What a wonderful way to spend a summer-like day in San Francisco—looking at hundreds of orchids in bloom! There are few flowers that have the complicated appeal of tropical orchids. Some of us can remember the times, years ago, when girls going to their high school proms wore a wrist corsage of a purple orchid as the finishing touch to their dresses. But those days are gone and orchids today are of more interest to gardeners than to the average teenager.
The theme of the 2016 Pacific Orchid show is “The Legacy of Orchids” celebrating the dramatic effect orchids have had on society. During the 1800s, dozens of daring orchid hunters scoured the jungles of South America and Southeast Asia to find exotic orchids for Europeans and Americans to grow at home. The orchids sold for hundreds or thousands of dollars and the hunts were cut-throat battles. Some orchid hunters destroyed or burned thousands of plants in the jungles so their rivals could not find the treasures they had discovered. Scarcity kept up the price for European orchid collectors.
Charles Darwin wrote about orchids and used their variations to demonstrate the evolution of species over time. One particular species, Angraecum sesquipedale, from Madagascar is called “Darwin’s Orchid” because Darwin announced, after studying the plant, that a specific moth must exist with an unprecedented 13 inch long proboscis in order to pollinate it. Twenty-one years after Darwin’s death other botanists found the moth, Xanthopan morganii praedicta, which has exactly the kind of proboscis Darwin had predicted.
Scientists are still studying orchids and learning more about the more than 27,000 species that exist. For the rest of us the most important thing we can do is to support the U.S. Endangered Species Act and international treaties which protect rare orchids. With deforestation continuing in many countries, there is continual pressure on many orchid species and fears that some of them may disappear.
This is the season for orchid shows across the country, so take advantage of the spring to view some of the loveliest flowers that can be found anywhere in the world.