The Orchid House

Orchids: The Ultimate Plant Hobby

In the world of flowers, orchids are the undisputed champions. Once the expensive interest of the wealthy, orchids today are within reach of all. One of the oldest and best organized of plant hobbies, orchid culture now enjoys worldwide popularity. Their incredible beauty and diversity captivate men and women of every walk of life.

If you haven't grown orchids, you are missing one of nature's finest offerings.

YOU CAN GROW ORCHIDS

If you can grow houseplants, you can grow orchids. With some attention to light and temperature, there are many popular and satisfying species and hybrids that will do well in the home or out-of-doors. Like any other plant, an orchid must have the growing conditions it needs to survive. But they are amazingly sturdy and resilient.

ORCHIDS ARE CHALLENGING

Because there are so many of them, there is always more to learn about orchids. New discoveries are made every day, giving the world of orchids an ever-widening horizon. It is an interest that provides as much of a challenge as you like.

ARE ORCHIDS HARD TO GROW?

No. They are no harder to grow than many flowering popular plants. Like any plant, an orchid needs water, food, light, and air. If you can grow other garden and house plants, you can grow orchids. All it takes is a little understanding and care.

AREN'T ORCHIDS PARASITES?

Absolutely not! Of the 20,000 species of orchids that grow around the world, not one is parasitic. In nature, many orchids cling to trees and bushes as a growth habit; but they take nothing from the host plant and do not injure it in any way. Orchids that grow on trees are called epiphytes or, more commonly, air plants.

DO YOU NEED A GREENHOUSE?

Not necessarily. Many popular orchids can be grown in your home in a window or under lights. Some are able to withstand a light frost. When selecting plants, choose those that will survive in the environment you have to offer.

AREN'T ALL ORCHIDS THE SAME?

To the contrary. No plant family is more diverse. After all, the orchid family is the largest plant family in nature. From the thimble-sized Mystacidium caffrum to the 20-foot-tall Renanthera storiei, orchids take amazingly different shapes, forms, and growth habits. Some orchids produce blossoms no larger than a mosquito; some orchid flowers are as large as a dinner plate. Your familiar corsage orchid is just one of thousands of attractive types that can be grown in this area, given the proper environment.

DO ORCHIDS COME FROM THE JUNGLES?

Some do. But every country in the world, and every province in Canada, has its orchid species, including the Arctic. Ontario, for example, has more than 60 species of native orchids.

ARE ORCHIDS FRAGRANT?

Some are powerfully scented, others less so. A few orchid fragrances defy description, while others resemble familiar fragrances - raspberry, coconut, lilacs and citrus. Others have no scent, but rely on shape and color to attract insects or birds for pollination.

HOW LONG DO BLOOMS LAST?

It depends on the type, plus factors of culture and care. Blooms of hybrids of the Cattleya family may last from one to four weeks on the plant. Those of the Phalaenopsis family commonly last from one to four months.

WHAT SORT OF SOIL DO THEY NEED?

Most require none. In nature, orchids can be divided into four types according to growing conditions. Most are classified as epiphytes, or air plants, which grow on trees. The rock growers, or lithophytes, cling to the surfaces of rocks. Saprophytes are those that grow in mulch, often on the forest floor. Finally, there are the terrestrials which anchor themselves in soil or sand. As most orchids are epiphytes, they can be grown in tree bark, crumbled charcoal, pebbles, or on wooden or cork plaques.

AREN'T ORCHIDS TERRIBLY EXPENSIVE?

Not any more. Once a rich man's hobby, orchids are now within the reach of any income. Modern reproductive methods make it possible for growers to enjoy the finest plants for a few dollars. You can spend as much or as little as you like on your hobby. But you should know that trying to own just one orchid is like trying to eat just one peanut.

SHOULD THEY BE PROTECTED FROM DRAFTS?

By no means. As a matter of fact, orchids require moving air. They do best where there is a steady breeze. After all, in nature, orchids are subject to all kinds of weather.

MUST ORCHIDS BE KEPT HOT?

Like most plants, orchids prefer a middle range of temperatures, neither too hot nor too cold. Some warm-growing species can take hot weather; some cool-growers are not harmed by subfreezing temperatures. It depends on the plant. Generally, however, the climate in the home favors the intermediate species. Orchids from more severe climates that are accustomed to cool or warm temperatures year-round do not do as well.

ARE ORCHIDS SHORT LIVED?

Most are very long-lived. In fact, some species are virtually immortal, given the proper attention. Divisions or propagations of orchids discovered in the 19th century are still growing and blooming today... a botanical heritage from an earlier century.

HOW OFTEN DO ORCHIDS BLOOM?

Again, it depends on the plant. Some bloom once a year; others bloom several times a year; some bloom continuously.

WHEN DO ORCHIDS BLOOM?

The most popular types bloom in winter and spring, but orchids may be found that bloom in any month of the year.

CAN YOU TRANSPORT ORCHIDS?

Yes. That's one of their greatest assets. Orchids are portable. Because they grow in pots or baskets, they can be carried anywhere. Many growers use blooming plants as living centerpieces in their homes. Orchids are routinely mailed and shipped across country and around the world.

WHERE CAN I LEARN MORE ABOUT ORCHIDS?

There are many excellent books available to help a novice grower learn more. Most bookstores and public libraries have them. Also, some commercial orchid growers offer a selection of books for sale.

The Internet has many web sites devoted to the enjoyment of this hobby. You will find vendors, growing information and other hobbyists. There are also chat groups and mailing lists available for making personal contact with orchid experts.

Perhaps the most useful step you can take is to find an experienced grower and make friends. And your best bet is to join your local orchid society.

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