That settles it…

A lively little conversation has been flying around the Orchid Digest forum for the last couple of days, debating whether orchids do in fact have medicinal properties.

I think Iris has settled the argument once and for all:

“Many orchids are hallucinogenic. The larger the flowers, the stronger the drug. They all can produce the delusion that you have a large amount of money and an enormous greenhouse.”

Not so fast..

Thanks to the knowledgeable people on the Orchids Digest list, I can say with confidence that the reporter who described orchids as “parasites” hasn’t really got her story quite straight. Though she was very convincing, I’ll grant that.

As one esteemed professor on the list writes:

In zoology, there is a fine discrimination between so-called true parasites and parasitoids, the later killing the host as a consequence it completing its life cycle.  In botany, there is even a finer line between parasites and their hosts, usually taking the form of symbioses or mutualisms; this is the relationship of some orchids with some fungi, but apparently not all nor always.  To confuse matters
even more, what may start, or appear to start as a parasitic relationship does not necessarily remain, but may become a symbiotic relationship, or a reversed predatory role.”

Splitting hairs, in other words. Calling an orchid a parasite on the fungus that helps nourish it is just too simple.

One woman on the list does have a point, though.

“They have convinced homo sapiens to rescue them from their plight of near-extinction, feed them, care for them, and even propagate them. They take nutrients from us, their hosts, and, yes, they allow us to survive, allbeitly, much the poorer after we acquire them and design, build and maintain their artificial habitats. Known as one of the most complex of the plant kingdom, I’d say, parasites or not, they have done pretty well for themselves.”

Flower power

Hey, plants aren’t for sissies!

1. Name three plants that were contributing causes of wars.
2. What two plants helped spread the ideas and philosophies of major civilizations?
3. What plant helped build a new industry?
4. What two plants are the greatest food staples of the world?
5. What large grass has been used to build fleets?
6. Name three plants that played a role in colonization.
7. What plant is a symbol for architectural elegance?
8. Can you name any of the plants found in King Tut’s tomb?
9. What plant caused an economic collapse?
10. What plant is the greatest boon to humanity?


1. British tariffs on tea became a symbol of taxation without representation, and the Boston Tea Party set the stage for the American Revolution. Cotton, one of the cornerstones of the old American South, increased the demand for slaves, which some historians believe contributed to the Civil War. The opium poppy was behind the Opium Wars, 1839-42 and 1856-60, with England and France on one side and China on the other.

2. Olives and olive oil were the chief export of ancient Greece and, through their trade, the Greeks spread ideas that became the foundation for Western civilization. We also know a great deal about the ancient world thanks to the Phoenicians and Egyptians, who used paper made from papyrus. This ready source of writing material helped promote and spread literacy.

3. Christopher Columbus brought the vegetable gum we call rubber back to Europe after he saw natives tossing an elastic substance collected from caoutchouc trees (Hevea). It took 300 years before rubber was widely used commercially, and eventually rubber came into its own with the automobile industry.

4. Rice has the edge over wheat as the most widely consumed food from a plant. Both are steeped in history. For example, Alexander the Great introduced rice to the Western world when he brought it back from India. Seeds of wheat have been found with Iron Age implements. Columbus introduced the grain to the New World.

5. In Asia, the world’s largest grass, bamboo, has been used to make everything from flutes to boats. Bamboo seeds and sprouts also are a food source.

6. The spice trade, particularly pepper, led to development of great merchant fleets, which in turn led to colonization. Later, sugar cane played a role in colonization. A South American tree, the cinchona, helped make possible colonization of tropical countries. Quinine, a cure for malaria, is produced from its bark.

7. Leaves of bear’s breeches (Acanthus mollis) decorate the top of Corinthian columns and are often used to symbolize elegance and grace.

8. Plants found in King Tut’s tomb include cornflower (Centaurea cyanus), papyrus (Cyperus papyrus), mandrake (Mandragora), lotus (Nymphaea), olive (Olea), willow (Salix) and nightshade (Solanum).

9. In the 1630s, prices of fancy tulips reached such staggering sums that investors lost entire fortunes on bulbs and often were forced into bankruptcy. The phenomenon, while most rampant in The Netherlands, spread to England and France.

10. No contest. It’s a product of beans from the Theobroma cacao tree. Chocolate.

by Dulcy Mahar
Garden Writer, The Oregonian

One of my favourite denizens

One of my favourite denizens of the orchid-forum underground is “Hank”, of the orchid source forum. Hank stands out for his solid advice, down-to-earth common sense, and a delightfully quirky sense of of humour.

He’s posted a couple of orchid growing gems recently, which I will repeat here so that I don’t forget.

On Fertilizer:
“Speaking of Miracle Grow….Some of you might know this already, but Miracle Grow “Miracid” 30-10-10 was, many years ago, developed specifically as an Orchid Fertilizer by Dr. Thomas Sheehan, of the U. of Florida. A little more background is that the water there at the UF lab was around a PH of 8….so the fertilizer was kind of on the acid side to bring the PH down to a neutral range. Very good for this even today, since a 5.5 PH area works well on Orchids. As another aside, here….Dyna Grow users are, I’m sure, aware of how much DG drops the PH when mixed with water….if you’ve never noticed this, check it next time you fertilize.”

On Overanxious Orchid Hobbyists
“Too bad every new Orchid Grower can’t get a short trip somewhere in (South America) to see plants “En Situ”. The shock would take weeks to wear off. Most hobby growers worry too much about everything from light to fertilizer to little blotches and a few chilly nights. These plants have been surviving for millions of years before we ever discovered them…and will be around after we’re gone…unless we trash the planet, that is. And we’re working very hard on that. ”

On whether to remove cattleya sheaths
“A green sheath is a sterile environment for the buds to develop in….that’s why it’s there. It also serves as a support for the flower stalk(s) once the developing buds have emerged at the top. Normally, you can just clip the very top of the sheath when the buds reach that far. If the sheath turns brown and/or necrotic during bud growth….remove it regardless of how small the buds are. One exception to this is some of the species Catts, which develop sheaths in Summer and then hold them all Fall and Winter….blooming in the Spring. Leave these as well until you see buds just beginning to develop…then take them off. ”

More on fertilizers:
“Everyone needs at least 26 different fertilizers. The people that wander endlessly through the World’s jungles fertilizing Orchids in their natural habitats use 26 different varieties…I’m sick of (people) constantly trying to inject common sense into discussions that start out here as promising good, solid nonsense. After all 96 % of all Orchid advice you see is nonsense and I see no reason to depart from a format that is completely proven…not to mention the economic effect on all the commercial growers who are likely to lose business if fewer Orchids die in the care of experts like us.”