The Myth Maker
When a vagabond plant collector named William Swainson sent a bundle of strange lavender-flowered plants thought to be parasitic to the Glasgow Botanic Garden in 1817, he opened the door to a flood of excitement that would engulf the horticultural world for the rest of the century.
Deep in the tangled jungles of tropical Brazil, among the many wandering tributaries of the Amazon Basin, lies the fabled land of El Dorado. The appetites of the Spanish conquistadors for the elusive riches of this “Land of Gold,” was worth risking a kingdom — or even their lives — to find. For the plant hunters of the mid-1800s, El Dorado was the realm of stinging insects, biting ants, bloodsucking bats, swarms of flies, clouds of mosquitoes, malaria, dysentery and the promise of the golden treasure of a new Cattleya species.
One of the most delightful children’s storybook characters is the puppet, Pinocchio whose nose grew longer every time he told a lie. Lying, of course, is not a trait limited to storybook characters – or even people. Some orchids do quite well in this respect.
The Smoke and Mirrors Cattleya
Shakespeare must have been a frustrated taxonomist when he wrote, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” because only a taxonomist would suggest the possibility of giving a rose another name. Names are what we give plants so we all know what we are talking about. They are the everyday words that simplify our everyday life. I know what a rose is, and an apple and a pear, but I am beginning to wonder about some of the names taxonomists are inflicting on orchids these days.