An Interview with the Surviving Orchids of the Great Winter

My wife doubts the legitimacy of my 'business trips' to botanical gardens, so I just tell her that I'm conversing with the plants themselves, interviewing them about their noble lineage (the hybridized plants anyways) and their favorite meals (Bone meal washed down with compost tea). I'm just going straight to the source for all the dirt I need.
Last weekend I visited Mckee Botanical Gardens to interview the orchids about the frost killings of 2010, gaining valuable insights into their lives. What I found was shocking.

The idyllic site of the orchids' slaughter

McKee is located in Vero Beach, Florida. It isn't quite as tropical as the Fairchild Botanical Gardens in Miami, but the massive banyan trees and naturalized orchids should be enough to tell you that the tropics are right around the corner. I could see where the most tropical orchids and trees had lived before the harsh winter reared its ugly head, but I had to look hard to see any signs of a struggle. Everything was blanketed in green as quickly as a snowstorm would blanket a garden up north, but I knew better. I had to listen to the plants' stories.

Relatively cold winters withstanding, there were still plenty of epiphytes around to interview. When pressing them for details of their brush with death this winter, they often hesitated as their minds became flooded with uninvited memories.

A dendrobium who wished to remain anonymous openly wept as her memories thawed. "I'm sorry. I'm not crying... it's honeydew secretions from the scale insects, that's all. I'm glad this is happening. It's good to..." She trailed off. "It's good to get closure, you know? I'm lucky to be alive."

Encyclia tampensis didn't need much provoking. "Oh, God. It was awful. I'm tellin' ya, cattleyas and oncidiums just droppin' from the trees left and right, like whiteflies hit with a fumigator. I'm checkin' out this pretty face across the path, blooming for the first time with her whole life ahead of her. Then it got dark and the air got real still, and cold too. I was freezin' my ass off I tell ya! Anyways, so I hear this screamin' all over the garden. It was so gawdawful, like listening to..."
"Go on." I coaxed, "It's okay."
"I woke up and everyone had melted. Like that Edvard Munch painting 'cept the screaming had ended and they just hung limp, still clinging to the branches. The sweetheart across the way was... I'm sorry. I gotta photosynthesize and stuff, man. Could we just wrap this up already?

There were cattleyas lounging on on a stone wall, oblivious to the carnage that took place only months ago.
"OMG! Are you here to take our pictures?" said one cattleya, arching her stem to offer a better view of the rosy flowers.
"Were you here during the freeze last winter? I'd like to ask for a minute of your time."
They all looked baffled. One piped up. "I don't think he speaks English! Does anyone know what freeeze and win-tor means?"
The other orchids chattered about my vocabulary before changing the subject. "I dunno, but it sounds totally LAME!"
"This guy's boring."
"I know, lets have a pollen fight."
"I'm so glad we all decided to ditch the wood and become lithophytes!"
"Hey, does it feel a little cold or is it just me?"
"What's cold mean again?"

I asked the nearby bromeliads for their story, before being interrupted. "Shh! We've been eying that wall for years! Just let them get complacent with the current climate and we'll buy up the property at rock-bottom prices after their bubble bursts."

This palm canopy is being tested as a protective measure against frost.

I contacted a meteorologist, who verified what the bromeliads already knew. "Yeah, it's gonna freeze again. And again. And again."

The mortality rate for orchids rises steadily each year, though it's probably accounted for by the greater population orchids in cultivation. Despite the chilling numbers of orchids frozen to death, overwatering remains the leading cause of death among orchids, followed closely by "Big box retail sales associates."

Bromeliads buying up choice real estate at McKee Botanical Gardens.


  1. Another fabulous, fun to read post! (37 degrees here last night...)

  2. Someone who admits to long conversations with plants.... and is prepared to put it in print. Now that is a real gardener!

  3. about an interview with me about bone meal...hopefully this journey is an ok one. Here's the deal. We have a VERY large organic veggie garden. No chemicals. Neptune's fish emulsion only. My husband wants to use bone meal and I am totally grossed out by this. He says it's "cleaned"...not sure that's enough for me. We just planted 240 cloves of organic garlic...luckily he forgot the whole bone meal thing. Love to get your opinion.

  4. Fantastically enterataining interview with equally lovely photos!!!

  5. this was so awesome to read ; what fun .

  6. Loree: Brr! I am so happy to live in Florida right now.
    Nantucket Daffodil: Bone meal is totally sterilized, so apart from the gross out factor it's fine!


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