Choice Pick

Roses are everywhere: in nine out of ten poems ever written, in pop songs, all over TV. Ah, but those orchids. They're more elusive, yet just as beautiful, aromatic, and symbolic as roses, and frankly, damn sexier.

This weekend orchids get their due via the 54th annual Miami International Orchid Show, the largest yearly display of the love flowers in the United States. "It's the premier horticultural event and it takes place right here in our own back yard," boasts show chair Robert Fuchs.

Fuchs, who runs a six-acre nursery called RF Orchids in Homestead, knows a bit about the voluptuous perennials. In 1919 his grandfather Fred arrived in the Homestead area as other pioneers were clearing the land and building homes and farms. He began collecting native species and cultivating the flowering plants, then moved into importing other species from South America and Hawaii, eventually opening Orchids Buy Fuchs in the Forties. He sold most of his blooms to local florists. At the same location, Robert Fuchs now deals in mail-order, wholesale, and retail on a national level.

Orchids are one of the largest plant families, with thousands of different types characterized by three-petaled flowers that are often purplish in hue. The middle petal is larger and liplike, bolstering the case for orchids over roses when it comes to romance. Both epiphytic (air-grown in hanging pots or in trees) and terrestrial (grown in the ground), orchids are, Fuchs says, "very easy to grow."

At this weekend's exhibit, some 200 exhibitors will showcase hundreds of thousands of examples. Seminars will demonstrate just how easy the plants are to cultivate, and bilingual guides will walk visitors through displays ranging from small tabletop setups to 500-square-foot gardens. Many items will be for sale, and live entertainment is scheduled for Saturday and Sunday.

A favorite of hobbyists, orchids can also be an investment. Although cut-flower corsages and single flowers go for five to twenty dollars, collector orchids and rare species can cost thousands of dollars. "Those are the result of selected hybridization," Fuchs explains, "and rare plants from the wild." He adds that while orchids are found all over the world, there are more different types in Florida than in any other state.

Although not as ubiquitous as roses, orchids last longer (cut flowers endure for about two weeks, potted indoor plants will bloom for two months). And, Fuchs says, "a lot of orchids are being used in interior scapes. You're beginning to see them more in papers and magazines and even on television. Their main purpose is for people's pleasure."

-- Greg Baker

The Miami International Orchid Show takes place Friday through Sunday at the Coconut Grove Exhibition Center, 2700 S Bayshore Dr, Coconut Grove. Hours are 10:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Sunday. Admission ranges from $10-$18. Call 305-255-3656.

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Greg Baker