2019-04-07 sc-barryp1

Moth Orchid is perhaps the best species for growing in a home or office environment. Barry Fugatt/for the Tulsa World

I surprised my bride of many years with a beautiful orchid plant. No special occasion prompted the purchase, just heart-felt appreciation for the most gracious and loving person I’ve ever known. My gal swooned, of course, when I gave her the Moth Orchid covered with rich lavender flowers. I noticed a slight look of concern on her lovely face, however.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“Well,” she sighed. “You know I’m not very good with plants. Aren’t orchids hard to care for?”

“Not really,” I replied. “And besides,” I assured her. “With my being the official ‘plant whisperer’ in the family, I’ll happily take care of the orchid for you.” And with a touch of poetic license, I added, “allow the beautiful orchid to be a daily reminder of my great love for you.”

Both of us were a little surprised by such flowery rhetoric coming from me. Nevertheless, my lady teared up and gave me a passionate hug. Clearly, the orchid touched the heart of my infinitely better half.

I’m guessing it’s orchid’s great beauty that fuels the common misconception that one needs a degree in horticulture and a fancy greenhouse to successfully grow the “Queen of Flowers.” Nothing could be further from the truth, however. A window sill out of direct sunlight, along with regular watering, will usually do the trick. And for this modest investment in time and effort, consider your reward: a yearly explosion of some of the most gorgeous flowers in the plant kingdom. Still more amazing, the lovely flowers of some orchid species may last (even in a home environment) for several months.

Orchid history is almost as interesting as orchid flowers are lovely.

“Orchid fever” began in earnest in 1818, when British plant collector William Swainson sent boxes of tropical plants he collected from South American jungles back to London. When one of the plants bloomed, a gorgeous orchid, the Victorian orchid craze began.

What followed can only be described as the “orchid gold rush.” Waves of adventurers set off across tropical regions of the world, braving poisonous snakes, yellow fever, starvation and attacks form some native tribes in search of exotic orchids to satisfy the growing demand among wealthy Europeans. All did not go well for plant collectors, however.

An expedition of eight orchid hunters to the Philippines experienced the following:

One was eaten by a tiger; one was set on fire by tribesmen; five disappeared and were never seen again. One, however, returned to London with several thousand orchids, presumably to become a very wealthy man.

Today, one need not brave deadly vipers, pestilence and head hunters to acquire a beautiful orchid. Simply visit the Tulsa Orchid Society’s Spring Show from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, April 20-21, at the Tulsa Garden Center, 2435 S. Peoria Ave. Thousands of orchids will be on display and for sale.

Several orchid facts not generally known: Vanilla, the world’s favorite flavor, is derived from the seed pods of a tropical orchid. Here’s a shocker: Orchids represent the largest family of flowering plants on the planet with more than 30,000 species. The Moth Orchid, genus Phalaenopsis, was named by famed botanist Carl Linnaeus, the namesake of the Linnaeus Teaching Garden in Woodward Park. Moth Orchid is perhaps the best species for growing in a home or office environment. Give one to a spouse or friend; it will surely generate lots of passionate hugs and kisses. Guaranteed.

Barry Fugatt is director of horticulture at the Tulsa Garden Center and Linnaeus Teaching Garden in Woodward Park. He may be reached at 918-576-5152. Email: bfugatt@tulsagardencenter.org.