I don’t do diva plants. If you are fussy, finicky about light and can’t handle the occasional toddler toy being rolled across your root bed, then you have no place in my house or yard. And so for the longest time, orchids have been on the “do not even bother” list. The just look so delicate and dainty. Not the kind of living creature that is likely to survive around here. But perhaps they are misunderstood, and I should give them another try. I recently learned a few things about these non-edibles (except vanilla!) that intrigued me.
For instance, did you know that the first mention of orchids in written text was around 300 B.C. by Theophrastos, a student of Aristotle? Theo is widely considered to be the father of botany and modern ecology studies. Today there are literally thousands of varieties of orchids- and even home gardeners can propagate new varieties if they want to, adding to the thousands of new hybrids that are created each year.
Most orchids are epiphytic plants, or air plants. They don’t like soil much, and in fact do much better naturalized on tree trunks and rocks or in very loose bark or rocks where water easily passes through. One of the most common issues home gardeners have with orchids is root rot from too much water and soil. We have some sort of psychology to overcome when it comes to NOT planting a flowering species in dirt. Get over it. They don’t like it.
What they do like is getting pollinated. We did this the other day in my Master Gardener class. My first time. I was shy. But got some good photos.
Propagation of orchids is not super easy- we pollinated to eventually get a seed pod with no guarantee that those seeds will grow; division of existing plants is better and cloning can be done, but it eliminates genetic diversity so is not recommended by some people. They also have pretty specific needs when it comes to light- some varieties with big fat wide leaves prefer shady or filtered light conditions. Others with thinner more feather like leaves can take direct sun for many hours.
As I write this, I realize that perhaps they are in fact divas with all their special needs and maintenance- but I suppose glitzy stage stars don’t come without a host of assistants to help them look gorgeous. Hollywood has a long list of chefs, personal trainers and plastic surgeons to make everyone acceptable to the screen! So if the majority population of my garden are the sensible, useful, hardy plants, then orchids shall be the stars and artists that provide inspiration. They need paparazzi like the hardy arugula needs compost.