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Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Ode to a loved one's dangling, greyish parts

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SNAKES crawl at night, as the song sings, and since most of us don't like snakes, that reminds us that we also don't much like things that go bump in the night, or things that only sneak around in the darkling of the day — mosquitoes, for example — and spiders and mice and rats and gangsters in Winnipeg's core area or even its suburbs.

One wouldn't think, however, that this list would include an orchid. Orchids are, in our imaginations at least, pretty flowers that guys sometimes give to girls, or, perhaps in these more enlightened days, girls sometimes give to guys, although personally I have never been given an orchid by a woman, which may say more about my own social inadequacies than it does about the state of contemporary social mores.

Notwithstanding that, it is tough to see the sinister side of an orchid. But trust science in its relentless pursuit of truth to discover the ugly side of them. Ed de Vogel, a Dutch botanist, has discovered an orchid that only blooms at night. It is, fittingly, named bulbophyllum nocturnum, grows only in the obscurity of an island in the Papua New Guinea archipelago -- does it get any better than this? -- and blossoms only between the hours of 10 p.m. and sunrise, wherever in the world it is planted, whether it be Port Moresby or Amsterdam.

Papua New Guinea is, incidentally, in the native language of the people, officially known as Gau Hedinarai ai Papua-Matamata New Guinea, so it is hardly surprising that a night-blooming orchid named bulbophyllum nocturnum might grow there, even though it is, as far as we know, the only night-blooming orchid in the world -- a member of the smaller, more sinister branch of the orchid family known as Epicrianthes.

It is described admiringly by the left-wing Guardian newspaper as "a small night-flowering orchid (with) yellow-green sepals that unfurl to reveal tiny petals adorned with dangling, greyish, thick and thin appendages." As rare as this flower may be — as early as the orchid grows, it withers quicker than the rose, to paraphrase A.E. Housman — I wouldn't recommend giving it to your spouse or significant other, no matter how strongly its dangling, greyish, thick and thin appendages may remind you of him or her. There are some things that flowers might usefully say. That's not one of them.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 26, 2011 J2

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