ISSUE 101  |  Deck the Halls

In Search of a Scent: The Black Orchid

December 04, 2013 4:00 PM

BY Lindsey Taylor

The black orchid came to my attention a year or so ago when I was asked to style a shoot for Tom Ford’s perfume called, predictably, Black Orchid ($110 for 1.7 ounces). 

In my search for the plant that inspired the name and the scent, I went down one of the wonderful horticultural paths I love to travel when I’m on an obscure plant hunt. It turned out that the orchid that Mr. Ford became obsessed with was the rare Fredclarkeara After Dark ‘SVO Black Pearl.’ The breeder, Fred Clarke, who started Sunset Valley Growers in Vista, California in 1995 was of course proud to share that Mr. Ford had loved the mysteriously strange fragrance, and therefore used its essence for the creation of his new perfume.

I ordered a few for the shoot and nursed them on at home to bring them to bloom. The shape of the flower is similar to a phalenopsis but smaller, and the color was as black as you get in the world of plants. The fragrance was powerful and filled my tiny apartment. I was sad to hand over the plants to the photographer and I’ve yet to order one of my own, as they are a little pricy. 

Photographs by Jose Picayo.

Above: The Monnierara Millenium Magic ‘Witchcraft,’ a close substitute to the incredibly fragrant Fredclarkeara After Dark ‘SVO Black Pearl.’ 

Recently when I was in New York’s Flower District on 28th Street picking up plants at NY Topiary and saw a similar black orchid that was a little more affordable at $40, I brought one home. This one, Monnierara Millennium Magic ‘Witchcraft,’ turns out to have won an award in October 2013 from the American Orchid Society for its superb and floriferous form and habit–some have had two spikes and as many as 42 blooms on one plant. The AOS claims it’s the blackest of the orchids, and I guess they would know. Even though they are said to be fragrant, the scent is nothing like the Fredclarkeara After Dark ‘SVO Black Pearl’ and the flower shape and plant habit differs slightly, but it certainly makes for a great conversation piece.

Above: The Monnierara Millennium Magic ‘Witchcraft’ likes heat, water, and fertilizer especially during its non-flowering period; available seasonally from Seattle Orchid for $29.95. When it starts to bloom, its foliage fades; trim off the leaves. 

For more orchid-inspired posts see: The Orchid That Owned Me and The World’s Most Stylish Orchid Pot.