This week's column is about two books about orchids that explain how to succeed in growing them and one coffee table book that will make you want to grow them no matter what.
Orchids are becoming one of the most popular houseplant hobbies. In fact, The National Gardening Association named two orchids in their list of the top 10 best houseplants for winter. Some types of orchids are easy to grow and bloom for weeks if not months.
The Chinese cultivated orchids 2,500 years ago and the Greeks used the tubers as an aphrodisiac. It was after 1850 that their popularity soared when wealthy collectors wanted the newest plants discovered by explorers.
Orchids are at home at the edge of the Arctic Circle and on islands near Antarctic. Most grow on trees and some are able to grow on rocks because of thick, strong roots that have so much absorption capacity that they can live on air.
Though not grown in the United States, Vanilla planifolia orchid is part of our daily life. The tiny dark specks in vanilla bean ice cream are pieces of its seed. In order to provide enough vanilla beans for the world's desserts, plantation workers hand pollinate up to 1500 flowers a day.
Steven Frowine, author of "Orchids for Dummies," "Gardening Basics for Dummies," "Moth Orchids, the Complete Guide" and "Fragrant Orchids" has a new book out called "Miniature Orchids." Published this year by Timber Press "Miniature Orchids" describes 300 of these popular plants.
The tiny orchids featured in his new book have the same brilliant colors, exotic shapes and fragrance of their larger cousins. Frowine puts these popular windowsill plants in three categories: miniature — up to 3 inches high or wide; dwarf — up to 9 inches; and, compact — up to 12-inches.
In an e-mail conversation from Mexico, Frowine suggested that those of us in Northeast Oklahoma zone 7 could start with these four: Brassavola nodosa, Neostylis Lou Sneary, Oncidium Twinkles and Paphiopedilum Maudiae. "In general the price of a plant reflects its size, maturity and readiness to bloom," Frowine said. "Usually, beginners are better off starting with as large a plant as they can find and one that is in bud or in bloom. That way they get instant satisfaction and it will re-bloom sooner."
Light is essential for blooming and orchids are categorized by their light requirements: high, medium and low. Medium light orchids can be grown on a windowsill and low light orchids are grown a few feet away from the window or are screened from direct sunlight by a sheer curtain over the window.
Since some orchids grow naturally in jungles, adequate humidity has to be provided. Pots are placed on a sturdy screen over damp gravel. As with all houseplants, a fan is recommended to provide gentle air circulation.
Not many orchids bloom in the summer so most of them can go outside under high-limbed trees or on a protected porch with 50 percent shade. They are relatively pest and disease free but Frowine has several pages of information on any problem that could come up along with its solution.
The best fertilizer choice for orchids should contain the major elements, nitrogen (N), phosphorous (P), potassium (K), up to 15 percent calcium and up to 8 percent magnesium.
Read the labels and choose a product with trace minerals such as copper, zinc, boron and iron. "Orchids are exotic and alluring," Frowine said. "There are 30,000 species and over 100,000 hybrids so there is an orchid for everyone. You could never get bored growing a plant with such beauty and diversity."
Another new book with more general information, "Orchids: A Practical Guide to Care and Cultivation" by Mike Tibbs, provides help for a beginner and wisdom for experienced orchid growers."Orchids" has illustrations, photographs, and step-by-step directions for dividing, cultivating, selecting the right growing material, propagating, pollination, developing for sale, growing in a greenhouse and diagnosing problems.
Photographs of insect and disease damage and a four-page chart of cures will build confidence in the novice grower. The last 60-pages of the book are descriptions and photographs of orchid hybrids, divided by cool climate, intermediate climate and warm climate.
Cool-climate orchids prefer 64 to 81-degrees during the day and 46 to 61 degrees at night. Intermediate-climate orchids prefer 68 to 75-degree days and 55 to 61-degree nights. Provide Warm Climate species 75 to 81 daytime temperature and 64 to 68 at night.
Tibbs points out that there are three types of orchids: • Epiphytic — Most orchids fall into this category. They grow on trees and rocks. • Terrestrial orchids that grow at ground level. • Lithophytes, which grow on, exposed rock.
There are leafless orchids whose stems grow horizontally with the roots providing the chlorophyll needed for life.In nature, orchids produce an abundance of tiny seeds that are light enough to be carried by the wind to a tree branch or some moss on tree bark where the plant will grow and thrive.
"Orchids: A Practical Guide to Care and Cultivation," by Michael Tibbs, 2007, Ball Publishing Bookshelf, www.ballbookshelf.com. The book is well written with instructive photographs and diagrams.
One other new orchid book of note is "Orchids," with text by Pascal Descourvieres and photographs by Manuel Aubron. It is a coffee table book of stunningly beautiful orchid photographs. Published by DK Publishing. www.dk.com.
The orchids sold in garden centers are usually Cymbidium, Dendrobiums, Oncidiums, and Phalaenopsis. Look for the Moth orchid, Phalaenopsis; it is easy to grow in home conditions and its flower spikes last three months.