Tamara Lush

Orchid Mania

"Generally speaking, orchids seem to drive people crazy. The people who love orchids love them madly, but the passion for orchids is not necessarily a passion for beauty. Something about the form of an orchid makes it seem almost more like a creature than a flower. Many orchids are strange-looking, and others have bizarre shapes and jarring color combinations, and all orchids are rather ugly when they aren't in flower."

That's a quote from Susan Orlean, the famous author who wrote "The Orchid Thief." I couldn't help but think of her words yesterday as I made my to the Redland International Orchid Festival at Fruit and Spice Park. It's a good hour from downtown Miami, and to get there, you have to drive past guys selling lobsters, khaki pants, shrimp and coco frio out of vans. (Lobster! In this heat!)

After stopping for several tractors hauling pallets of ornamental plants, I noticed that the late-afternoon air had taken on an orange-grey haze. It was the fires burning in the Everglades. At the festival, I parked nearly 1,000 feet away from the entrance -- there were that many cars and people, even though it was 4 p.m.

People toted bags of orchids and plants past me; some had even brought their own coolers, obviously prepared for the inferno-like heat. Then I heard a woman lean in to one booth and ask, "Do you have any vanilla orchids?" and I knew I was among the obssessed.

The orchid show runs through today at 5 p.m.

-- Tamara Lush

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