If a passion for orchids ever grips you then you have to learn to accept ‘failure’ as an integral part of the fascination (even obsession) that finding such capricious creatures engenders.
I have heard lovers of orchids described in English both as Orchidomanes and Orchidophiles – the epithet is a tad ambiguous since the name orchid derives from the ancient Greek for ‘testicles’ – a reference to the oblate spheroidal form of the subterranean tubers. In fact, years ago when teaching in Cyprus I tried to explain (in Greek) what I was particularly interested in photographing – let’s say that I discovered, from the sniggers of my students, that modern Greek and ancient Greek are not that far apart. I have a gift for this…
In Italy we are “Orchidiots” – no translation needed there. Come the spring of each year there are veritable armies of folk throughout Europe taking off with cameras in search of these entrancing plants. My own malady ‘lingers on’ for I found my first bee orchid in 1960 and wrote my first orchid book back in 1983 in collaboration with Anthony Huxley.
I am not going to delve too far into what creates this appeal but it has a lot to do with the intriguing, often bizarre, form of the flowers in that they possess a modified petal called ‘the lip’ (labellum) that can resemble tiny dancing figures, insects and a host of other things to challenge the imagination. They also have a sex life that challenges anything from the Kama Sutra with mechanisms for visual deception and pheromone -mimic scents that drive small bees wild…
Even if you do your homework before going out on expeditions this is an area where Sod’s law, Fineagles Rule and Murphy’s Corollary conspire in an unholy alliance to thwart you.
But then what constitutes ‘failure’ when you can sit down with friends after a day out and still have a bottle of wine to commiserate or to celebrate? And so often you will have been walking in superb scenery and seen butterflies, birds, rare flowers…even if that (censored) orchid eluded. And, as friends who go a week later will generously tell you: ” you should have been there.”
I thought that, with the new orchid season almost upon us (I have seen some rosettes of leaves) I would delve into the dark (and dusty) recesses of the mind and create a series of occasional posts that will make you feel sympathy/contempt or even superiority when confronted with an incurable “Orchidiot’.
And where better to start than with the most capricious, if not the rarest of all Europes’s orchids the aptly named Ghost Orchid ( Epipogium aphyllum) in Ghost Tales, a piece I recently wrote for the Journal of the Hardy Orchid Society.