Pictured: Green Orchid
January 01 2011
The San Francisco Orchid Society
According to Greek myth, Orchis, the son of a nymph and a satyr, was punished for the sacrilege of trying to rape a priestess and was therefore transformed into the orchid. Today, the orchid is a flower that is surrounded by even more story and myth, the most common of which is that it is a difficult plant to grow.
But myths are often born from rumors, and with regards to the orchid myth, this is most certainly the case—in fact, orchids are one of the easiest flowers for those living in apartments or small spaces to grow successfully. It is not, then, their difficulty, but their beauty, that has cultivated so many lovers of orchids.
The San Francisco Orchid Society is a non-profit organization devoted to fostering the culture of orchids. Via its website, it provides information to both beginners and seasoned orchid growers to help them with all aspects of orchid growing. The Society even offers the opportunity to ask the “Orchid Doctor” a question about orchid care via a society-sponsored Google group, as well as to browse previous answers to solve all orchid predicaments.
In addition to their Internet presence, and perhaps even more importantly, the San Francisco Orchid Society reunites members in San Francisco for several orchid-related events throughout the year. In February, a Gala benefit night allows participants to purchase award-winning orchids and raises money for orchid societies and horticultural scholarships.
Orchids in the Park allows participants to browse a selection of orchids for sale in beautiful Golden Gate Park on the cusp of foggy summer and a gorgeous San Francisco autumn.
The next San Francisco Orchid Society event will be the Pacific Orchid Expo, held in March every year. The exposition reunites orchid lovers by presenting more than 150,000 orchids.
This year’s “Natural Wonders” exposition will be the 59th annual exposition of its kind. Held over the weekend of March 3rd, the event will offer explanations of several pertinant orchid characteristics, from floral structure to habitat to pollination, sale of many varieties of orchids, as well as a gala benefit including wine tastings.
The exposition is opened to all, with a $12 general admission fee if booked online ($14 at the door). Orchid vendors come from all over the world—as near as local San Francisco growers and as far as Bangkok—for this special event tailored to those who love and appreciate the beauty of orchids.
Stroll down the aisles of the Fort Mason Center, and feel free to ask questions of the professional growers present as you bask in the beauty that is the flowers that surround you. The many varieties may seem similar at first glance, but there are approximately 30,000 species of orchid, and if you’re interested in learning more about what exactly makes them so different, this is the place to ask all of your questions as well as examine the intricacies side-by-side.
By taking an educated look at the shapes of the flowers and leaves, you can discern the various species of orchids; this sort of education is happily doled out by helpful vendors at the expo. Often, those marveling in the beauty of the flowers displayed at the event are more interested in how to keep them alive: orchids are a perennial plant which means that, if cared for properly, they can live for years. Depending on the variety of orchid, flowers may last for one to three months and bloom one or several times a year. Some types of orchid even bloom continuously.
To take advantage of your orchid and have it bloom to the best of its ability, ask the well-informed vendors for advice on how often your particular orchid should be watered, fertilized and repotted, how to prevent disease and where you should purchase the sphagnum moss or orchid bark mix in which to grow your orchid.
It is perhaps because of these particularities of orchid-growing that the rumor of their difficulty to grow has developed. However, it is in asking questions at an event like this one, as well as understanding where orchids come from, that you can acquire the tools to become a successful orchid grower yourself. Orchids come from tropical areas and grow naturally in the tree canopy of jungles, which is why they flourish in warm, wet environments and why they cannot be grown in soil like other flowers.
Today, orchids are grown all over the world and shipped to places like the expo to be sold: in South American countries like Brazil and Ecuador, Asian countries like India and Japan, and even in North America, in Mexico and Hawaii.
The climate of Hawaii is ideal for orchid-growing, which is why many specimens of orchids are farmed in Hawaii, more specificially, on the Island of Oahu, and then shipped back to the mainland United States and internationally to be sold. Haiku Maui Orchids is one of several companies like this, and one of the fifty vendors at this year’s Pacific Orchid expo. While many people come to the Pacific Orchid expo just to look and take pictures of the flowers or to ask for advice and learn more about the orchids they already own, many come to purchase plants.
With so many varieties, it can be hard to make a decision: different types of orchids may have more or less fragrance in a range of types, from fruity to flowery to rich. Orchid flowers may have a variety of appearances and colors: creamy vanilla white, bright pinky purple, deep brown. Their shapes may vary as well: some look like stars, others like simple vessels for water.
It’s no wonder that this flower has attracted so many fans, not only in San Francisco, but worldwide. Even today, the orchid retains a sort of mythology around it in many countries, such as in Sri Lanka and Singapore, where it appears on the country’s money. The city of Myobamba, Peru, is so proud of its 3,500 native species of orchid that it is known as the City of Orchids.
Poachers often try to collect orchids growing in nature for sale, and the flower is now an endangered species, due in large part to its difficult natural reproduction.
It is thanks to events like the Pacific Orchid Expo that awareness can be raised, and even more fans of this gorgeous and mysterious flower can be born.
-by Emily Monaco, freelance, travel-writer
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