‘Why Won’t My Orchid Bloom?’ and Other Burning Life Questions
What we want to know about our plants is what we want to know about our lives
Questions from The American Orchid Society’s FAQ page:
Where do I cut the spike?
Begin at the neck of the thing. Thick and green like a decomposing thumb; feel out the skin. Let yourself touch, gently, make a slow gesture back and forth. This limb under your fingertips may feel unnecessary. But the body is the spike. You can’t cut it, you can’t remove an element from the periodic table because you feel like it. This would be a declawing. This would be a removal of what scares you, what most resembles a death wish, much as you may think it looks more like a diseased leg.
Spikes only regrow on the moth orchid. Leave it on.
How do I water my orchid?
At a summer internship, I was in charge of the office orchid. Orchid-wrangling: a question mark on my resumé. I replaced its sluggish water, tilted it towards sunlight, sprayed its leaves with nutrients, gave it what it needed, let the sink stream into the soil once a week. The plant preoccupied me, its posture strained and elusive, how it spoke in a lust-shiny tongue but never said a word. Alone in the summer, in a city an ocean away from home, I tended to myself. I saw horror movies alone, sat in the dark and drank cheap wine, left my clothes unwashed for days, longed to outsmart my own fear. In those weeks, I read Susan Orlean’s The Orchid Thief. Orlean tracked the plant through its cruelty, excavated the orchid obsession and modern-day orchidelirium. In the Victorian era, orchids mesmerized wealthy white men into dangerous journeys and orchid-hunting in South America became another streak of imperialism awash in beauty-hunger. Nowadays orchids mostly stay inside, that history of wilderness made compact and ripped from the earth itself.
The pastime of orchid-hunting, only open to men, to the wealthiest and highest of the Victorian bourgeoisie. What a thing, to encase the jungle and say it’s something you’ve discovered. To steal beauty from land not your own, to believe in your entitlement to such grandeur. To blame the flower.