Protea And The Orchid Plant

Protea and the orchid plant have a history and extra-ordiniary characterists, learn about here!

One of the rarest blooms in the world today is the black orchid. This rarity has been alluded to in mystery stories, legends and elsewhere. It is true that for years orchid growers have been clamoring for a truly black orchid, just as others have demanded black hollyhocks, gladiolus, canna lilies and certain vegetables. There is a fascination with black blooms that is hard to explain, and although hybridizers are getting closer, an examination of what are reputedly black orchids actually teeter on the brink between black and blue, black and purple, black and deep maroon.

Close, but no cigar, or so claims Susan Orlean in her book, The Orchid Thief. On the other hand, there are orchids with black portions""pure black, judging from photos, and from experts who have studied them, and which tend to fill the bill.

A case in point is Laelicattleya Lc.Mem. Robert Strait "Blue Hawaii", with a what has to be a pure black lip. Then there's Vanda David Gardner #1, with purplish areas under deep black speckles and black-brown veins that comes very close to being all black, or at last, mysterious looking. The deepest, solid color orchid I have seen is the Liparis nervosa: in some lights shades of purple appear, in others, there is nothing but the sheen and depth of blackness.

A "black-tongued orchid" which is pretty convincing is Epigeneium amplum (Lindl.) Summerh. In general, most people think of orchids as rare plants, and expect they must be grown in a greenhouse under very particular conditions. In fact, orchids can be grown almost as easily as common houseplants. Two which are ideal for the novice grower are Phalaenopsis""Moth Orchid, and Paphiopedilums, Lady Slipper Orchids, two American favorites.

Orchids must not be overwatered. And since most are epiphytes which don't grow well in soil but require a suitable mixture of tree fern bark, or a mixture of redwood bark chips, charcoal and large pieces of perlite. Orchids grow well under average home temperatures (50o-80o) with an extra shot of humidity and enough light but not so much as to cause scalding. Further imformation on growing orchids can be obtained at the American Orchid Society's web page, www.orchidweb.org.

Another unusual and extremely rare genus of flowers is the protea. There are many varieties of protea, which appear to have originated in South Africa. The offical definition sites them as "Any of the numerous shrubs or small trees constituting the genus Protea, family Proteaceae of the tropical and southern Africa bearing showy conelike heads of apetalous flowers surrounded by colored bracts."



While the blooming end of the protea flower is always stunning, the bracts continue below the blossom as though the shrub or tree can't bear to let the flower go. Or, as if the flower itself must leave echoes of itself along the branch which bore it. Many protea flowers appear to have feathers for petals, usually feathers of multi-colors and which feel as silky smooth as real bird feathers. For example, the Sugarbush Protea bears cream colored feather-like petals, tipped in maroon and purple, and so light it appears it could take flight if detached from its bract-covered stem.

The dramatic King protea looks like nothing if not a miniature white pineapple whose lower half has burst with brilliant yellow spurs. My favorite protea look like coral pink artichokes, continually revealing more and more wondrous layers of strange pink, white and deep maroon bracts within as they open in stages, similar to the thistle at the core of the artichoke, but much more showy and enchanting. Pincushion protea, in cream or shades of red and orange, are stunning. They resemble certain asters, except that you can run your fingers across the pinhead petals and find they are as stiff and durable as the bristles on a good brush.

In South Africa, where they appear to have originated, protea are the subject of much devoted conservation work. Protea Atlas Project is an ongoing effort by citizens to locate and preserve stands of protea, which are in danger of eradication. These volunteers help to bring to prosecution growers and others on the veld who have destroyed particular protea plants which are protected by the government.

Much of the protea growth in South Africa is on what is called the Cape Floral Route. With this Fynbos ecosystem, some protea thrive on mountain sandstone, others on limestone, some in neutral sands and others on fertile soil. A few varieties have migrated to South Africa from Australia, although these are not as prized in general as the native ones.

Particularly fine conditions for the growing of certain protea exist in this country apparently only in Hawaii, in the Kula area of upcountry Maui. There, on the road to Haleakala, at Sunrise Protea Farm, I have witnessed the living trees and bushes which produce these incredible blooms. Because protea dry well, it is economic to order bunches of fresh protea, which can be shipped anywhere in the United States, and allow them to dry in place in vase or bowl. When they dry, the colors become somewhat muted, but remain astonishing, giving witness to the wonders of this rare and now accessible flower.

Although it is not clear whether other parts of the United States are suitable for growing protea, fresh and dreid protea can be ordered online for an unusual burst of color on a grat winter day.

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