The Mokara Orchid is known by many people as the “Smile Orchid.” The name is derived from the way the intricate patterns within the petals of certain types make the orchid look as though it’s smiling.
Singapore is the origin of your colorful selection this month. The impressive Mokara Orchid is a trigeneric hybrid of the Vanda, Arachnis and Ascocentrum orchid varieties. Developed in 1969 in Singapore, the original hybrid was named Mokara Wai Liang after its developer, C.Y. Mok. Now as popular as its parent varieties, the Mokara has a unique shape and is hearty, with the ability to last as long as two weeks with the proper care.
Orchids have long been enchanting ambassadors of Singapore. Charismatic and captivating, these splendid plants produce flowers that never cease to amaze generation after generation. In fact, the orchid is such a large part of the culture of Singapore that they’re visible almost everywhere: inside homes, public buildings, and often adorning people as Singaporeans often present orchid leis as gifts to welcome foreigners. Many unique new orchid varieties are named after visiting dignitaries and ‘superstars’ from all over the world. Perhaps one day there will be a variety of Arnold Schwarzenegger Orchids showing up in your monthly shipment!
If you’re fond of orchids, we advise taking your next holiday in Singapore. There, the program to create new orchid hybrids began as early as 1928! You should begin by checking out the Singapore Botanic Garden, which includes Singapore’s National Orchid Garden. 7 ½ acres of diligently manicured slopes provide a home to 60,000 orchid plants, including 400 species and over 2,000 different hybrid varieties!
Renowned for its floral beauty, the Cymbidium is one of the most popular orchid flowers in the world. In ancient times, Asian cultures gave the Cymbidium Orchid flower as a gift of honor, respect and friendship. Cymbidiums are divided into two groups – Standard Cymbidiums (large-flowered type) and Miniature Cymbidiums (small-flowered type).
Historical accounts of orchids can be found as far back as the early Greek civilization, where these delicate and gorgeous blossoms were regarded as an icon of both love and beauty, but scientists believe orchids existed since before the dinosaurs. Before humans began hybridizing the plants, more than 25,000 individual species were identified around the world. Including the many new hybrids, there are now almost 100,000 varieties.
Many people think of orchids as fragile and quite similar, but in reality no family of plants is full of greater diversity. The orchid family is the largest plant family discovered, and they are able to thrive in almost any environment on Earth, growing wild on every continent except frozen Antarctica.
The range of orchid diversity is very wide, from the very tiny Mystacidium caffrum to the Renenthera storei, which can grow as tall as 20 feet. Some flowers are as small as a mosquito, while others are as big as a dinner plate. They are so fascinating it’s no wonder that many people grow them as a hobby, and several botanists have disappeared mysteriously while searching for specimens to collect.
While certain orchid species rely on self-pollination, the rest rely on bees, moths, wasps, butterflies, ants, gnats, and birds to help them reproduce. The animals are attracted to the orchids in various ways, and often they’re attracted to a very specific orchid species. For example, certain bees are drawn to a variety of orchids due to their scent. As they collect scented droplets from the flowers, they spread the pollen among the blooms. Some flowers are very brightly colored to look appealing to butterflies, while other blossoms are dull in appearance but attract moths by being very fragrant only at night. Many orchid varieties are bright in color and produce a sweet nectar to attract birds.
Here are a few facts that will make you think twice regarding the difference between animals and plants: Did you know that, since some orchids look like female insects by way of shape, color, and scent, that some male insects try to mate with, or steal away, the orchid! Alternately, some orchids make certain insects think they are an enemy, and the insects attack the flowers, coating themselves with pollen that they then spread to the stigmas of other blooms. Some other orchids have very sensitive labella (the large, lip-like petals that serve to attract insects) that close as soon as an insect crawls inside. The insect must squeeze through the column to escape, coating its body with pollen – it better hope it didn’t just eat a big dinner!
Susan Orlean, author of The Orchid Thief: A True Story of Beauty and Obsession, has noted a large number of reasons why certain orchid species appear in many ways to have outsmarted insects. With a picturesque and cryptic style of writing, we think reading her book would spur many of our club members to take up a new hobby: growing orchids. Her work is highly recommended; here are a few excerpts:
“As the insects lick the nectar they are slowly lured into a narrowed tube inside the orchid until their heads are directly beneath the crest of the flower’s rostellum (an extension of the stigma, the part of a flower on which pollen germinates). When the insects raise their heads the crest shoots out little darts of pollen that are instantly and firmly cemented to the insects’ eyeballs, but then fall off the moment the insects put their heads inside another orchid plant.”
How the insects can find their way to another orchid flower is beyond us. This image is so vivid, it sort-of hurts to read the words!
“Some orchids have straight-ahead good looks but have deceptive and seductive odors. There are orchids that smell like rotting meat, which insects happen to like.”
“No one knows whether orchids evolved to complement insects or whether the orchids evolved first, or whether somehow these two life forms evolved simultaneously, which might explain how two totally different living things came to depend on each other. The harmony between an orchid and its pollinator is so perfect that it is kind of eerie.”
Susan’s book will pull you back in time to when the Earth was new, enticing you to contemplate the planet as its biosphere began to evolve. She’ll certainly challenge your perceptions, instincts, and skills of assessment to consider anew how all forms of life relate.
The orchid developed a way to live and thrive in the jungle by developing an ability to live not on soil, but on air, and to grow where there was easy access to water and light – high overhead in the branches of trees, far above the rest of the plants. They thrived because they removed themselves from competition.
If this all makes the orchid family seem somewhat smart – well, we agree, they do seem smart. There is something un-plant-like and very clever about the determination that they possess, and their tendency towards useful deception and their genius for seducing human beings for hundreds and hundreds of years.
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