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The Other Orchid Thief: Virus Ravages the Popular Flower [Slide Show]

Once the province of high society, orchids have found their way into households worldwide, but so has a plant-killing batch of viruses plaguing nurseries

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NO CURE:

"The vast majority of people who grow orchids have no idea that orchid viruses even exist," says Judy White, author of Taylor's Guide to Orchids . "People think they can't grow orchids.....[ More ]

DISEASE VECTOR:

Joseph Silva is careful to heat his clippers in fire to sterilize them between each cutting. The viruses are "a nightmare," he says. But other growers "act like it's a joke. They say, 'Everything has virus.....[ More ]

ORCHID FARMER:

Anthony Silva and his brother Joseph inherited their father's orchid nursery in 1977. Three years later, because of virus, they abandoned the entire stock, including plants their father had grown since 1939.....[ More ]

CLONE ARMY:

When the protocorm-like body is large enough, it's diced and set back in a petri dish. The process can be repeated to create thousands of young plants. But if the mother orchid is infected and mature plant cells had been collected along with the meristem (they almost always are), then every one of those thousands of clones will contain virus as well.....[ More ]

CLONES:

The other way of spreading virus is through cloning. To properly clone an orchid, a producer must cut a grain-sized bit at the shoot, called a meristem. The meristem is then put in a sterile nutrient culture until it grows into something called a protocorm-like body—the cloning equivalent of a germinated seed.....[ More ]

ORCHID FARM:

In the past 20 years scientists have found startling infection rates among orchids. In one 2005 study, virus infected 65 percent of the cut orchids in Thailand, the world's largest exporter. If a grower doesn't sterilize clippers between each trimming, he can infect thousands of plants at a time.....[ More ]

VIRUS:

Though they initially leave no obvious signs, the most prevalent diseases weaken plants until finally they succumb. This cattleya shows mottling on its petals, a symptom of Cymbidium mosaic virus. Even though most growers discard a plant at first sign, this owner is trying to keep this rare breed alive.....[ More ]

HOTHOUSE FLOWERS:

For centuries, orchids were only grown by specialists and the rich. But in recent decades, they have become the second most popular houseplant in the U.S. Alongside the growth of the industry, some insidious orchid viruses have spread among nurseries.....[ More ]

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