start out intending them to be. Tomorrow, more on wild tropical orchids.