Flowers An orchid show — like the one held by the Hoosier Orchid Society last weekend at Glendale Mall — can give you a bug that never goes away. It can attack your system on the spot or lie dormant for years until the right vector comes along and leaves you breathless. Either way, if you have a weakness for the sensual, the fragrant, the bizarre or just Nature’s dizzying imagination, these things can take you. A few facts:

There are over 25,000 species of orchids from every continent except Antarctica, and nurseries around the world are creating hybrids faster than they can be accurately tracked.

Norman McDonald’s The Orchid Hunters (1939) says that “when a man falls in love with orchids, he’ll do anything to possess the one he wants. It’s like chasing a green-eyed woman or taking cocaine, it’s a sort of madness.”

I’m on my second green-eyed woman, and the first one had some issues with, uh, madness.

I have a lot of weaknesses. So, after stumbling onto my first orchid show in Eugene, Ore., in 2000, the dice had already been rolled by the time I moved back here and my mom insisted I take over the collection she no longer had the time for. I took them and killed them and bought more and killed most of them, too. Like many orchid hobbyists, I’m embarrassed to admit how much money I’ve lost in killed plants, and like most hobbyists, it doesn’t matter. I’ll buy more. Madness.

Since I started collecting orchids, I’ve learned that there is no other ornamental plant that enjoys the same rabid devotion. Contributors to the most prominent Internet listserv for orchid nutjobs — the Orchid Guide Digest — frequently threaten each other with violence, and it is not uncommon for the day’s messages to be dominated by comments like this:

Dealing with the facts is not one of your great points … [you are a] BS artist of the first order.

You would get none of this browsing around the displays and sale tables at a show like the one this past weekend. Even the American Orchid Society judges went about their business with little affect. But you do get an idea of the visceral appeal orchids can have. People resorted to odd gestures and contorted facial expressions to convey the effect the flowers had on them. These were the people who got stopped just passing through, and I would bet a third of them left the mall with a plant instead of a new pair of shoes.

These people are in trouble. Contrary to popular thinking, orchids are not in general too difficult to care for. If you ask an orchid grower how to properly care for your plant, he may likely say, “With benign neglect.” The problem is that before you figure out the nuances of “benign neglect,” you have 50 plants and each occupies a different point on that spectrum.

And don’t think you have to wait for an annual show to stock up. There are plenty of local nurseries to visit, including Hoosier Orchid Company, which, according to their catalog, possess “the largest variety of seed-grown species in the United States, if not the world.” Madness.

The bulk of my collection came between green-eyed women, and most of them are dead now that my passions have found a more suitable object to adore. But I’m drunk again on the unique pleasures of these masterpieces to which few other natural works come close. Green-eyed women are wonderfully seductive, but on the gray days when those things go hazel, forgive me if my heart wanders.


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