A Few Facts About Orchids

Since orchids have taken over my life right now, I've done some reading about them. Here are some surprising facts I found.

- Orchids are believed to be the oldest flower in the world. To verify it we would have to risk getting stepped on by dinosaurs--yes, they are that old.

- Orchids are the second largest family of plants. There are four times as many varieties of orchids as there are of mammals--and there are a lot of mammals.

- Most orchids are found in the tropics, but they can be found north of the Arctic Circle or in the mountains above tree line.

- Orchids can be as big as the Giant Orchid with a bulb 10 feet wide or can be so tiny it takes a magnifying glass to see the blooms. -->

- Orchids can grow in soil, in swamps or even in the air. Many varieties attach themselves to trees and collect water with their exposed spongy roots.

- The world’s most popular flavor comes from the pods of the Vanilla Orchid of Mexico

- The Victorians started the modern orchid trade, exploring the world to bring back orchids for greenhouses.

- Some orchids attract pollinators with sweet smells but some use bad smells. After all, flies work as well as bees for pollinating.

- Some orchids are far more devious. They will disguise themselves as female insects, complete with pheromones to attract males. The duped Romeo will then visit another orchid, taking the pollen to it that the first bloom smeared on him. All the lovesick insect gets from his assistance is a nasty surprise. It’s believed one third of all orchids use this trick. (Bit underhanded if you ask me.)

- Florida has over a hundred varieties of orchids still in existence. Heaven knows how many disappeared when man began destroying their habitat.


I Discover Lily's Problem

30 April 1860 - Florida Everglades

Temporal Biologists are a bit too obsessed with their job to be very good company. Dr. Lily Pinehurst, however, is the worst I have ever worked with.

She doesn’t like me to get too close, which in our cramped quarters is very difficult. I must be three feet away from her at all times. If I get any closer, she starts hissing at me not to touch her. So I back up and try to stay as far away as possible.

I’ve tried to start conversations with her, but she either ignores me or shushes me. She won’t speak to me unless she has to and then it sounds like an order. She talks to her orchids, but not to me. I get the distinct feeling she does not want me around at all, except as a slave to punt her about the swamp.

Today Pinehurst found a patch of ground with trees she wanted to explore. We have found quite a few orchids growing on trees. They attach themselves and then dangle their spongy roots to collect dew and rain water. I stayed with the punt, knowing I wasn’t wanted.

I was reading some files in my pocket computer when I heard a blood curdling scream. I sprang up and hurried to the source, climbing over logs and roots. I found Lily standing there looking terrified.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“I can’t move my feet. Make the ground let go!”

I looked down at her feet, ankle deep in the mud. Quicksand! If I went to her, I would probably be trapped, too. I had to think fast.

“Wait here!” I yelled. As I rushed off I realized that was a stupid thing to say to someone who couldn’t move.

I got back to the punt and grabbed it up. It’s light enough I can move it but with some difficulty. Now it seemed half its normal weight. Thank heavens for adrenaline.

I got back, laid the punt down and pushed it toward her. “Climb on!”

She grabbed the edge of the punt, and looked like she was trying to pull herself out. “I can’t. I’m stuck.”

I crawled onto the punt and out to her. “I’ll pull you out, Dr. Pinehurst.”

“Don’t touch me!”

“Dr. Pinehurst, I have to touch you to pull you out. I don’t have a choice. We have to get you out or you will get sucked in and suffocate, or at the very least, you’ll be trapped until you starve to death or something comes along and eats you.”

She looked at me big-eyed, like she was trying decide if that was worse than being touched.

I grabbed her under the arms and pulled. She pulled on the side of the punt, too. The whole time she kept whimpering, “No. No. No.” Despite her protests she didn’t try fighting me off.

I got her into the punt and automatically reached out to pat her arm. “There, there. You are safe now.”

“Don’t touch me!” Her voice sounded more scared than angry.

“I do beg your pardon, Dr. Pinehurst. I did not mean to seem too forward.” I looked around, deciding our next move. “Come on. Crawl out the back of the punt, away from the quicksand. We’ll take the boat back to the water and get back to camp. I’m sure you want to get cleaned up.”

Dr. Pinehurst nodded and meekly followed my instructions.

Back at camp I waited outside of the time machine that also served as our shelter. There are no hotels out here after all. Dr. Pinehurst came out looking shaken by her ordeal. She sat down on one of the campstools made of canvas and wood. They were period, so we could have them outside. I don’t know how old the design is, but I do know George Washington used them.

“Would you like some tea?”

She wrinkled her nose. “Don‘t like tea. Tastes nasty.”

I sat down in the other campstool. “Dr. Pinehurst, I am getting the feeling something more is going on here than you just not liking me. I was trying to pull you to safety and you didn’t want me to touch you? That makes no sense at all. Under those circumstances I would let my worse enemy touch me.”

She hung her head. “I can’t tell.”

“Tell me what?”

“Mother said if I told people I would never get a job anywhere.”

“You can tell me. Besides, I doubt Kew Gardens would want to get rid of you. Director Sherwood was going on and on about what an excellent botanist you are.”

“I’m not normal.”

“My dear, I run around the 27th century in a frockcoat with a Victorian accent. I’m not exactly normal myself.”

She snorted. It took me a moment to realize that was a laugh.

I searched my memory for what might be wrong. Then it hit me. “Do you have Bartley’s Syndrome?”

She hung her head. “Yes.”

Now everything made sense. It seems as soon as you cure one disease, more pop up. We aren’t sure if Bartley’s Syndrome is new, or it was just misdiagnosed as Autism or something else. It is something you are born with. Treatment as a child can lessen the symptoms, but it can’t be cured.

People with Bartley’s Syndrome can’t stand to be touched. They have a hard time connecting with people. They are insensitive, because they lack the ability to sense the feelings of others or to read body language. There social skills are hopelessly inadequate. On the plus side, they are seldom violent, except in self defense, and are often brilliant.

“Bartley’s Syndrome is nothing to be ashamed of. I wished you could have told me. I thought you hated me.”

She looked up confused. “Why did you think I hated you?”

I didn’t know how to answer that. She honestly did not see her behavior toward me as unfriendly. “Because normal people don’t talk to someone or want them near them if they don’t like them. However, I see now it wasn’t personal.”

“If I didn’t like you I would say I didn’t like you. You’ve been very nice. You haven’t yelled at me or told me off because I did something you didn’t like. I hate that, because I never know what I did wrong. I like you.”

It’s said people with Bartley’s Syndrome can never truly love or hate. Tolerating someone is the best they can aspire to. I had been given high praise indeed.

“And now that I understand what is going on, I like you, too, Dr. Pinehurst.”

“You can call me Lily, if you want. Friends call each other by their first names, don’t they?”

“Yes, and you can call me Wendell.”

“Okay, Wendell. Get up, I need more orchids. Hurry up before it gets dark.” She got up and headed toward the boat.

Politeness was a concept she could never understand. Now that I knew what her problem was, I found it more amusing than irritating.

“I’m right behind you, Lily.”

Now I saw why she had become a botanist. Plants can’t get offended.


My Tea Party with Queen Victoria

4 October, 2657 - London, UK

I think I’ve been had.

Yesterday I received an email from Her Majesty, Queen Victoria the Fifth granting me an audience on Monday morning, 4 October, 10 a.m. This was quite a surprise, since I hadn’t asked for an audience. I decided this was regal-speak for demanding my presence.

I was only too happy to oblige. What is it about royalty that turns Brits into doting idiots? After seventeen centuries has it been bred into our genes? Or has charisma been bred into the Royal Family? “Vickie the 5th,” as we like to call her, has absolutely no real power except the ability to charm you into doing almost anything. The Royals are careful not to abuse this power, if only so we subjects don’t become immune to it.

I showed up at Buckingham Palace, fifteen minutes early, least I be late. At exactly ten I was escorted into a parlor where her Majesty sat. Victoria the 5th bears no resemblance to her name sack. She does bear a remarkable resemblance to another ancestor--Grace Kelly. She asked me to sit and offered me tea. Here I was, Wendell Howe, the offspring of humble professors, sitting in Buckingham Palace, sipping tea with the Queen of Britain herself!

Her Majesty was telling me how much she loved orchids and would love to see more at the Royal Botanical Gardens. She asked if I would like to help? I was nodding profusely, only half comprehending what she was saying. She is so regal and captivating that you find yourself promising her anything.

At 10:15 a stubby fellow was brought in. He introduced himself to me as Dr. Arthur Sherwood, the curator of the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew here in London. Victoria suggested Sherwood take me to the gardens and explain my mission.

I found myself whisked away in a hover-limo to Kew Gardens. Sherwood gave me a short history of the Royal Botanical Gardens. Founded in 1759, Kew started out as a royal garden, but in 1840 were adopted as a national botanical garden. The Royal Botanical Gardens quickly outgrew the 300 acres at Kew, and now have gardens all over. They also have a Temporal Botanist on staff.

Uh oh. Now I knew why they needed me. Temporal Biologists, such as Temporal Botanists and Temporal Zoologists, are a thorn in the side of Temporal Anthropologists. I know we should not be that way. We have good reason, though. Things have been strained since the Temporal Botanist, Dr. Dennis Kiley, let Temporal Anthropologist, Dr. Jose Cervantes, fall off a cliff. When Kiley was asked why he didn’t try to help Cervantes, he replied “What? And drop my extinct Amazon Lily? Are you mad?”

I don’t think it was anything personal, it’s just Temporal Biologists are--well, very focused. The Institute of Time Travel gave up long ago trying to teach them to blend into a particular era like they do with Temporal Anthropologists. They are far more concerned with plants and animals, than with people. Besides, they specialize in a genome rather than a time period.

The Institute instead makes them take a Temporal Anthropologist with them to run interference with the natives in the Field. Since animals and plants are best found in remote areas, we don’t tend to run into too many people.

Still these assignments can be taxing. Temporal Botanists are so focused on finding and preserving specimens that they tend to ignore you. They talk more to their plants than they do to you. They often don’t do as you tell them, not understanding why angry natives should want to harm them, and why they are only making said natives angrier.

I suppose we should be more tolerant of Temporal Biologists. After all, they are collecting plants and animals that are extinct and no longer in the 27th century. However, they will treat the dodo they have just captured as the last dodo on earth, even when they are surrounded by the creatures. What mere Temporal Anthropologist can compete with a specimen that is “the last of its kind?”

After a brief tour of the orchid greenhouse, Dr. Sherwood introduced me to their Temporal Botanist, Dr. Lily Pinehurst. I recalled the name. I remember Dr. Karl Hornberg complaining about her. She sees Temporal Anthropologists as a pain in the nether regions who just get in her way. She apparently became a botanist because she gets along better with plants, than with people.

I stuck out my hand to shake hands with her. She just looked at it, then looked up at me. “Can you punt?” she asked.

“Erm, yes, of course,” I said, feeling confused. “They would run me out of Cambridge if I couldn’t punt.”

“Good! I need a punter. You’ll be useful.”

“Why do you need a punter?”

“Florida Everglades. It’s a swamp. Shallow water. Got lots of orchids, many now lost. We are going to bring them back.”

“The Everglades?” My heart sank. “You know, there’s a reason the Seminoles ran away into the Everglades. No one in their right mind would follow them into it. It’s full of man-eating alligators.”



“The alligators are man-eaters; they won’t eat my orchids.”

I then saw why Her Majesty had asked me to tea. Kew Gardens wanted Queen Victoria to ask me personally to go on this ordeal, knowing I couldn’t say “no” to her.

Like I said--I have been had.

For those who don’t know what punting is:
Punting at the University of Cambridge

For more on the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew:
(They really are very lovely.)
Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew official website
A short film showing Kew Gardens
Follow Kew Gardens on Twitter @Kewgardens