The photo accompanying this post is that of the umbrella orchid (Bulbophyllum fimbriatum), native to the Western Ghats.

But it’s really just an excuse to talk about the funny Victorian botanists who thought that orchids were “decadent” because they produced so many seeds and yet were so rare.

 

All that catting around and hardly any progeny to show for it.

 

It didn’t help that the orchids were flamboyantly beautiful: flamboyance in art usually presaged the downfall of a civilization–look what happened to Rome and all those degenerate Oriental cultures.

And, like the Oriental despots who whiled away their days being fed grapes by slaves within their crumbling palace walls, the orchids, too, depended on the effort of others for sustenance. They were so degenerate, scoffed some scientists, they couldn’t even chew their own food and had to rely on the mycorrhizae to break it down for them first.

Interesting how human prejudice insidiously wiggles its way into scientific pronouncements.

Thankfully, our attitudes have become more enlightened since that time, or is it that scientific knowledge has progressed?

We know today that orchids can mass produce their seeds because the seeds are extremely light and require little energy to produce in large numbers. And, because the seeds are so light, they can be carried over vast distances by the wind, maximizing their chances of finding a favourable environment in which to make a home.

Once they land, the fragile orchid seeds must germinate in the ground for a while before they are strong enough to send out shoots, and it is during this period–sans the light required for photosynthesis– that they rely on mycorrhizal activity for sustenance.1

Nothing decadent about that.