the enigmatic orchid


All of us, (and maybe the recent advent of Halloween is to blame for this) have at one time or another considered that somewhere there is a giant venus fly trap that could swallow a person.  I certainly enjoyed both versions of “Little Shop Of Horrors” that I know of on film. The one with a young Jack Nicholson is great but the musical version with Rick Monanis is pretty awesome.  There are some plants that look like they could eat you if they were large enough.

This brings me to Orchids.  Their name supposedly comes from the ancient greek meaning “testicle”.   I have tried unsuccessfully to nurture and care for a few of them.  Two varieties in particular.  I have a couple of the the ones whose leaves look like flaccid seal flippers.  They flap down over the sides of the pot and look dusty and like they are ready to rot and drop off the plant – but they don’t – they just hang here – sadly.   The other one looks like a bamboo shoot that keeps putting leaves out every inch or so.  They grow up and get top heavy and you have to prop them up.   

The seal flipper one has a lovely bloom – when it blooms.  It looks like it could be one of the faces of the flowers in Disney’s Alice in Wonderland.   It is white with some purple trim and the inside parts curl in and look if they were bigger and stronger like teeth that could hurt you.  Under those floppy leaves is a mass of gnarled and jointed worm like  stuff which I assume are the roots.  They  are very ugly.  Some of those roots die at times and turn brown and all of them worm their way through a mass of sphagnum moss that is required for potting.   

I nurtured these plants in a special window of our house.  The only window by my calculations that had the right sun exposure for them.  I spritzed them and then turned to freezing ice cubes containing their special plant food. I gingerly placed the ice cubes on the mass of wormy roots and sphagnum moss.   I always worried that someone would use some of those ice cubes in their ice tea.   A long spindly shoot would emerge and head towards the window.  Little round buds would appear along the shoot.  I would sneak in each day to check only to find that the little buds had turned yellow, then brown – and eventually fell off.

So in frustration I told my husband to get them out of here!  In late Spring he took them out and put them under the Japanese Maples by the front door.  It rained a lot this summer.  Drenching, mold and mildew on shoes producing rain.  The sphagnum moss in those orchid pots could be wrung out with the water.   Yet the orchids grew!  Blast them!  They grew and now – they are blooming!  Blooming and blooming and blooming.   Testicle plants!

I remember seeing corsages of orchids.   Pinned to the shoulder of  an une jeune as she floated out the door on the arm of her escort.  She hoping secretly that when he held her close  he would not crush her corsage – at least not so much so that her mother noticed.     Would the mother been as happy about the decoration had she known the greek origin of its name?

I think plants are supposed to help you relax, calm you, bring you in closer union with nature.  Orchids frustrate me.  When I go down the hall and see them in that window – which is NOT the window I calculated for them to exist in – and see those mocking blooms . . . I don’t say nice things to them.  I don’t’!  I ask them “how dare you?”   All that ugly stuff at your feet.  The flaccid leaves and mass of wormy sphagnum and yet you stand there with your sweet face blooming!

I’m working on african violets now.