Friday, September 26, 2008


The following guest post from a certain J. Weltschmerz is certainly different from our usual fare, but it's proof that fans of comics and video games aren't the only ones obsessed with their hobbies and fandoms. Enjoy!

Recently, I’ve been imagining an oral history project on NPR, a monthlong series called The Orchid Chronicles, with guest speakers and such. I'd tell the story of the time I walked into a greenhouse, gasped (while clutching my tote bag to my chest), and spent my entire savings on orchids.

I’m an orchid hobbyist in denial. The truth is I’ve ridden my hobby into the ground. My hobby, once relaxing, is now an obsessive, exhaustive pursuit. The Victorians called this affliction Orchidelirium. That’s right, friends, I’m not the first victim and certainly won’t be the last.

Orchids are magic—fragrant, colorful magic that you can grow in your home. Many of them are epiphytic; that is, they grow on other plants rather than in soil, and their roots absorb water from the air. Most orchids make their own food, but some are saprophytic, obtaining nutrients from dead stuff. There are over 22,000 species (not including those yet to been discovered) and thousands of hybrids. In other words, you can collect your heart out (I think I’d sell mine [my heart] for Angraecum sesquipedal, Darwin’s lovely starry mistress), so get ready to take a hacksaw to your purse strings and book a cot at the nuthouse.

Here are a few easy keepers, which are readily available and relatively cheap nowadays. They all produce long-lasting flowers of exquisite beauty.

Phalaenopsis orchid
Phalaenopsis (aka moth orchid): long sprays of flowers that last 4–6 weeks; reblooms quickly; available in many colors

Paphiopedilum Lady's Slipper orchid
Paphiopedilum (aka lady’s slipper): tall flower spikes (stems); usually one flower per spike; mottled foliage

Oncidium orchid Oncidium orchid pseudobulb
Oncidium: often comes in shades of yellow, red, white, and pink; petals may be ruffled on the edges; large pseudobulbs (part of the stem used for storing water)

Dendrobium orchid
Dendrobium: small or large flowers on a thick spike; stalky appearance; reedlike pseudobulbs

You don’t need a gangrenous thumb to care for an orchid. Just be sensible. Most orchids like lots of bright, indirect light and not too much water. Let the roots dry out between waterings. If you don’t, the root system will turn to mush. (And please don’t blame the plant when it dies.) A fast-draining medium, such as bark, is best for growing orchids. Terrestrial orchids, such as slippers, like more moisture; use a peat-based mix for these plants. Your attention will pay off in beautiful bloom after bloom. Trust me.

Don’t just be an orchid admirer, buy one already, and let its magic turn you into one of the bearded crazies you avoid in the books-on-tape section of your local library.

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