Orchids in All Their Glory
BY AWAKE! WRITER IN COSTA RICA
“On the tiled wall, they proudly show off their beauty. They flirt with the breeze, shade, and sun, and now more than ever, they are as proud as can be.”
SO BEGAN a newspaper article announcing the Annual National Orchid Exposition in San José, Costa Rica. The mere mention of orchids may conjure up images of some of the most exotic and beautiful flowers in the world. A visitor to the exposition was overheard saying: “How can anyone deny God’s hand when seeing such intricacy and beauty?” Indeed, orchids are a tribute to Jehovah God, whose invisible qualities can be perceived by the things he created!—Romans 1:20.
Orchids have been valued for millenniums. Evidence suggests that the Chinese were growing them more than 4,000 years ago. On the other side of the world, Montezuma, who ruled what is now Mexico from 1502 to 1520, reportedly cultivated several species of orchids. However, it was not until the 1800’s that the quest for these plants increased dramatically.
In 1818 a man in England named William Cattley received a shipment of tropical plants from Brazil. In the packing material, he noticed plant parts that looked like roots. After planting them, he was delighted when they produced a beautiful purple bloom. This particular type of orchid is now known as the Cattleya.
During the 1800’s, it was a fashion of the rich to collect unique orchids. New specimens in particular could command an exorbitant price. By the turn of the century, however, the orchid craze had diminished. Then it resumed decades later when inexpensive methods of artificially propagating orchids were discovered. Now anyone could enjoy these exotic flowers!
With as many as 20,000 species throughout the world, the orchid family may be the largest flowering plant family. * They are found practically everywhere, from the Arctic Circle to semi-desert regions. While some orchids are found in treetops at an altitude of 10,000 feet [3,000 m] in the Andes Mountains, others—such as those in Australia—spend most of their plant life underground.
Orchids come in all sizes and colors and with all kinds of aromas. In Papua New Guinea, some measure many feet high and weigh up to two tons. Others, with flowers the size of the head of a needle, can easily fit inside a thimble. Some orchids grow rooted in the soil, while the majority (called epiphytes) grow on trees or other plants. There are orchids that perfume the air with the faint smell of coconuts or raspberries, while others smell like decaying meat.
Some might ask, ‘Could all these different flowers be from the same family?’ Even with such incredible variation, two features distinguish orchids from other flowering plants. First, orchids have a distinct petal arrangement. Second, orchids have a column that uniquely fuses the male and female reproductive organs.
Orchids Native to Costa Rica
Despite its small land area, Costa Rica has one of the greatest densities of orchids in the world. Indeed, the country is home to approximately 1,400 different species, with more undoubtedly waiting to be discovered. With the moderating effects of the Caribbean Sea on the east and the Pacific Ocean on the west, Costa Rica is an area with varying degrees of humidity and is thus a habitat conducive to the growth of a number of diverse orchids. The country is also home to many humid mid-elevation environments (called cloud forests), where the majority of orchids thrive. In one cloud-forest environment, a tree was found that hosted 47 orchid species!
There are continued efforts to save many species of orchids whose existence is considered threatened. Happily, though, other species still thrive in the forests of Costa Rica. Today, people from all walks of life have taken up the hobby of growing orchids. They are not difficult to cultivate, but there is one problem. Orchid growing can become addictive. One writer put it this way: “Trying to own one orchid is like trying to eat just one peanut!”
^ par. 9 There are also nearly 100,000 registered hybrids of the orchid.
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Annual National Orchid Exposition
The Costa Rican Orchid Society organized its first national exposition in 1971 to increase awareness of the need to conserve the orchid’s wild habitat. The exposition started small, with only 147 plants being displayed on a few tables. In one recent year, however, more than 1,600 plants were shown. Upon arriving at the exposition, visitors are greeted by an explosion of color as they feast their eyes on orchids of every size and shape imaginable.
Jardín Botánico Lankester
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Founded in 1917 by British naturalist Charles Lankester Wells, this tranquil paradise is considered one of the most valuable botanical gardens in the Americas. Lankester Gardens boasts 800 native and exotic species of orchids growing in its 26 acres [10.7 ha] of forest and gardens. It also serves as a national rescue center. Wild orchids—especially rare specimens—are sometimes sold illegally. When confiscated by the authorities, these orchids are brought to Lankester Gardens with the hope of saving them.
Photos above: Jardín Botánico Lankester de la Universidad de Costa Rica
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Growing Orchids at Home
▪ Most orchids can grow in pots or baskets of pebbles or tree bark.
▪ Although most orchids do not require soil, they do need regular fertilizing—especially when flowering.
▪ The lighting required depends on the type of orchid. The bright light of a window facing south is suitable for Vanda, while bright light with west or shaded southern exposure is best for Cattleya. Phalaenopsis thrives with western exposure or shaded light in a window facing south.
▪ Orchids should be watered until the excess begins to drain from the holes at the bottom of the pot. The plant should be slightly dry between waterings.
▪ Orchids thrive in humidity. So if you live in a dry environment, place your plants on a tray of pebbles and add water to just below the top of the pebbles.
Jardinería Juan Bourguignon
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The tiger orchid can grow to more than 20 feet tall and weigh up to two tons
Noemi Figueroa/Brooklyn Botanical Garden
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The world’s smallest orchids measure just one millimeter across