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Perfect gift of frugal luxury: Orchids

Register • Nov 24, 2013 at 12:00 PM

As Christmas shopping reaches its peak, the task of finding the perfect gift for each of those on the list begins to feel like a daunting task.

Toys and cute little outfits for the kids, electronic gadgets for the teens, books for the scholars, clothes for almost everyone else on the list makes shopping feel like a repetition of Christmases past.

There is an alternative though.

For a change purchasing a plant, specifically an orchid, just might be the cure for the boredom, the hassle and the endless routine of following the ads and clipping the coupons day after day.

Orchids brighten a day.

Their stately presence reminds us of the wonders Mother Nature has placed in our care. Receiving one as a gift is a special event. Even that crusty old curmudgeon Uncle Cornelius would be surprised by the gesture. And, while the delicacy of their blossoms makes orchids seem to be a challenge to grow, that is a misnomer.

Orchids have a long history.

The Chinese philosopher Confucius wrote poetry about and raised orchids in the fifth century BC. The first records of orchid cultivation date back to the 1730s in England and started in earnest in the 19th century when they were brought to Europe by companies and individuals who financed expeditions. As with any study of a new species of plant there were several failures, but by the mid 1800s horticulturists began to solidify the intricacies of planting, propagating and successfully growing orchids.

Orchids are the largest family of plants in the world.

There are more than 25,000 species of orchids. Each species differs greatly from one to another. The blossoms come in almost every color except black and there are extreme variations in size and weight.

The three species best grown as house plants are: phalaenopsis (or moth orchid) that has long arching sprays of flowers that last for several months; cattleya which are most commonly associated with corsages; and dendrobium whose flowers are usually white, lavender or a combination of both.

While many people shy away from having orchids in the home, they are not that difficult to grow. The American Orchid Society provides easy to follow directions if properly followed will provide years of enjoyment.

According to the ACS the moth orchid grows easily under the same conditions as the African violet. As a second choice it recommends the slipper orchid which has attractive foliage and re-flowers in home conditions giving weeks of floral display.

The society’s recommendations are to place the plant is south and east-facing windows (if the leaves are lush, rich, dark green the plant is receiving too much light), avoid overwatering and water in the early morning. Feed the orchid regularly using a balanced fertilizer. Once the flowers are spent, cut the stalk just below the lowest blossom to encourage the graceful arching of the stalk (if not done in a timely manner cut the stalk until green coloring appears).

Treated with the proper care these plants will provide weeks and in some cases months of beautiful flowers and years of pleasure.

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