The Third Leader: Passion flower

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The Independent Online

Today I want to address a social problem which yesterday, as we report, was responsible for sending a man to prison for four months: orchids. Indeed: such is the craving for them that thousands of pounds change hands for smuggled specimens. People have been killed in pursuit of the orchid, and not just on Midsomer Murders. And, yes, as usual, it's about sex.

You will, of course, know that the name is derived from the Greek for testicle, after a fancied resemblance shown by the bulbs of the common European orchid. The orchid was dried, pulverised and used as an aphrodisiac before people fell in love with its looks and almost infinite and rare variety. Even then, the "orchidelirium" thus stimulated was attributed to an indecent attraction, particularly by, naturally, the Victorians. Here, too, is The Orchid Hunter, published in 1939: "For when a man falls in love with orchids, he'll do anything to possess the one he wants."

There is some scientific basis for this: orchids are profligate in the production of pheromones and, if you're a wasp or bee, the phwoarr rating is pretty tropical. I'm not sure what this says about human fanciers, except that it's obviously time to get a grip, buzz off and find a more wholesome hobby. Philip Marlowe thought their stalks looked like the newly washed fingers of dead men and that's good enough for me. So I've been looking at healthier pursuits, and here are some suggestions: long walks followed by a bracing bath (not hot); model railways (avoiding tunnels); polar exploring; rugby league; a good book (no poetry). And if you really must, stick to something sensible, like carrots.

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