By THÉRÈSE MARGOLIS
For some, they are the very essence of feminine sensuality, their delicate petals unfolding like a vibrant display of female genitalia (think Georgia O’Keeffe’s famous flower paintings that resemble a vagina).
For others, they symbolize death and the morose beauty of unobtainable passion. In 1894, H.G. Wells wrote a short story about them, describing their bulbs as a “brown shrivelled lump of tissue” and their blooms as “killers that evoke a sense of the moribund or dead.”
Orchids, the epitome of floral grace, have long inspired poetry, romance and art, and their mysterious allure has captivated the imaginations of cultures around the globe.
From the glories of the palace gardens of Chinese Empress Cixi to the mysterious Île Bourbon, off the coast of Madagascar, where the vanilla plant still thrives, the orchid has always been one of the most exquisite and inscrutable flowers on Earth.
Found in nearly every climate, the many species of orchid have had varying forms of significance in countless cultures over time.
In ancient Greek, they were considered to have medicinal qualities that could determine the gender of an unborn child. In fact, the very name of the most common orchid genera, paphiopedilum, is derived from the word “Paphos,” the temple where the Greek goddess of love, Aphrodite, was worshiped.
The Aztecs would mix vanilla orchids with cacao to create an elixir that they thought would empower them with virality and strength, and during the Victorian age, well-heeled Europeans would collect exotic orchids as a sign of luxury and refinement.
Charles Darwin spent years investigating these mythologized botanical wonders’ unique methods of cross-pollination, which is yet to be thoroughly understood.
And even today, when there are more than 10,000 commercial orchid farms around the globe cultivating the glorious flowers, the orchid is still wrapped in mystery and marvel.
At once delicate, exotic and elegant, orchids are beloved for their singular, instantly recognizable beauty, their diverse colors, shapes and sizes creating an enduring fascination and appreciation.
It was with this unwavering enthrallment of the orchid that a young botanist by the name of Marilú Podbereski set about the creation of Mexico’s first-ever orchid farm back in 1987.
Now the country’s largest producer and seller of commercial orchids, Tahí Orquídeas y Flores Exóticas in Yautepec, Morelos, just outside of Cuernavaca, is a botanical tribute to the orchid in all its majesty.
The company, currently under the watchful care of Podbereski’s daughter, Mara Wilson, primarily produces phalaenopsis (or butterfly) orchids, in an extensive estate with 23 fully automated greenhouses.
The phalaenopsis, that showy, multihued flower found in grocery stores and flower shops galore, and frequently presented as housewarming gifts, are considered to be the hardiest (and hence, the most commercial) of all orchids.
But, worldwide, there are more than 25,000 orchid species (and about 60,000 man-made hybrids and varieties), some fragrant, some without scent and some downright noxious.
And while North America’s native orchids are sadly disappearing in the wild, Tahí Orquídeas is working to not only develop new and more colorful subspecies of phalaenopsis, but striving to refine and protect other orchid species and tropical flowers as well.
Podbereski began her farm by importing orchids from Taiwan, Holland, Hawaii, Japan, and Central America. Over the years, she has collected a wide range of orchid species, and has even expanded into the production of cacti and other tropical and semitropical plants.
Today, Wilson continues the legacy of her mother, importing orchids to Mexico from Holland, the world’s most important producer, and meticulously bringing them to full bloom using state-of-the-art technology and precision agracian skills.
The Tahí farm is open to the public virtually every day of the year, and guests can not only pick up a budding phalaenopsis or pachypodium to take home and nurse on their own, but the friendly staff is always eager to give a short tour of the premises, along with an explanation of orchid history.
Tahí also has a distribution center and sales office in Mexico City, located at José María Rico 230-104 in Colonia Del Valle, which is open to the public from Monday to Saturday, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. to 5 p.m.