Monday, April 20, 2009

Orchids, rainforests, mystery and Earth Day

Yesterday Marty Appel invited me over to share some new orchid repotting techniques he had learned at the orchid show last month. I took some of my root-bound orchids, mulch and pots, as this was to be a practical demonstration.

As we began the procedure of hacking away at the roots (yes, hacking with a knife cleaned with a blowtorch), I couldn’t get the memory of rainforests and the quest for rare orchids out of my mind. I’ve always been fascinated with orchids. When I was growing up, Brenda Starr, Girl Reporter, was my favorite comic strip. I wanted to be just like Brenda – the intrepid reporter traveling the globe in search of the story. Brenda Starr, the liberated, career-action reporter, was my role model. Of course, my fantasy included a romantic Brazilian mystery man like Basil St. John who was always searching for the rare black orchid. Dale Messick’s original Brenda Starr comic strip that I followed in the Philadelphia Bulletin was full of romance, mystery, and exotic black orchids.

So splitting my orchids yesterday was actually a sojourn into my past. I’m sure it was because of my very close ‘personal’ ties with Brenda Starr that I represented Brazil in the model U.N. when I was in high school, and much later I chose Brazil for a Fulbright. I even managed to go up the Amazon into Basil’s rainforest, and although I did see a lot of orchids, none were black—and Basil was nowhere to be found.

So mystery and orchids and rainforests and Earth Day. I’m a big list-maker, and Orchids play an important part in mystery fiction starting with Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe and his love of orchids. Black Orchids is one of my favorite titles. Other orchid mystery titles (fiction and non-fiction and a few out of the normal mystery realm) include:

Death in the Orchid Garden by Ann Ripley
The Cranefly Orchid Murders by Cynthia Riggs
Death at the Spring Plant Sale by Ann Ripley
Deadly Slipper, The Orchid Shroud, Death in the Dordogne by Michelle Wan. Read a great article by Michelle Wan on orchids and mystery.
The Ghost Orchid by Carol Goodman
The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean.
The Cloud Garden by Tom Hart Dyke and Paul Winder
Death of an Orchid Lover by Nathan Walpow
Black Orchid by Dave McKean
The Emerald Cathedral R.H. Jones
Spirit in the Rainforest by Eric Wilson.

What Is A Black Orchid? Does the Black Orchid really exist? Where is the Black Orchid found? These questions and others have fascinated orchid enthusiasts for centuries, and orchid growers have been trying to grow this magical, mysterious black colored orchid for ages, too, but this still seems to be a mythical plant. All the hard work by hybridization specialists has been in vain and the search for the Black Orchid continues. I grow a lot of varieties of orchids, but none are black. I guess I’ll just continue my personal search through mystery fiction, and sometimes while on holiday in tropical rainforests.

So there you have it. Orchids for Earth Day. Save the Rainforests!


Janet A said...

Brenda Star and Wonder Woman, the only sexy strong women in the 50's comic stips/books. These women lived life. I had forgotten Brenda Star. I must start reading her again.

Auntie Knickers said...

I haven't read it yet, but a very successful crime novel in Britain in 1939 was No Orchids for Miss Blandish, by James Hadley Chase. It was made into a film 10 years later and is one of the Guardian's "1000 Novels Everyone Must Read."

valia said...

Nero Wolfe should be noted here, obsessed as he was by orchids.