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Orchids - better than roses?

Fictional detective Nero Wolfe, created by author Rex Stout in the 1930s, loved to spend hours admiring his orchid collection. I can see why. Orchids are exotic, beautiful and romantic.

Orchids come in all colors except black (although there are orchids that are almost black), in all sorts of beautiful and bizarre shapes, and in a wide range of sizes. Although most garden centers carry reasonably priced, easy-to-grow varieties (mostly tropical species), in the natural world there are more than 20,000 species of orchids, growing in every type of habitat from tropical rain forests to the tundra and semi-arid desert, and on every continent except Antarctica. Orchids grow in all 50 states, even Alaska!

Since many homes are quite dry in winter, particularly those with forced-air heat, you'll want to choose species that tolerate such conditions. Not all orchids grow in rain forests; some grow in areas with seasonal dry periods. Some of the more common are found among dendrobiums, oncidiums, and the corsage orchid (Cattleya).

More uncommon for dry climates are Brassavola and some Aerangis orchids. Generally those that grow best in dry, indoor air include ones with seasonal growth, hard leaves, and "pseudobulbs" (a swollen stem area the plant uses for storage). Using a humidifier near plants, or placing them on a tray of pebbles, kept moist, will help most any orchid in dry indoors.

When buying an orchid, the plant should be securely rooted in the pot and have lustrous flowers and firm, succulent leaves and pseudobulbs. For those "epiphytes"- that grow naturally on the sides of trees, that get their nutrients and moisture from rain and air, which are the ones you'll find growing in bark - fresh, white roots with green root tips also are a sign of a healthy plant. As with other flowering plants, buy orchids with some buds still left to open. Make sure flowers and leaves don't have spots, which could be from poor culture or even disease.

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