Monday, 24 October 2011

Welcome to Orchidmania

When I first starting researching material for a 19th-century adventure story, I was soon hooked on the weird and wonderful history of orchids.

I bought my first orchid to sit on the windowsill by my laptop, unaware of the slippery slope upon which I had embarked. 

It was a modest little Phalaenopsis, and the first of more than a dozen specimens that bloom gloriously in turn. I always did dislike the funereal quality of cut flowers, so orchids were the bees knees.

If you’re reading this, you’re an enthusiast, too. We’re in good company. Queen Victoria. Charles Darwin. A former head of the CIA, James Angleton. The latter was passionate about Dendrobia, Phalaenopsis, Cymbidium and other tribes of orchids, especially their ‘deceptive qualities’. It’s more than a little chilling to note that this secretive man appreciated the darker side of orchids and veered away from the ‘survival of the fittest’ theory, opining that it was only the most deceptive orchid that had survived. When it comes to breeding, most orchids rely on their mastery of misrepresentation to confuse insects, having no actual food on offer. Orchids. Dark, dangerous, deadly.

The more I read about the flowers, their almost Gothic history, their medicinal uses, the crazy lengths collectors would go to acquire them, their weird relations with insects, more fascinated I became. I began to collect the anecdotes, the trivia, the latest news stories, the fantastic tales of orchid-hunters from the days of the Empire ... anything and everything.

I have so much stuff, it seemed time to share it all with orchid fans. I hope you find it fascinating. And let me know what you think!



● Pictured is Phalaenopsis schilleriana from ‘Select Orchidaceous Plants’ by Robert Warner (1814-1896) et al (1862)
● Dark and dangerous: black orchids are highly desirable. Acrylic painting on canvas by Lauren Deeth-Kelt