CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Aaron Saxton of Charleston may take issue with author Louisa May Alcott's assertion that "love is a flower that grows in any soil."
It took two years of research and experimentation, the construction of three progressively better climate-controlled growth chambers, and numerous brushes with failure before Saxton was able to produce the flower he pledged to present to his love, Maria Armada, if she agreed to marry him.
Saxton knew delivering on the promise wouldn't be easy, since he picked the bloom of one of the world's most rare, most difficult to raise flowers -- the ghost orchid -- to present to his bride-to-be.
But he was determined to try, aided in part by one belief: "It was kind of a hopeless dream, but I figured she'd probably marry me anyway, if it didn't work out," he said with a grin.
"When he told me he'd get a ghost orchid to bloom, I thought it was a sweet statement, but I really didn't believe it," said Maria Armada Saxton, who married Aaron Saxton on June 27. "Now when he tells me he's going to do something, I have to think it's probably going to happen."
Botanists first learned of the existence of the ghost orchid in 1844, when the first specimen was recorded in a Cuban swamp. Fifty years later, the orchid was discovered to be living in small populations in scattered wetlands in Florida.
Today, a total population estimated at less than 2,000 can be found in only three or four protected swamps in southern Florida.
"Less than 5 percent of those ghost orchids bloom in the wild, and in the past 20 years, only about six people have successfully grown the ghost orchid outside of its natural environment in the Everglades, and only a few of them have gotten the orchids to bloom," Saxton said.
"The chance to see these flowers in bloom is extremely rare."
Each year, hundreds of people travel to Florida from around the world for the chance at catching a glimpse of a ghost orchid in bloom in its native habitat. The white, leafless blossoms, each with a pair of leg-like tendrils, can be seen dangling, seemingly suspended in mid-air, from thin roots attached to the trunks and limbs of trees.
The rare flower was the topic of a best-selling non-fiction book, "The Orchid Thief," which was the basis for the 2002 Spike Jonze movie "Adaptation."
"Most of the rarest flowers in the world are kind of ugly," Saxton said. "This one doesn't have bells and whistles, and its not done out in neon, but it's a beautiful thing -- a little bit of a sculpture. And seeing it unfold is really something."
Saxton, a native of Australia, and Armada, a native of Charleston, developed a mutual interest in orchids after taking a trip to Washington, D.C., and visiting a farmers market where orchids were being sold.