It’s still cold outside, but the plants and the birds don’t seem to notice. This is the season when my orchids go full steam ahead into growth and spring blooming. One that’s blooming right now is Aerangis distincta, a Central African species. The plant itself is fairly small, and was happily growing in my greenhouse until someone (a walk-in customer, I think) bumped against it and knocked off most of its flower spike. Just one bud was left, but it’s blooming now, wafting out its fragrance as soon as it gets dark.
The flower is creamy-white tinged with orange. I think it must have gone all-out to make up for its missing companions, because it’s huge. The nectar spur is over 8 inches long! Seen in profile, the flower has sort of a streamlined, almost art-deco shape reminiscent of an airplane propeller, or a rocket nose-cone with the nectar spur shooting out after it in a perfect arc. The fragrance is the quintessential tropical white flower scent, like a mix of indolic jasmine, gardenia, ylang-ylang, orange blossom, and tuberose, with mega-sillage. It’s gorgeous. It reminds me of the tropical perfume that I’ve been working on. Over the weeks that the flower blooms, the fragrance changes a little, going from all-out indolic white tropical flowers to white flowers accompanied by lots of spice and aromatic woody notes. I’m always struck by the basic similarity of all night-fragrant white flowers, whether orchids or very different types.
Another plant that’s blooming right now, in addition to the usual cattleyas and big blue vandas, is Maxillaria juergensii. It’s a tiny orchid species with spiky leaves that produces huge flowers for the size of the plant. The flowers are dark red, with a super-shiny, wet-looking lip. They smell like dead meat. You win some, you lose some. I’m sure the flies like the fragrance, but I don’t think it’s going to end up as a perfume.