National Geographic : 1971 Apr
And if you search the literature, you will find some 140,000 names actually recorded. Ob viously, many of these are synonyms. "You see, the splitters would regard a blond man and a black man as two different species. The lumpers, on the other hand (and today they are in ascendancy), recognize that plants are like men in that there are wide differences among them. The trend now is to regard a plant population, not a single specimen, as the basic biological entity. That is why I estimate that there must be some 20 to 35 thousand species of orchids so far known." If Man Is Comfortable, So Are Orchids It took 100 years for orchids to spread from the hothouses of the rich into the homes of the common man. One man who helped to bring this about is Mr. Thomas Fennell, a Florida horticulturist. I talked with his son, Thomas Fennell, Jr., in his Orchid Jungle, a thickly wooded Florida hammock 25 miles south of Miami. Here orchids grow in their natural state, and at any moment two to three thousand blossoms may be open. "My father reasoned that a modern house has a temperature range well within the tol erance of many orchids. He hung muslin cur tains over the windows to filter the summer sun so that it would not burn the leaves. Some heated but unhumidified houses are too dry for orchids in winter, so my father devised what we now call our 'cake-pan' method to raise the humidity. "Here is all you do: Take a baking dish and fill it with coarse aquarium gravel. Pour water into the dish to just below the surface of the gravel. Then stand your potted orchid on the gravel and put it in the window. That, and a little sunshine each day, plus some periodic feeding, is really all you have to do to grow showy orchids." A word of caution: Many northern ama teurs find their houses so dry that the cake pan alone is not enough. They raise the hu midity by spraying or using a humidifier. Amateur growers in the United States to day cultivate their orchids everywhere-on window sills, in miniature glasshouses called Wardian cases, and in elaborate climate controlled greenhouses (page 487). Many am ateurs belong to the American Orchid Society, whose members have increased from a few hundred before World War II to more than 11,000 in 1970. Today cut-flower growing.is a multimillion dollar business. Growers provide florists with 508 Cymbidium (the waxy spray orchid that originally came from China and India), Paphiopedilum (the lady's-slipper orchid, page 496), Phalaenopsis (the moth orchid most used in bridal bouquets), and especi ally the big Cattleya. Two hundred million Cattleya, showiest of all orchids, are annually sold on the American market (pages 502-3). And jet aircraft make it possible for Southeast Asian countries like Thailand to ship thou sands of hybrid Vanda to Europe every day. Of all the tropical American countries, Colombia has the largest number of orchid species, and some of the handsomest. This is because the Andean mountain ranges divide the country into three distinct zones: From the Isthmus of Panama a tongue of Central American flora thrusts deep into Colombia; against the eastern cordillera lap the last waves of the Amazonian flora, and in the cen tral valleys and on the mountain slopes grow orchids typical of the high Andean flora.* Dr. John Lindley laid true immortality on Mr. William Cattley of England, an orchid collector of the 1820's, when he gave his name to the most beautiful genus of the most beau tiful flower in the world. On a recent trip to Colombia I flew with a well-known orchid ologist, Dr. Mariano Ospina Hernandez, to Neiva, high in the eastern cordillera, in search of Cattleya trianaei (page 484). Before commercial cut-flower growers turned almost entirely to hybrids, the forests of Colombia were ransacked for Cattleya tri anaei, which usually bloom at Christmas, and those of Venezuela for Cattleya mossiae, an Easter flower. Blooms Go Into a Bitter Brew From Neiva we drove in a jeep through cool country of azure skies and rushing torrents. Coffee bushes grew in the shade of trees 70 feet high, but relatively few orchids remained in the trees. We saw more in pots hanging under the eaves of village houses. "We need to pass more stringent laws reg ulating the export of our orchids," said don Mariano, "but our greatest menace to orchids is the burning over of land for planting. Some times whole tracts of forest burn down when the flames get out of control." Everywhere I asked if orchids were used for anything except decoration. At last, in the little town of Suaza, I watched a woman brew a special tea of eucalyptus leaves, violet leaves, *See "Colombia: From Amazon to Spanish Main," by Loren McIntyre, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC, August 1970.