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Many of us are under the false impression that the only way you can raise an orchid is in a greenhouse or under similar tropical conditions. Well, here’s some good news -- there’s a few easy orchid varieties out there that virtually anyone can grow. In fact, the American Orchid society says, “If you can grow houseplants, you can grow orchids”.

The word “orchid” is Greek, meaning “testicle”. Charles Darwin compared the texture of an orchid’s petal as the same as human skin. Their natural habitat is a dark, dank, jungle like environment, common in regions of Florida and Central and South America. Orchids living in the wild can be found hanging from trees or vines, nestled in decaying vegetation on the jungle floor, or clinging to rocks. There are said to be somewhere close to 35,000 orchid species, ranging from the common cymbidium, available in most flower shops, to the chocolate oncidium, its distinction being that it smells just like chocolate! Certain orchids can even grow to be 100 years old.

The four easiest types of orchids to grow are: 1) the Phalaenopsis, which has four to seven white or purple blooms, 2) the Dendrobium, that produces longer sprays of smaller purple, white or green flowers, 3) the Oncidium, the shortest bloomer, with flowers that are mostly yellow with red marks, 4) the Cymbidium, the largest-growing variety and that sends out large sprays of pale green or red flowers.

Any of these varieties are available at your local garden centre or florist, from catalogues, through Orchid Societies if they offer specimens for sale, and, in keeping with the times, the Internet.

So now that you’ve chosen your orchid, how do you take care of it? The first thing to remember is that you needn’t worry about re-creating rainforest-like conditions. As long as you keep the room temperature between 50 degrees at night and 85 degrees during the day, depending on the variety, you’ll keep your orchid happy. They enjoy light, but make sure it’s filtered. A south facing window with the shade down or with opaque curtains will do just fine. Orchids also like higher than normal humidity (usually 40-70%). One way to insure they get enough is to keep your orchid in the bathroom. But only if there’s adequate light. Otherwise set your orchid on a humidity tray. Put some pebbles into a shallow tray with a lip and fill almost to the brim with water. Place the orchid pot on top, but make sure it’s not sitting in the water. This will cause root rot.

Orchids also need fertilizer. Acid based types are best. Most garden centres or orchid dealers will know which kind to recommend and also advise when and how often fertilizing is needed.

This might all sound very complicated, but it’s not. As long as you provide your orchid with warm days, cool nights, indirect light and a little bit of patience, it will reward you with its grace and beauty for years to come.