By Jeff Ray

(CBSDFW.COM) – Here is the thing about orchids. They can be bought cheaply (under $15) at grocery stores and big box retailers. They provide a beautiful flower for a couple of months with little care. They are second most gifted plant in America behind the poinsettia.

Then people throw them out. Yes, the orchid is the next most popular “throw-away” plant in America. Why? Perhaps because most are tropical plants and require high humidity, not a common environment in a cold-season household. More likely is that after the flower blooms the plant falls into a state of dormancy for a while where it looks near dead.

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But the truth is orchids are perennials that can live for decades. The plant will produce that flower every year around the same time during its lifetime. Other than careful watering (with rainwater, not tap water) they really are a low maintenance plant. They even like to “crowd” the pot they live in; you only have to repot every 2-3 years.

If you want to keep that orchid you first want to find out exactly what kind you have. There are over 30,000 know species of orchids and they some require entirely different kinds of care and amounts of sunlight. There are non-tropical orchids that grow in loose soil for example.

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The bottom line? If you have a tropical orchid, more than likely it will like the special bark medium they sell at plant stores. Keep some water under it but not where the soil stays wet. The plant wants humidity, not water. Only use rainwater because the alkaline water in these parts it will NOT like. When the night time lows start staying in the 50s, take it outside in dappled sun or shade. As long as it doesn’t dry out it will thrive outdoors in the Texas heat.

You really should visit the greenhouse at the back of the Fort Worth Botanic garden. They have an impressive collection of New World Orchids. A couple days a week you’ll find Dr. Dotty Woodson there; she is a delight to talk to about orchids since she is basically a walking encyclopedia on the plants. If you visit, take note of the size of some of the older orchids in the collection. These plants can get the size of a barrel.

The hope to soon build a special Orchid Conservatory on the grounds to house the collection. Otherwise, you’ll see many of the plants circulated through the various buildings around the Garden all year. There is a Fort Worth Orchid Society on Facebook, they also have a website. You can get help to figure out what kind of orchid you have and get some care instructions.

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The flower of an Orchid is an evolutionary marvel that has driven insect evolution. The range in shape and color is simply amazing. These are NOT annual plants. Give them a good home and they’ll grace you with their spectacular flower every year.