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The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Orchids
Edited by Alec Pridgeon
304 pp, 1000 color photos, 20 line drawings, 9 1/4 x 12 1/4", hardcover.
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Unfortunately, the easily acquired orchid has the unwarranted reputation of being difficult to grow--fussy, unforgiving plants that need a home built like a misty cloud forest, with periodic cloudbursts, insects, and the occasional jaguar. Some people devoted bedrooms or basements to their orchids, while others have constructed elaborate glasshouses with different climatic zones, potting rooms, and Mozart piped in to soothe the soul and presumably fortify the plants.
But you can start simply with orchids, raising a few plants on the window sill, outdoors in spring and summer, or under fluorescent lights, and discover that orchids are not fussy at all. In fact the very adaptability that has allowed them to colonize all corners of the earth made them very forgiving and rewarding in cultivation . . .
In orchid growing there are two guiding principles that underlie all else. If you memorize and practice them your success rate will rise exponentially as the months and years pass. First the most important thing you can do is buy sensibly: purchase plants that suit your growing conditions. If you live in a tropical climate, then buy warm-growing plants rather than alpine or cloud-forest plants. Within certain limits and without breaking your budget you can alter the conditions of your growing area to suit the plants, such as by allowing more ventilation, raising the humidity, increasing light intensity or shading. As much as possible try to duplicate the natural growing conditions of the species or, in the case of hybrids, those species in the background of the hybrid . . .
The second principle in orchid growing applies when your plants are already in place in your home or glasshouse and you are responsible for their welfare. Some experienced growers argue that orchids thrive on benign neglect. On the other hand, novices are prone to love their plants to death by overwatering. The Golden Mean between these two extremes is to observe. Inspect your plants regularly, not only for the first symptoms of leaf-spotting fungi or the footprints of a scale insect, but for signs of improper culture--yellowing or loss of leaves, failure to flower, gradual decline.
Image at top: Laelia rubescens Lindley. This showy species, found in Central America, produces racemes of four to seven flowers from October to June. Flowers vary from white to pink with dark maroon patch at the base of the lip.
Image at right: Ophrys apifera Hudson. Probably the best known of all Ophrys and the favorite early summer flower of many European flower lovers . . . The lip is deeply three-lobed, the midlobe chestnut-brown with a reflexed tip and creamy yellow markings near the base. Distribution is very wide in Europe, north Africa, and the Near East.