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Orchids For Dummies
By Steven Frowine
John Wiley & SonsISBN: 0-7645-6759-4
Chapter OneGetting the Lowdown on Orchids
In This Chapter
* Getting to know orchids
* Deciding whether orchids are right for you
* Knowing what to do for your orchids each month of the year
You're about to enter the wonderful world of orchids. You're in store for an exciting adventure! This is the largest plant family on our planet with an estimated 30,000 wild types (species) and many more man-made varieties. No other plants can compete with orchids for their power to seduce and bedazzle the most jaded plant lover with their fantastically beautiful flower colors, shapes, and textures, and heady and sensuous perfumes.
Understanding What Makes an Orchid an Orchid
You can easily tell when a rose is rose, but orchids are quite a bit more complex and varied when it comes to their flower shapes and the construction of their leaves, stems, and roots. In Part III, I give you lots of information on flower, leaf, and stem construction of specific orchids. In this chapter, I talk generalities.
Certainly the flamboyant colors of modern orchid hybrids are a standout and are the primary reason these plants are so treasured. But there are so many different types of orchid flowers, so the question is, "Which one is typical?" There is really no correct answer to this question. Many people think of the cattleya-type orchids (see Chapter 11), while others may picturemoth orchids (see Chapter 10).
To get a better idea how orchid flowers are constructed, take a look at a typical cattleya flower and compare it to a more ordinary flower, a tulip (see Figure 1-1). Table 1-1 shows some of the major differences between these two flowers.
So what makes an orchid an orchid? The column. This fused sexual structure located in the middle of the flower is what separates the orchid from all other plants.
Knowing Where Orchids Come From
About 80 percent of orchids are from the tropics in both the New World (Central and South America) and the Old World (Asia and Malaysia). A smattering can be found in North America and Europe.
The ones that grow in your home, though, are all of tropical or semitropical origin. They mostly hail from areas of high rainfall and humidity and enjoy tropical to above-freezing temperatures during the winter.
Orchids are divided into two major categories based on where they grow. Those that are commonly found clinging to branches of trees are called epiphytes; those that thrive growing on or in the ground are called semiterrestrials and terrestrials.
So how can you tell the difference between the two? Many of the terrestrial roots are hairy, like those found in the slipper orchid (see Figure 1-2). Epiphytes have thick roots (called aerial roots because they're frequently suspended in the air), which are covered with a silvery material called velamen, which can absorb moisture from the air like a sponge (see Figure 1-3).
Seeing Why You Should Grow Orchids
Growing and studying orchids will provide you the ultimate horticultural experience and pleasure. Here are some key reasons to start growing orchids now:
Deciding Which Orchids to Bring into Your Home
Choosing an orchid is an exciting, but sometimes confusing, decision! So many types of orchids, so little space. In this book, I make this process easy for you:
Getting to Know Your Orchids by Name
Probably one of the most intimidating hurdles that the beginning orchid grower faces is the complex names given to orchids. When you realize what an immense group of plants this is, you'll soon come to realize why most orchids are referred to by their Latin name rather than a common name. Actually, very few orchids even have a common name. In this book, I always use the Latin name, because that's the universally accepted name, and I add a common name when there is one.
If you struggled through high school Latin classes as I did, you may have thought (and hoped) that this language died with the Romans. Alas, it is alive and well in the natural-science world, and it's the standard language used to name flora and fauna. You'll start to make friends with Latin as its use become more familiar and comfortable to you.
Taking the name a little at a time makes it easier to digest. In the following sections, I show you the names, one word at a time, of a species orchid and then a hybrid.
Species orchid names
Plants that are sold as they were created by nature, not hybridized by man, are referred to as species orchids. They have two names: the genus name, which comes first and is capitalized, and the species name, which comes second and is lowercase. Both names are in Latin, so they're italicized (which is just the way foreign languages are usually treated).
You may see a third part to the name, the botanical variety, after the species name. This is a name given to an orchid that varies somewhat-it could be a larger flower or one with slightly different coloration-from the standard species. It will be preceded by the letters "var." and will be in lowercase and in Latin.
The genus name is much like your last name and the species name is like your first name. In other words, orchid naming is backward to the way you say your own name. If my name were written as an orchid's is, I would be Frowine steven.
Here's an example of the name of a species orchid: Cattleya walkeriana var. semialba. Table 1-2 explains the orchid's name.
Hybrid orchid names
Oh, it would be so simple if naming stopped here, but man got mixed up in all this and started developing hybrids. Hybrids result from crossing two species (taking the pollen from one orchid to use it to "mate" with another). A marvelous thing happens when two different species of orchids are crossed or mated to each other. Their progeny is usually stronger, easier to grow, and frequently produces larger flowers than either of its parents-which is why hybrids are so desirable and popular.
Here's an example of a hybrid orchid name: Brassocattleya Cynthia 'Pink Lady' HCC/AOS. (See the color section for a photograph of this orchid.) Table 1-3 breaks down the name and explains its various parts.
Orchid hybridizing can produce plants with quite complex names, especially in some of the very large groups like the cattleyas (see Chapter 11) and the oncidiums (see Chapter 13). In these chapters, I deal with their names in more detail.
You don't have to be an expert in orchid names in order to enjoy and grow orchids. You'll catch onto many other name nuances after you're drawn further into the orchid web. For now, don't worry about them much-they're only names!
Turn to the Cheat Sheet at the front of this book for a list of common genera names that you're likely to run into, along with their abbreviations and pronunciations. Tear out the Cheat Sheet and take it with you when you go shopping for orchids.
Growing Orchids Easy As One, Two, Three
To be successful in growing orchids, just follow these suggestions:
For the most common questions and problems, check out Part IV.
Beyond choosing the right orchid for your environment, you have to pay attention to the time of the year to know what your orchid needs. In the following sections, I give you a rundown of the year, month by month. Note: You can't be too exact with the timing of this care schedule, because the United States is a vast country with climates from the cold north country to semitropics.
This is a period of cold, short days and low light, so orchids don't grow much in such times. Fortunately, many moth orchids, slipper orchids, and some other cattleyas and their relatives will be budding up getting ready to show off their splendiferous blooms very soon.
This is another dark month, but the days will be getting longer and brighter, which should cause an increase in growth.
Finally, signs of spring with longer and brighter days.
In April, many orchids will be in glorious flower.
Growth will continue at full speed this month. This is another prime month for orchid flowering.
June, July, and August
Temperatures are starting to heat up now. Some orchids, like a few of the summer blooming hybrid cattleyas, oncidiums, and slipper orchids, will be in flower.
Excerpted from Orchids For Dummies by Steven Frowine Excerpted by permission.
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