In August 1979 a massive hurricane hit the small island of Dominica, devastating just about everything in its path including homes, roads, crops, trees, and even leaving mountaintops bare.
Amazingly, in the wake of all of that destruction, the hurricane left behind a new plant, Spathoglottis plicata, an Asian ground orchid that can now be seen all over the island. It was named David’s orchid to remember the hurricane that brought it.
We’re back! I’ve got a lot of email to get through, laundry to wash, and photos to organize so I’m not officially back to work until Monday but I couldn’t wait to share a taste of the planty goodness experienced on this trip. The ride through the countryside from the airport to our hotel alone was amazing… I got a little teary-eyed when I spotted massive trees drenched in the largest tillandsia I have ever seen. Some were flowering!
We spent our first day exploring the natural life around our hotel. The grounds are fronted by the ocean and backed by a rocky range. We located a box canyon down near the beach cove where we made some exciting discoveries.
The first was an orchid plant just laying there on the ground. There it was, an orchid laying there at my feet like it’s no big deal for an orchid to just lay there, on the ground, hanging out.
Then I turned around and spotted my first tillandsia within touching distance!
I’ve posted a few additional photos to my flickr stream but believe me there is a lot more to come. Much, much more.
All photos by Derek Powazek
I first came across the work of Derek Powazek online about 10 years ago when I was working as a graphic designer in the interactive department of The Place That Shall Not Be Named. Derek’s retired online public complaints machine Kvetch.com was a touchstone to sanity for me, a place where I could find solace in the sane (and sometimes not-so-sane) ramblings of others slogging away in poorly managed cubicle communities across the globe or post my own discontent. You may have heard about Derek via one or more of the myriad of awesome projects he has spawned since including the recently relaunched Fray, SF Stories, and JPG magazine. The self-described Author, Designer, and Troublemaker is internet famous as the online storytelling guy; he loves to tell stories and is always coming up with new ways to get you to tell yours.
But over the years he has dropped hints of a behind-the-scenes interest in plants. When he recently posted a series of photos showing the assortment of gorgeous and incredibly healthy orchids he is not only keeping alive but prompting to bloom in his San Francisco apartment, I knew there was more there than a passing interest in a couple of houseplants named Fred. Derek graciously agreed to entertain my questions about his orchid interest and success.
A constant stream of questions comes flooding through my inbox on a regular basis. I try and answer as many as I can but it’s quite an arduous task. It suddenly occurred to me that maybe I should start answering these questions publicly where everyone can benefit from the information or add their own thoughts and experiences to the mix. Please forgive me. I can be a little slow at times. This first question comes from an advice column I began writing last year for the now defunct and sorely lost Budget Living Magazine.
Question: I get orchids as gifts all the time but promptly kill them? How do I care for them?
Orchids have cultivated a reputation as difficult, but your plants are probably Phalaenopsis or moth orchids, a trendy gift-store variety that are surprisingly living room friendly.
The secret to indoor gardening is all about approximating a plant’s natural habitat in your home. Moth orchids are tree-dwelling jungle plants native to tropical regions where the air is steamy and warm. Setting up a tree in your living room is not necessary!
Grow It: Your plant will be comfortable away from direct light in a room with a steady temperature around 70º F. If you are comfortable so is your orchid. Grow your plant in a terra cotta pot with holes in the bottom and specially prepared orchid bark for good drainage. Give it a weekly 30 second dunk, pot and all, in a lukewarm bath. Allow the top of the soil to dry out between baths to avoid over-watering. Orchids thrive on lots of humidity. A simple humidity tray will do the job of fancy gadgetry. Line a leak-proof tray with an inch of aquarium gravel or river stones. Add water to just below the surface of the rocks and set the orchid pot on top without pushing the pot into the rocks. Constant “wet feet” can rot the roots — the trick is to provide a warm sauna rather than a long soak.
Go Further: Moth orchids are unique in that they can rebloom on the same spike. Most other orchids bloom only once per year. To encourage another round, cut dead flowers off just before the next joint on the stem. You should see new buds in 8-12 weeks. Once the flowers have gone, cut the entire stem off close to the plant base. Your plant will flower again before next spring. Enjoy!
For More Information
1. Wilma & Brian Tittershausen. Gardener’s Guide to Growing Orchids: A Complete Guide to Cultivation and Care, London: Anness Publishing Limited, 2001.
2. Orchid Lady
Living room gardeners needn’t be limited to corner-store variety orchids. Paphiopedilum, aka ‘slipper’ orchids (not to be confused with the cold hardy North American Lady’s Slipper) are an exotic tropical that produce a stunning, solo blossom sometime between late fall and spring. Each bloom lasts as long as 2-3 months and many varieties have dramatic, mottled foliage providing interest in between blooms.
Grow It: In the wild, Paphiopedilums (Paphs for short) grow underneath trees where they received indirect, filtered light, making them the perfect match for those of us cursed with small windowed apartments. Look for yellowing leaves as a sign of too much light. Repot your paph every two years with light and airy orchid bark. Give your plant a quick soak, pot and all, in room-temperature water. The bark mix should never dry out but should not be constantly soggy either. Choose a hardy hybrid variety like ‘Maudiae’, or ‘Gold Dollar’.
Check out The Orchid Mall to find a local vendor or The American Orchid Society for more information.
See more photos of my favourite paph: Paphiopedilum Maudiae ‘Claire de Lune’ x Minnie May – How’s that for a race horse name!