Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Curious beauties

Orchids are so endearingly odd that having acquired one you find yourself collecting more once you've disabused yourself of the notion that they are difficult to maintain.

Ours ask very little, just a high quality medium, good drainage, sufficient light and a daily misting. In return they reward us with the most enchanting and unusual blooms. This oncidium at right reminds me of a bee, which is probably no mistake. Many orchids have evolved to look suspiciously like the insects that pollinate them.

The phalaenopsis are, I suppose, the commoners of the orchid world, being the most mass-produced variety. But they are still variable enough to be exciting when they bloom. My mother-in-law has a huge white phal that I adore. Larry favors oddball varieties like the spectacled one (top left), which really is pretty.

Last year Larry surprised me a paphiopedilum for no special reason, which is always the nicest way to receive flowers. It's not blooming now like the other two shown above, which were photographed this morning. But if you're unfamiliar with paphs, they are called lady slipper orchids. I photographed the one shown left at our local arboretum. When my paph finally gets around to putting up a spike and a bloom, I'll post a picture of it. It's dark purple, and very exotic.

When this Cattleya blooms, the fragrance is just heavenly. It's one of my favorites. Now, this is last year's photo, taken by Larry. The plant was part of a collection we bought from a retired dentist and longtime orchid collector. Many weren't in bloom when we bougth them, so were were treated to a year of surprises after the purchase.

A really wonderful book is the Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean. There's a lot in there about the natural history of orchids and the colorful history of orchid collecting. But I caution you. Do not, I repeat DO NOT watch that god-awful movie Adaptation, which was based on the aforementioned book. It is such a cinematic travesty that if I were Susan Orlean I'd shoot myself just so I could roll over in my grave.


tc said...

Anything that Nero Wolfe loved is fine by me.


Morgan said...

Well then, Nero Wolfe obviously had good taste if he liked orchids. I love ours and can't wait till Larry clears the clutter of plants he's overwintered in our orchid room so I can spread them out a bit.

tc said...

Don't really know too much about them except that they've got a reputation for being somewhat...delicate?

The photos look very interesting.

Nero was a misogynistic detective in the pulp fiction of Rex Stout between 1934 and '75. He resembled Mycroft Holmes in many ways and spend endless hours in his greenhouses tending his orchids while he pondered the solutions to the mysteries as they unfolded.


Morgan said...

Oh, but looks can be deceiving. Our orchids are tough as nails and thrive on neglect. Our biggest threat is the army of invading slugs, for which we put out pans of beer. Sometimes it's to no avail; slugs are mean drunks.
Larry is committed to doing things the organic way, so he's set about defeating the slugs naturally. The best way is to look under the pots each morning and peel the slimy little cretins off, but that is time-consuming when you have a lot of plants and does nothing to eradicate the eggs. He has some organic methods he's planning to try, which will suit me fine. Snails, for some reason, I find charming. Slugs are loathesome.

That's interesting about Nero Wolfe. His love of orchids and hatred of women seem almost inconsistent, especially given that many orchids look like female genitalia. Freud would have likely had a field day with that guy..

tc said...


Impossible to eradicate them as a human being, even with nighttime plucking. (For every one you actually see, you've got around 20 you miss, they're like cockroaches in that respect.) You need some help from Mother Nature.

The best slug-eating predators are snakes, toads, frogs and firefly larvae. Try catching some and putting them in your orchid area. The fireflies especially LOVE slug and snail eggs.

I find the concept of land mollusks fascinating myself.

I've also been a big, big pillbug fan since I was a kid--just looking at a survivor of the Devonian Period is a fascinating concept--they're only a step or two up from trilobites....


Taylor said...

Lovely pix, Morgan.

slugs are mean drunks
Aye, that makes me laugh. How does a mean, drunk slug behave? Anyway, I know toads eat slugs. I've sat on the patio watching the toads eat up the slugs.

I have a large white tiled patio that the toads just love. They can spot anything on that patio. In the summer, I'll sit out there and watch them go at it. Man, when they zero in on their food that little tongue darts so fast you can't even see it happening. But you know because the insect instantly disappears.

There's one thing I've used on plants that might help. I chop up quite a few jalapeno peppers, boil them in water a little, then put that solution in a spray bottle. I use it all the time for pests on plants.

Here's a site discussing some solutions to slugs that Larry might be interested in reading.

Morgan said...

French doors off our master bedroom open into our orchid room, so needless to say toads and fireflies, while adding natural ambience may not be the best idea. But I found the firefly information very interesting and now have another reason to love those twinkling insects.

Taylor, drunken slugs lurch about slurring their slug speech and passing out stark naked in the most inconvenient places.

I will inform Larry of the anti-slug link. Thank you!

We do have a proliferation of garden toads that we adore. Sometimes they get so fat from gorging themselves on pests they can hardly hop away.

Larry encourages helpers and is constantly bringing home mantises and mantis cases. I have a fondness for praying mantises, garden spiders and green anoles.

Last year, a huge golden orb spider hitch-hiked down here on some nursery plants. I named her Octavia and put her in the greenhouse, but she died. She was enormous and had long, hairy legs. I have a picture of her somewhere and will try to find it and post it here soon.

Taylor said...

drunken slugs lurch about slurring their slug speech and passing out stark naked in the most inconvenient places

Not to mention that they'd just as soon slime you as look at you...

Morgan said...

Eeewww! Sounds like some human drunks I met in college.

Taylor said...

College? I still run across those types and keep running whenever I do.

Morgan said...

I generally avoid places where I'm likely to encounter slimy drunks, except the garden. :-)

Mia said...


Your pics have inspired me to venture out and purchase "yet another" orchid. "Misting" is my new mantra - I didn't know about misting....

Mia (the orchid killer)

Morgan said...

It's easy, Mia. Many orchids like being sprayed with a mist from a spray bottle and not being watered directly (It causes root rot). The epiphytic orchids especially like this. There are so many great books on orchids. A really good one I got when I purchased my first orchid was "Orchids for Whimps." It's got lots of pictures and infos to turn even the staunchest orchidphile into a collector. Good luck! :-)

prettylady said...

Okay, what do I do with my oncidium? It put forth some fabulous blooms, and now it seems pooped. Also, Gabriel seems a little too fond of playing with its moss, and chewing on its leaves. I've fertilized it, put it in the sunny window, and strapped it upright, since it was listing alarmingly; is there anything else I should do?

Morgan said...

If the blossoms have gotten droopy, it could be that it got too wet or too dry. That will cause the blooms to get a bit punk. Oncindium like to be slightly damp. If it's indoors the most you need to water is just once or twice a week.
The blooms should last anywhere from a couple of weeks to a couple of months. It may be that the plant is fine and may just be past its prime. If the leaves are a good color and the bulb like looking part at the bottom is firm and plump and not shriveled or rotten looking it's likely in fine shape and just needs the bloom spike cut back.
The other possibility is that you need to repot it. After awhile, the medium breaks down and can retain too much moisture.
Hope this helps your pretty flower, Pretty Lady.

prettylady said...

Okay, thank you, that more or less covers it. The blooms are over and done with and I have cut the spike back; I re-potted it in an expensive orchid pot when I bought the plant. (I get a little neurotic about my orchids.) The bulb is slightly wrinkled but I think it is basically okay.

Should I put it outside for the summer? I am in the process of converting my fire escape to the world's smallest summer plant patio.

prettylady said...

Oh, by the way, I saw "Adaptation" when it first came out; my friend Jamie loved it, but then Jamie is a rather self-absorbed male writer type, who relates intensely to men who can't relate to much besides themselves. I imagine the movie had little to do with the book.

Morgan said...

PL, your orchid will do OK outside as long as it doesn't get direct sun. Diffused light or a shaded area is best for them, or else they whither pitifully.
We hang many of our baskets on Elmira's lower limbs. They love it there, especially in the cool of the afernoon when we come by with the misting wand.
Your friend Jamie is my polar opposite, cinematically speaking. I was embarrassed not only for Susan Orlean, but for Meryl Streep, Nicholas Cage and the entire orchid species after seeing "Adaptation." But it got rave reviews, so what do I know?