Orchidelirium was the name given to the Victorians obsession for orchids – this flower mania was triggered in the 1800s and spawned a new profession – that of the Orchid Hunter – an intrepid adventurer very much in the style of Indiana Jones. They faced disease, wild animals, exotic locations, cannibalistic tribes and of course deadly competition from one another…. duels to the death were not uncommon – subterfuge, deception and intrigue surrounded their every move. Sounds like a movie, doesn’t it? But all completely true…
Orchids have always inspired passion in people – the word orchid comes from the Greek world for testicle and in ancient times many orchids were considered to be aphrodisiacs They certainly are a sensual flower – exotic, organic but architectural blooms, seemingly endless varieties and hybrids…. The uptight Victorians couldn’t get enough of them as a status symbol and their hunger for the exotic led to a level of madness that still exists today. Collectors have had rare orchids stolen and there are now laws prohibiting anyone from removing them from the wild. An awesome book called The Orchid Thief is worth a read if you don’t believe me – bears almost no resemblance to the movie version Adaptation with Nicolas Cage – but still an enjoyable watch.
So what’s up with the history lesson you ask? Well I am afraid I have succumbed to the orchid bug myself – and what started innocently enough is now taking over the patio….
I have always loved orchids, but mainly from afar – growing up in Ireland they were exotic, expensive and rarely seen outside of fancy floral arrangements or botanical gardens. Nobody I ever knew had an orchid in their house – that was seriously “fancy”
In Seattle, I tried and failed to keep an orchid alive for more than a few weeks at a time so after a couple of depressing attempts, I gave up on it completely – orchids were too expensive and too pretty to kill off like that and the gloomy Pacific Northwest weather did not help.
Now that I live in sunny Florida, where everything grows like a weed and you can buy an orchid by the side of the road for $5, I decided to try again.
First, my mother in law bought me a lovely orchid for my birthday not long after we moved here and not knowing what I was doing I promptly killed it – sadness >8( Perhaps I was kidding myself and I was doomed to kill every orchid within reach.
Next a coworker gave me a lovely white orchid that had lived on the reception desk for months and just been replaced by a newer one – still having no clue, I took it home and repotted it into completely the wrong stuff – but miraculously it did not die! It was, however, bloomed out and eventually all the flowers dropped off and I was left with some nice leaves and a bare stalk. I decided what the hell it was free and I might as well experiment – so I cut the stalk off and watered if regularly to see what would happen – that was about a year ago….
In the meantime, I kept adding to the collection – I bought a $6 orchid with nice yellow green flowers and that thing has never stopped blooming – more buds just keep on showing up…
My son bought me a beautiful (and expensive by my $5 standards) blue orchid for Mother’s Day last year and it was lovely till all the flowers dropped off and the suddenly much more intense summer sun scorched a black spot on one of the leaves. But undaunted I started reading up on them and figuring out what I was doing wrong. My mother in law bought me another orchid for Christmas and a book about orchid care, hoping this would help it live longer I imagine .
Before I knew it I had a plant stand with half a dozen orchids on it that I lovingly misted daily, moved around the patio depending on the amount of sunlight they needed and brought in at night if it dropped below 50….. My family recognized the pattern here – I was in the grip of a powerful new obsession.
Then one day, miracle of miracle, the several flowerless plants (including the white one from a year ago) that I had continued to take care of in the hopes that someday I would be rewarded, grew spikes!!!! (Having read up on it, I now know that is what a orchid stalk is called – aren’t I special?) For the past several months I have watched with joyful hope, smug satisfaction and a healthy dose of paranoia that something would go wrong as five (yes five) of my orchids developed new spikes and tons of buds….
I am now, officially, an orchid maven!!!
Unsurprisingly to those who know me, I have racked up about a dozen orchids on multiple plant stands scattered around the patio. I can’t seem to leave the house without picking up another one to add to the growing collection. I am even planning a trip to some upcoming orchid shows – which is probably a very bad idea and may lead to an orchid hoarding situation.
I may end up with my own reality show on TLC – Designers Descent into Orchidelirium. Thats just the working title…