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“Inexpensive, widely available, and completely familiar.”

When I was a kid, my over-educated nerd of a stepfather grew orchids for fun. The greenhouse in the back yard was where he propagated ’em; the house, where there was at least one in every room, was where they were displayed. My favorite was a brilliant pink cattleya kept on the back of the toilet in the master bathroom—too rare, I was told, to risk placing in the living room, where either my sister or I was sure to knock it over.

This was back in the 1970s, mind you, when such an activity was still considered, at best, eccentric—if not outright weird. I was probably the only kid in school who could tell the difference between a phalaenopsis and an epidendrum, but couldn’t tell you who won the World Series that year.


I was thinking about this the other night when the missus and I were at Trader Joe’s. There were scores of orchids lining the windows, all in bloom, all beautiful, and all for sale—cheap. And I got to wondering, What’s happened in the last 45-odd years that’s turned what used to be an expensive hobby for amateur botanists into something that you can actually afford to toss aside when it’s done blooming?

As usual, Atlas Obscura has the answer.



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