Orchids and why they are grown by so many people around the world.
paphiopedilum rothschildianum
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Paphiopedilum rothschildianum 'Mont Millais' FCC/RHS, FCC/AOS and Great Gold Medal champion 14th Word Orchid Conference, Glasgow 1993.

Cultivation History Orchids have always fascinated man and with the growth of glasshouses in Europe at the end of the last century the collection of plants from the tropics almost reached fever pitch. Their captivating beauty was largely to satisfy the landowning classes and were often regarded with great mystique and exoticism for all that saw them. During the 20th century thing started to change, with many of the great collections being broken up or turning commercial both in Europe and the USA, Nurseries growing orchids started to produce plants and flowers for an increasing public demand. Orchids became a truly international crop with an explosion of growth and interest all around the world from the tropics to temperate climes.

Outstanding qualities. As orchids are the largest group of flowering plants after grasses the range of growth, flower and habitat colonization is diverse and very varied. Generally considered by botanist to be an advanced and developed family of flowering plants they show a huge range of adaptations to habitat and floral variety. Such diversity in the gene pool has been eagerly sought out by hybridizers to develop a whole range of new plants and hybrids. Environmental adaptations have in many cases produced plants that are generally tough and easy to grow given the right conditions. Long lasting flower qualities has ensured another attraction to all that grow and flower orchids. Some are fascinated by the pure species (as occur in the wild) while others enjoy the work of hybridizers who modify and try and improve the flower form or growth characteristics.

How to grow orchids. Generally orchids are not difficult to grow and as long as you concentrate initially on easy more commonly available types they should not prove to be any more difficult that a range of other pot plants. It is important however to understand a little bit about orchids. The plants are often planted in their own special compost, have a distinctive growth habit and cycle and require suitable temperatures and light levels. Much information regarding growing conditions is available in books and on the world wide web. Visiting a specialist orchid nursery is also a very good start into the hobby as that will give a true feel of the range of plants available. Attending orchid shows is also an education in itself especially if there is a help desk or beginners guides on sale. It can also show you how good you might get in the future!

Purchasing orchids. Plants can be sourced from a range of commercial outlets. The houseplant market is well catered for at, florists, garden centres and the larger superstores. Generally these plants are a reliable way into the hobby but it it good to select plants freshly delivered before shop-life deterioration occurs and if knowledgeable help on hand seek this out. Many such plants are sold as 'disposable items' but it is possible with care and knowledge to get many years pleasure from such plants. I would strongly suggest that you do not purchase plants from shops that sell fruit, including food supermarkets, at some orchids are sensitive to ethylene (fruit ripening gas) and this can be detrimental to plants displayed in such shops. Probably the very best place to purchase orchids from is an orchid nursery. Visit such an establishment on a quiet day, seek help as a beginner by asking questions and by taking the good advice offered you will probably end up with some healthy and easy to grow plants ideally suited to your needs. Buying plants at shows is another good way but be warned many shows are very busy, often with enthusiasts who have traveled great distances. Therefore it is not a good place to ask the most basic questions, though some vendors will be more than happy to help out especially when the show becomes quiet. Mail order is a good source of plants but customers do need a knowledge of understanding catalogues and handling shipped plants which may often arrive bare rooted.

Rewarding hobby. With time orchid growing can become an obsession but such dedication can bring immense rewards and a lifetime of pleasure. Although stated above growing orchids can be easy there are also challenges to the hobby that can be all the more rewarding to conquer, Some plants can be very difficult to grow well and for those that achieve success it is reward in itself. In this respect there is something for everyone. Orchid growing is a truly international hobby with shows and nurseries all.

2001 and the future. As someone who has worked in the industry since the 1970's (Wyld Court Orchids the UK home of Lycastes and Angulocastes) I have been witness to a great number of changes. Many of the great nurseries and personalities are no longer with us and new and unexpected trends have emerged in orchid cultivation. The growth of the pot plant market has expanded worldwide. International shipping of plants and flowers has increased year on year and the growth of plants in sub tropical and tropical climate zones has rapidly expanded. Groups of orchids have waxed and waned in popularity with orchids now featured in many a glossy interiors magazine. Mass production techniques in the laboratory has led to the growth of whole new crops, perhaps exemplified by the modern Phalaenopsis hybrid produced by hundreds of thousands for today's market. (It is curious to reflect that back in the 1970's they were a minor orchid genus in the UK, always expensive and were regarded as a specialist warmth requiring and difficult plant). Nowadays they are almost 'throwaway' plants to be enjoyed and then discarded or re-flowered according to need.

Deforestation in tropical areas has sadly led to the demise of many species of plant and CITES legislation has been introduced as an attempt to regulate exploitation of new and endangered orchids and plants. New species are continuing to be discovered or rediscovered and introduced to cultivation.

The modern techniques of cloning plants, aseptic seed raising and even biotechnology play an important element in the cultivation of orchids now and in the future. Indeed they offer hope that plants will be able to be offered and enjoyed by an increasingly expanding market of orchid lovers. Ensuring that the plants that they so desire and want to grow can become an affordable reality. With the warning for some that 'growing orchids can become addictive' (in the nicest of ways) we do hope that you will seek out the pleasure of orchids by going on an orchid hunt - on the Internet, flower show, nursery or local botanic gardens. Perhaps even grow your own orchid and seek out the pleasure, such plants of beauty bring, to so many people around the world. .....Go on try one!

I am sure you will not regret it and wish you good growing.