Corsage Days

Q) Can you help this couple in their twilight years relive one more time the magic of their ‘yellow orchid day’ – a corsage worn at our wedding 60 years ago? Marguerite M.

A) It is remarkable that a single flower made such an impression after all this time. Six decades.

The year would have been 1949, just after World War II. Orchid corsages were in their heyday. Typical colors were whites and purples, sometimes two tones. But yellow was rare!

Cattleyas were the most glamorous and sought after orchid commanding upwards of $10 per bloom. The demand was so high that, in some parts of the county, there was actually a shortage of plants. Any excuse to dress up required an orchid and any man that was worth his salt had better give his date a Cattleya.

After all, it just might be remembered forever.

Fashions change yet, today, Cattleyas are as widely circulated as ever. In an amazing repackaging of itself (suitable for business school case study), the ‘Corsage Flower of the 40’s’ is now riding the wave of orchid pot plant popularity – currently ranking as the #1 houseplant in the United States - surpassing African Violets, Chrysanthemums, and Poinsettias.

There are big Catts (called Standards), miniature Catts (called Minicatts), and everything in between. The trend is for smaller though since these are easier to bloom, can flower twice a year, and come in a wider range of colors. The full spectrum exists: reds, oranges, yellows, greens, blues, as well as the classic whites and purples. Prices have not changed much in over half a century – mature plants sell for $25-$40.

Obtaining a large yellow Cattleya orchid corsage today is a two step process. First, contact your local orchid grower and check on the availability of plants. Catts are seasonal and good yellows are specific in their blossoming times. The two best hybrids on the market in terms of large size, round shape, rich color, and dependability have been around for 20 years: Blc Goldenzelle ‘Lemon Chiffon’ which blooms in the fall and Blc Williette Wong ‘The Best’ which blooms in the summer. Other yellows can be found throughout the year.

After the plant has been purchased and the flowers are fully opened, cut them using a sterile razorblade and place in water for safe travel to your favorite florist. There are many fancy ribbons to choose from and the designer should be able to whip up the corsages while you wait. Friends and family should be alerted because the magic of the ‘yellow orchid day’ has returned.

Q) My mom has an orchid that is stunning and I want it. Would it be rude to clip a piece of the stalk or limb and transplant it into my garden? Calli T.

A) There must be a publication in the library on orchid manners. If not, maybe that will be my next venture. Chapters will include ‘Secretly Photographing Centerpieces’, ‘Borrowing Plant Labels’, ‘Use of Orchids while House Sitting’, and ‘Smuggling Endangered Species’. The book will open with a discussion on ‘Clandestine Clipping of Orchid Parts.’

The survival rate of blooming orchid plants that have been chopped into tiny fragments is notoriously low. It is always recommended to wait until the flowers have finished before having any surgery. Not only is timing important, but size is everything. Dividing a plant successfully requires a fairly mature specimen – one with many pseudo-bulbs (8 or more) so that any piece removed has at least 4 bulbs. Anything smaller will take years to return even under the best scenario.

Some orchids don’t have pseudo-bulbs and, therefore, can’t be divided. The omnipresent Phalaenopsis is one for example. Occasionally, these ‘moth’ orchids will make keiki’s (or babies) off their flower stem but these can only be transplanted when the roots appear. Sun loving Vandas also don’t have bulbs but tall plants can be divided horizontally if there are ample roots above and below the split. Tricky surgery for even the most experienced botanical gurus.

The concept of planting orchids in outdoor gardens is difficult to achieve given the orchid’s most prevalent horticultural classification of epiphyte. These Ornamentals, which ‘grow on trees’ in the jungle, die rapidly in dirt for air cannot get to their roots. Preferred media include bark chips and mosses. Of course, there are terrestrial orchids but these are not commonly sold in stores.

The best solution to this vexing problem might be to ‘match’ the plant at a local floral shop. Most orchid hybrids found today are ‘clones’ which means there are exact duplicates available – often by the millions – and all blooming at the same time. You could even get a bigger plant than mom has – more flowers, more leaves. The tables will turn and she will want a piece of your stunning orchid. That’s another chapter in the orchid manners book, ‘One Up Your Mom.’

Sunday, March 1, 2009 - 17:45