APHRODITE’S ORCHID. (Putting it cleanly) This orchid belongs to the genus Paphiopedilum. The word comes from Paphos, the ancient city on Cyrus famed as the birthplace of Aphrodite—plus pedilum, a Latin hash of the Greek word pedilon, meaning “Slipper…” But if you want to sound like you really know orchids, forget the Latin and just call it a Paph.
Now, you may not consider this Paph classically beautiful, but I love it anyhow, because the labellum —the translucent pouch between the petals—really does look to me like a red leather slipper crafted for a tiny goddess.
Paphs are insanely collectible because they look so cool and even bizarre. For the same reason, many Paphs in the wild are endangered—but not to worry, because this one is a greenhouse-grown hybrid.
I explained in a previous post how Slipper Orchids imprison insects and force them to pollinate, but there’s even more going on with this sexy red Paph.
Let’s start with that exquisite pouch—the labellum. According to botanists, it looks enough like a flying insect to seduce one of the opposite sex. In fact, some Paphs even fool Queen Bees. The Queen tries her best to mate with the Orchid, then slips and falls inside. A prisoner of love, she can’t escape without pollinating the Orchid.
Same deal with certain flies—and this particular Paph targets only one special species of bee or fly. Why? Because this raises the odds that the insect will be carrying the exact right pollen to fertilize this special orchid.
Orchids are truly a Darwinian dream and, in case you’re wondering, Charles Darwin himself wrote an entire book titled Fertilisation of Orchids: On the Various Contrivances by Which British and Foreign Orchids Are Fertilised by Insects, and On the Good Effects of Intercrossing. Phew!
Now let’s look at the raised, black splotches on the petals. These may be fake fungus or something else these particular flies love.
I mean, imagine the right customer flies by, but he’s already had sex today and is absolutely ravenous—bingo!
The orchid gets him anyhow.