Next month, the United States Postal Service will be introducing 10 new stamps that are sure to be a hit with plant lovers and outdoorsy people everywhere. The booklet features close-ups of orchid flowers and is the result of a lengthy process involving a slew of experts. It all started with an idea to showcase everyday Phalaenopsis hybrids but soon morphed into a pictorial catalog of exotic wild orchids.
Initially, a graphics-design team contacted native plant photographer and author, Jim Fowler, who directed them to view his thousands of orchid images on the photo sharing platform, Flickr. Fowler regularly travels the United States and Canada taking pictures of orchid species, many of which are rare and endangered. “As an orchidphile, I’m always on the lookout for orchids growing in the roadside ditches and in the swamps and woodlands.” He has written two books on the native orchids of North Carolina and South Carolina.
With over 250 native orchids in the United States, it was a daunting job to narrow down the choices for the project. The art director, Ethel Kessler, said she wanted to “showcase a variety of different color, shapes, and sizes of flowers as well as represent the different growing regions where orchids can be found.” In addition, she favored images that provided native foliage in the background. Kessler has designed hundreds of stamps for the U.S. Postal Service and is best-known for her 1998 Breast Cancer Awareness stamp that raised over $70 million for breast-cancer research.
The public may recognize some of the flowers on the stamps, particularly the lady’s slippers with their distinctive pouches. The green and white Cypripedium californicum from the West Coast and the white and magenta Cypripedium reginae from the East Coast are readily identifiable as orchids. On the other end of the spectrum is the relatively obscure Triphora trianthophoros, or “three-birds orchid.” Its whereabouts are not widely known or easily accessible and the tiny blooms only last a matter of hours.
Once the preliminary design of the stamps was complete, it had to be approved by the 12 member U.S. Postal Service Citizen’s Stamp Advisory Committee. The group evaluates potential subjects that celebrate the American experience and reports its findings to the Postmaster General for a final decision.
Nowadays, first-class stamps no longer have a denomination on them and, instead, are printed with “Forever,” which means that they will remain valid even if there is a price increase in the future. (The current price is $11 for a booklet of 20, or 55 cents each.) Wild Orchids Forever has a second meaning that is not lost on plant people. Over half of our native orchids are threatened by habitat loss and other environmental factors and these stamps help to bring awareness to the plight.
For all the visual glory of the orchid stamps, there are some missed opportunities. First and foremost, none of the individual stamps are labeled with any botanical identification so the viewer is left to wonder what is being shown. This omission is consistent with recent floral stamp issues, such as lilies and garden flowers, but wild orchids require special treatment because the public is largely not familiar with them. Any nomenclature lettering would have to be small but, without it, the educational value is largely lost.
The orchid stamps will be available Feb. 21 at post offices nationwide or www.usps.com/shop. Also, on Feb. 21, the public is invited to attend The First Day of Issue Dedication Ceremony at the American Orchid Society headquarters in Coral Gables, Florida. Representatives from the U.S. Postal Service as well as photographer Jim Fowler will be speaking.