A rose is surely America's favorite bloom in February, when the smitten will make their affections known with bouquets of scarlet-topped stems and an estimated 190 million Valentine's Day cards.
Yet, not a rose petal was in sight at UNC Charlotte's McMillan Greenhouse in the days just before the lovers' holiday.
Right now, the orchid is the bloom of favor - every shape, size and hue.
It is a happy coincidence that the blooms of many tropical plants are at their peak each year as the day for romance arrives, and the orchid is among the showiest, said Paula Gross, assistant director.
Orchidaceae's good sense of timing helps to make it a best-seller at the greenhouse's annual winter plant sale, which continues through Tuesday. Some varieties are also fragrant.
"Roses are traditional and romantic, especially for those first few Valentine's with a sweetheart," Gross said. "But year after year of roses becomes boring and expected. Orchids have the most diverse blooms on earth and never fail to fascinate."
Orchids grow all over the world. The greatest number are in the tropics of Asia, South America and Central America.
They were considered a luxury in Victorian times, Gross said. They've only become more widely available in the United States in the past 30 years. Better transportation systems have made it possible to get imports.
The university's greenhouse will be stocked with about 200 plants for the sale, most of them orchids. Cyclamen, succulents and other potted houseplants also will be on sale.
Orchids need to be indoors when temperatures are below 50 degrees. Each variety will come with information about the growing conditions they prefer.
Generally, they need bright, indirect natural light. A window that faces east is often suitable. Many prefer to be watered every 5 to 8 days and to dry out between waterings.
The plants can live for 20 years or more with proper care.
"Orchids are a better choice if you want a living indoor plant to nurture, since cut roses only last a week to 10 days," Gross said. "Despite their somewhat 'delicate' appearance, they are actually tough, long-lasting plants."