PLAQUEMINES PARISH, La—The Becnel family has grown citrus fruit in Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana for many generations.
Robert “Bob” Becnel is 90-years-young and the head of the agriculture-loving family and says “My daddy was growing citrus back as far as I can remember. He use to hire himself out to bud trees at the lower end of the parish.”
Robert Becnel is one of nine siblings. Many of his children as well as his siblings children grew up around agriculture and they know that the spring season is the time when the air is sweet with the smell of satsuma tree blossoms.
Cindi Becnel is the daughter in law of Robert Becnel and she continues the Becnel family legacy of agriculture in a different way. She is the owner of Belle Danse Orchids & Tropicals.
“We carry about 60 different’ varieties of orchids and counting,” says Cindi.
Orchid shows are places where enthusiasts can see prized specimen-plants judged as well as buy orchids that are not typically sold at your average garden retailer. They occur throughout the year all over the United States and about eight years ago, Cindi went to the New Orleans Orchid Society’s orchid show at Lakeside Mall in Metairie, Louisiana. She was going with a friend and at the time she only know about one type of orchid. However that day, her world would change.
“My friend got me involved and it took off from there. That growing process began about eight years ago. This farm was started two years ago.”
Orchids are native all over the world, but are common in the subtropics and tropical areas of the world. These areas also happen to be where the hurricanes are also plentiful. In 2020, Hurricane Zeta did quite a bit of damage to the growing facility and gardens of Belle Danse Orchids.
“The hurricane really zapped bad and took our roof off. A lot of the tropicals that you see behind me were thrown and tossed around and many of the plants were lost,” says Cindi.
But the Becnels have survived many a storm and they know that when life knocks you down, you keep on growing. South Louisiana may be home to an unpredictable hurricane season, but it is also an ideal place to grow orchids. Unfortunately, not too many gardeners are orchid savvy and yet orchids are the largest family of flowering plants in the world with over 30,000 species.
Some orchis like Dendrobium anosmum and Dendrobium aphyllum, smell sweet or of raspberries. Others like the hybrid, Oncidium sharry baby, smell like chocolate. But many are have off-putting smells like many Bulbophyllum orchids which are fly-pollinated and can smell like rotting flesh.
Orchids for years have had a mystique about them. The orchid craze began sometime in the Victorian era, when they were used as packing material because they were thought of as parasitic plants. Botanists were soon intrigued by them and greenhouses in Europe started to cultivate them. While the majority of orchid enthusiasts today are women, back then, it was men that were the majority of orchid growers.
Today, orchids can be acquired relatively inexpensively and the flowers on a Phalaenopsis orchid can last up to four months. A rose on a bush only lasts a little over a week, by comparison. Yet orchid discoveries are still news. Scientists continue to look at some species of orchid that could potentially help to cure cancer.
Angraecum Sesquipedale is a species that was discovered in Madagascar. It’s also known as Charles Darwin’s Orchid. Darwin had theorized that because of the long nectar receptacle of the flower, only a moth with an equally long proboscis could reach it to pollinate the flower. No moth was found. Then 21 years after Darwin’s death, one of the largest moths in the world was discovered.
Nature is simply incredible and it’s no wonder why human beings like to grow green things. It’s a passion that started 12 thousand years ago, when the first farmers began planting. Whether growing satsumas, rice, sugarcane or orchids; passion is best when it is cultivated and grown.