Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Orchids (28 NOV 2012)

Instead of counting sheep at night, I often look through the thousands of photos I've taken over the past two years. All of them feature plants, most of them are unposted - waiting to fit into the context of a story. A photo taken in early August had been dismissed casually when the sun was shining and the garden was filled with flowers. However as the rain poured and the wind howled last weekend, the image made me do a double-take.

Anyone can grow sweetpeas.
I constructed a bamboo cane wigwam for them in my first year of gardening because I thought that's what you were supposed to do, but it was unecessary.
In the second year, they sprouted at the site where the dried peas which produced their parents were sown the year before, and clambered through my winter-flowering dwarf quince bush filling it with summer blooms.

I only noticed the similarity when I looked at this photo three months after they had faded ...

Why wish for orchids ?
Not that I'm a fan of orchids. My mother couldn't throw her spent orchids away, and now I don't know what to do with them.
When I was small, orchids were almost sacred in our house. I was always being told off for sticking my fingers in the roots though I was wise enough to not even breath on the flowers. I couldn't understand why they were so precious when there were plenty of flowers just as pretty in the garden - I could just about get away with plucking those petals to make perfume.
These days it seems I can't escape from them. Orchids can be found in the dentist's reception, my local Chinese restaurant, in the DIY store and at the supermarket, cloned by tissue culture for mass production I presume.

Orchids on sale in a food hall

I was just trying to find out if orchids and sweet peas were related when I found an anecdote which warmed the cockles of my scientific heart :
Apparently, during his travels Charles Darwin predicted that the comet orchid in Madagascar had evolved a spur over a foot long with nectar at the base in order to lure a specific pollinator with a proboscis of equal length. People thought this idea was absolutely ridiculous, until after his death when the adequately equipped nocturnal Sphinx moth was discovered in the same region.
This isn't the only example which illustrates how well orchids, which are among the first flowering plants on earth, develop relationships to ensure their species survive - a fine example of a team player in the plant world.
The simple process of germination can only take place with the help of an infecting fungus which provides nutrition as tiny orchid seeds don't contain an endosperm food source.
Moth orchids have mutated over generations to be attractive (in an opposite sex kind of way) to their desired pollinators, while paph orchids offer them a drinking cup.
Epiphytic orchids are sometimes mistakenly labelled as parasites because they climb trees to increase their exposure to sunlight. They sprout root-like structures from their stems to cling to the surface of the bark but they absorb nutrients from rainwater not their hosts.
Having learnt about some of the adaptations orchids have made during their evolution, I now find them quite intriguing. Actually, the Darwin story was enough to change my mind. It seems unfair that the mass-produced specimens in the supermarket wont get that opportunity.

Hope this is an orchid

PS. Orchids and sweet-peas are not related.

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HolleyGarden said...

Loved the story of the sphinx moth and Charles Darwin. I have never had good luck with orchids, but they are so very beautiful, they are hard to resist. (Only after killing several can one resist, apparently.) Perhaps I should try to grow sweet peas instead!

Anonymous said...

I too like the Darwin story. I bet he is saying I told you so from the grave. Sweet Peas grow themselves, I swear. No gardeners needed.

linniew said...

Only YOU, dear b-a-g, could find a parallel between sweet peas and orchids. And as a sweet pea lover and orchid killer, I heartily thank you. And I am at the same time encouraged, and my try orchids again one day, but I will surely plant sweet peas this very coming spring.

debsgarden said...

I suspect that orchids may be one of those plants that can become addictive. There are so many gorgeous ones to choose from; there are more than 30,000 species located all over the world! So far I have resisted, but It may be too late for you.

Janet/Plantaliscious said...

Intriguing enough to grow? I am useless with indoor plants of any sort, but I find your story of discovering sweet peas clambering up through plants inspirational, and I am already pondering where I might get the same effect.

Diana Studer said...

(I too batle with tired orchids inherited from my mother. Repotted them the other day. Perhaps there will be flowers ...) My sweetpea is a Podalyria, a sprawling small tree with subtle mauve and white flowers.

Donna@Gardens Eye View said...

I love the sweetpeas too....I have inherited an orchid at work that is pathetic and I am trying to research how to revive it...I am not an orchid person.

Andrea said...

Hi b-a-g, i smiled at your comment in my post, and your post here! Re-mine: i guess we should learn from larvae-stop when the tummy is full! Yes your sweet pea can very well suffice to look like a Phalaenopsis flower. But we are in the hot temps so we can't grow sweet peas, the nearest we get is the stringbeans with bluish flowers. But of course they are both legumes, so the same flower morphology. But i love the color of your peas!

Carolyn said...

Someone gave me an orchid and I really did enjoy the flowers for the year it bloomed, which I thought was amazing. But then when it was clear that it wasn't going to form any more flower stalks without my intervention, although I hate to admit it, I composted it.

Alistair said...

Your right b-a-g, Orchids are all over the joint these days and even from a few feet away I cant tell if they are artificial or not. Mind you I cant think I have ever came across an Orchid with the fabulous fragrance which many of the Sweet peas have.

Crystal said...

I love orchids but they don't survive with me, I'm afraid. Now sweet peas, I can grow them. So next time I get the urge to buy an orchid, I'll buy some sweet pea seeds instead.

b-a-g said...

Thanks all for your comments.

Andrea & Diana's comments reminded me that sweet peas should not be taken for granted - there are some countries where they can't be grown.
As for orchids, they are the ones that play hard to get/grow. I wont go out and buy any but I'll keep watering my inherited ones and keep hoping.

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