As I looked forward to the New York Botanical Garden's 2013 Orchid Show, I thought about the term 'hot house flowers' and what that name implied. The need to control came to mind and an image of a Victorian desire to capture and manipulate nature for mans' own pleasure. But soon after I stepped into the humid and musky air-filled conservatory teeming with colorful varietals of orchids, it became clear that any attempt man makes to control what nature offers is short-sighted.
Who knew these hot house beauties were so complex?
According to our expert guide, when not forced to grow and cross-pollinate in captivity, orchids depend on the kindness of strangers to perpetuate. Or more specifically, they depend on the interest of a particular species of insect that happens to fit perfectly into their particular flower anatomy. This perfect fit enables the insect to capture and escape with precious orchid pollen on their backs.
The orchid offers a heady scent or uses color and pattern on its petals to attract its insect mate. One example of this trompe l'oeil seduction is an orchid varietal whose petals look like they are being invaded by little black ants. Why? The insect this orchid depends on for pollination likes to eat little black ants. Therefore, when the bug encounters the orchid's speckled petal it sees lunch and comes in for a landing. Once landed, the insect fits perfectly into the pollen sack and when it squirms to get out it takes on the pollen. It flies away only to be deceived a second time by another of the same speckled orchids. There it lands again looking for lunch and pollinates the flower.
The reunion of the insect and its perfect match in nature reminds me of Plato's SYMPOSIUM. “Love' is the name for our pursuit of wholeness, for our desire to be complete.” The insect and the orchid seem to be caught in a symbiotic love relationship that is dictated by nature and beyond their control.
As I learned of the complexity of orchids and their pollinating partners, I thought again about the Victorians and their want to force these beauties to cross-pollinate and bloom in the confinment of a hot-house. Art imitates life. Maybe those repressed Victorians, forced into financially driven marriage agreements and respectably bloomless existences, were attempting to control nature like they were attempting to control themselves. Yet, all the while, silently wishing to be seduced by their perfect, natural match.