How long will an orchid live? Rachel W.
This question is best answered by my father , Art Chadwick Sr., who tells the following story:
The year was 1947. I was 17 and learning to raise orchids from the old estate growers in Pennsylvania. One afternoon, the Head Grower of a large greenhouse operation handed me an outstanding variety of the naturally occurring species, Cattleya lueddemanniana, and said, “I want you to take this and see that nothing happens to it.” He told me that he was concerned the species were being replaced by the new big round hybrids and that this plant was too good to lose. The orchid had been imported from Venezuela along with thousands of others in the early 1930’s and had sold for $35, a handsome sum in the midst of the Great Depression.
Well, I took the plant and gave my sacred oath.
Thanks to my parents, who maintained a small greenhouse, the plant survived while I was away in college and graduate school, and during my two years in the Air Force. But in 1954, I accepted a job in Texas and my entire orchid collection had to be sold. I’m not sure I know the value of a 17 year old’s sacred oath when the chips are really down but I remember asking my father, ‘Can you take care of this until I can build a new greenhouse’? He nodded and put the Cattleya under his arm. It was five more years before I was able to rescue the plant from my father’s kitchen window. It didn’t flower the entire time but it didn’t die either. When I married and built a lean-to on my house, which was now in Florida, my parents arrived with the plant as a house-warming present.
The Cattleya finally recovered enough to bloom again so I entered it in a local orchid show where it received a Highly Commended Certificate from the American Orchid Society. In 2002, nearly 55 years after I agreed to take care of this plant, it was exhibited again and this time it received an Award of Merit. Each spring, I look forward to the beautiful large pink frilly flowers that remind me of the journey it has taken. Sometimes it takes an oath…
Does it hurt to touch the flowers? Mary M.
There are a number of valid reasons that growers have for handling the delicate blossoms. Occasionally, the petals and sepals of the buds get caught in themselves and require manual intervention to open correctly. Other times, the flowers get twisted on a stem, perhaps stuck against a leaf or flower sheath. And there is always the possibility of dirt or foreign objects needing to be removed so the blooms are not unsightly.
The biggest danger to touching orchid flowers is the inherent risk of bruising which leaves telltale brown marks – particularly noticeable on pastel pinks, yellows, and whites. The petals are easy to crack or crush resulting in brown lines in just a few minutes. Fingers often have trace amounts of dirt and oil which rub off. And the entire flower or bud can snap.
Some genera are more durable than others. Dendrobiums and Oncidiums are the toughest and are routinely shipped long distances in boxes with just newspaper wrapped around the stems. Great care must be taken with fragile Cattleyas and Phalaenopsis, however, so that not even one flower rubs against another. Individual buds are covered in shredded wax paper or cotton. Lady slipper pouches must be protected.
The ‘trained hand’ can perform intricate maneuvers without damage but, for the most part, the general rule ‘look but don’t touch’ applies.