How can one afford lavish orchids during this economic recession? Aaron T.


For most of the 1800’s, orchids were the sport of European royalty – barons and baronesses paying huge ransoms for new jungle discoveries. The next century brought the sport across the Atlantic to the wealthy industrialists of the United States who had estate growers to care for their collections. The new millennium has brought yet a new market for orchids – affordability for the masses.

Modern production methods including cloning and seed propagation have resulted in average plant prices ranging from $20 to $40 each - a significant drop from just 20 years ago. (Orchids even cheaper are sometimes found, but they tend to be distressed and not a bargain in the long run). And what does that initial investment buy? Generally speaking, orchids have to be at least 4 years old to bloom which means that there are multiple sets of leaves and a solid root system. Usually, a clay pot, bamboo stake, and growing instructions are included.

Orchids are considered an ‘investment’ because they usually gain value over time. The plants mature and grow larger leaves, more roots, and often more flowers. After several years, sympodial orchids (those with multiple pseudo-bulbs) can be ‘split’ into two plants – thus doubling the value. Other times, growers prefer to make a ‘specimen’ plant – one that is quite large with lots of leaves and flowers, usually in a bigger pot. Specimens make great centerpieces and can be the center of attention at social gatherings.

The yearly upkeep or maintenance cost on an orchid is minimal. Twice a week watering is free and the small amount of fertilizer that is added monthly to the water amounts to a few cents. Annual repotting may involve a new clay pot (value $.50) and the accompanying media another $.25. Alternatively, professional boarding of the plant at a local greenhouse averages around $2/mo with timely re-blooming practically guaranteed.

Nearly every major city in the US boasts one or more orchid societies – whose members get together monthly to show and tell orchids. Often there are key note speakers, raffles, refreshments, and plant sales. Advice is always free with membership costing around $25/yr. In Richmond, there are two groups: the Richmond Orchid Alliance which meets monthly at the Science Museum and the Virginia Orchid Society which meets monthly at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden.

What makes orchids the ‘best deal around’, however, is the blooming time. Popular genera last anywhere from one to three months. Not many flowering plants can make that claim! Sometimes, orchid blooms stay on the plant so long, that one wonders if they are silk.

And these flowers return year after year, usually bigger and better. People get attached to their orchids and look forward to their re-blooming each year. My father has many of his original plants from 1943 and they re-bloom dependably each year and often remind him of the special moments in his life when he first acquired them – birthdays, anniversaries, birth of children, etc. Each plant has a story…which he willingly shares over a glass of wine.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010 - 17:30