We reveal the history and mystery behind one of the world's most treasured plants.
Alas, orchids’ extraordinary beauty and lore—which includes continuing use in herbal medicines—has a downside. “Wanton pillaging of wild species must now be [forbidden] by international laws,” says Gregory Long, president of the New York Botanical Garden, a designated Plant Rescue Center since 1990. “Recovered orchids are now in our research collection,” Long adds, “and we’re pleased when we can include some in our yearly Orchid Show.”
According to Ron McHatton, chief operating officer of the American Orchid Society, “All orchids are now regulated by CITES—the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.” The American Orchid Society, located at the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden in Coral Gables, Florida, is the largest such organisation in the world, and actively works to prevent destruction of wild species. “A truckload—literally 6 tons—of rare lady’s slippers [Paphiopedilums] was intercepted at the border of Laos,” McHatton says. “They’d been stripped from the forest for sale to people who were unlikely to be able to grow them. Meanwhile, of course, their habitat had been destroyed.”
So how to avoid encouraging such destruction or dealing with a disreputable shipper when buying an intriguing orchid? “If it seems too good a deal to be true, it probably is,” McHatton advises. “Should you come across a rare orchid the dealer is willing to sell ‘under the table’ for a bargain price, be careful!
“In any case,” McHatton continues, “buy only from known, reputable companies and international dealers who show proper CITES documentation. If an orchid’s international shipping box is labelled ‘machine bolts’—which I’ve actually seen—it’s unlikely the law is being followed.”