Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Queen of Orchidaceous Plants

A rare orchid the size of a Volkswagen Beetle is blooming for the second time ever at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, a blessed event that has spurred envy among the handful of orchid growers who will even try to grow a plant this big.

Considered “The Queen of Orchidaceous Plants,” and one of the world’s largest orchids, this particular Grammatophyllum speciosum is 12 feet in diameter and weighs about 200 pounds. It last bloomed in 2003 and has four huge flower spikes, at least one of which should remain in bloom for the next week or two, said David Horak, curator of the garden’s orchid collection.

Known as the tiger or leopard orchid, the plant is native to Malaysia, Sumatra and New Guinea, where it grows in the crotches of trees more than 100 feet in the air. Plants can weigh up to two tons.

“There are all kinds of anecdotal stories about workers being killed trying to remove one from a tree,” Mr. Horak said.

If it is rare in nature, this Gulliver of the garden world is even rarer in captivity, because very few people or institutions can afford to grow it.

Mr. Horak bought the plant 10 years ago for $75 at an auction from the widow of Don Richardson, who was the orchid grower for Greentree, the Whitney estate on Long Island. It now hangs in a 30-inch square basket, 15 feet in the air above a pond in the Robert W. Wilson Aquatic House, part of the Steinhardt Conservatory.

As plants go, it is fairly high-maintenance, he said. It is watered every sunny day, and fed two or three times a week.

The last time we potted it, it took five people and a rope and pulley to lower it into the current basket. They resent being repotted, and for some time after we repotted it, it kind of sulked. It didn’t grow very well for a couple years.

In an August 2007 article in orchids, the bulletin of the American Orchid Society, Erich E. Michel, the operations manager of the Hoosier Orchids in Indianapolis, describes trying to get a Grammatophyllum to bloom. In the essay, titled “I Need to Grow a Giant Orchid” (a need his wife as defined as “childish competitive dementia”), he described trying to coax blooms from the plant, which he variously refers to as “the beast” and “the monster.”

tiger orchidThe orchid is about 12 feet in diameter and weighs about 200 pounds. At least one flower spike should remain in bloom for a week or two. (Photo: Kate Blumm/Brooklyn Botanic Garden)

The plant’s spiny rootlets, which dry and harden until they are thornlike, catch plant and animal litter from above and form “a self-made composter” that helps feed the plant.

“These barbed roots were just one way the plant could hurt you,” he writes, then describes how, after nine years of waiting, the growers decided to force the plant to bloom, by starving it. “We were going to make it think it was going to die,” he wrote.

He succeeded in 2004, and again in 2007, when the plant produced eight flower spikes. That year, he decided to move it to the Garfield Park Conservatory in Indianapolis, which required four people to hold the pot and three to hold the plant’s stems.

The Brooklyn orchid’s next feat will be to produce a seed capsule the size of a Nerf football, Mr. Horak said. It will have about two million dustlike seeds in it, which may be offered to a commercial firm or other institution that wants to try growing its own. The seeds are considered an aphrodisiac in some circles, Mr. Michel wrote.

Unlike Audrey Junior, the voracious plant from "The Litle Shop of Horrors" the Brooklyn plant has not been named, Mr. Horak said.

“On any given day, if it’s creating trouble, it gets names nobody wants to hear,” he said.


Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Hoosier Orchid Company Out of Business

To our friends & customers,

Nineteen years ago Hoosier Orchid Company moved into our facilities here on the northwest side of Indianapolis, building on a tradition of providing species and fine hybrid orchids that traced back through Sea Breeze Orchids, Great Lakes Orchids and Margaret Ilgenfritz Orchids. We joined our legacy with those of Fred Hillerman, the late Madeline Elder, Steve Stevenson, John Schwind and others. Over these 19 years we have experienced great success in getting to know our customers, providing you with fantastic service as well as fine plants, and the joy of learning about orchids and sharing our love of orchids with you.

It is in recognition of that joy and success that I write to let you know that Hoosier Orchid Company has permanently closed. We have enjoyed growing and sharing our orchids, developing new and exciting lines of breeding, discovering new species, speaking to orchid societies, educating our local customers, displaying at shows around the country, making rare species available, and so many other aspects of our business. Our closing is a bittersweet recognition of the changing aspects of the orchid industry and societal trends.

Our focus on species orchids was based on our love of species and their natural habitats. We encourage everyone to support in situ and ex situ conservation of orchids. Please support artificial propagation of species orchids and the preservation of the complex web of life that allows these wonderful plants to exist and flourish. Cherish and share the species you have in your collections and grow them responsibly.

All of us here join me in thanking you for your interest in our company, your friendship, and your patronage over the years. Best wishes for many years of healthy plants and beautiful blooms!

William Ames Rhodehamel President,
Hoosier Orchid Company


Steve Peralta

Monday, September 15, 2008

United States to ban all New Zealand flower imports

Flower growers are worried they are on verge of losing one of their biggest international markets.

From midnight, American agriculture authorities are banning all New Zealand flower imports following the discovery of two flower shipments containing light brown apple moth eggs.

The decision to suspend the flower imports will hit growers hard, as it comes right in the middle of the lucrative orchid season.

"It's a major concern at this time of year because we're in full flush like other growers," Joe Sonneveld from Joshua Ltd says.

Mr Sonneveld sells over a quarter of his orchid crop to the US and is concerned that losing the American market could see prices collapse.

"If it can't go elsewhere it will be dumped in Japan," he says. "And that could be a disaster for prices that are already weak."

Flower exports to the US make up a third of New Zealand's $50 million flower export industry.

The US says the ban is part of a $100 million plan to eradicate the moth in California. However, some Kiwi growers smell a rat.

"The moth is already in America, why ban our flowers now" Mr Sonneveld asks. "I think its protectionism."

The Flower Exporters Association and MAF officials have been quick to address their American counterparts' concerns.

"We're hoping that within a week we'll be able to resume a limited amount of exports of orchids to the US," MAF's Peter Johnston says. "And then certainly other crops will probably take us one or two months."

MAF hopes to begin inspections of the biggest indoor growers next week.


Steve Peralta

Please Donate to Meyers Conservatory

Meyers Conservatory's mission is to provide laboratory-grown orchid species at the lowest possible price in an effort to aid in orchid species conservation. We need your help now to keep doing this.

Since we started in 1999, we've never operated as a for-profit business, instead charging just enough to cover the costs of the flasks we produce and to pay our employees. In April of 2008 we increased the base price of our flasks in an effort to give our employees a livable wage. This actually worked for a while, but a number of circumstances have contributed to our financial decline. In September 2008 it was bad enough that we had to take out an over-$7,000 loan to keep operating.


Steve Peralta

Saturday, September 13, 2008

How to Take Care of Orchids Part 1: Choosing Your Orchid

In the first part of our mini-series, "How to Take Care of Orchids", we will look at the factors that must be considered when choosing which type of orchid to buy.

With over 20'000 species (not including the 100'000+ hybrids and cultivars), choosing which orchid to purchase can seem like a daunting task. And then comes the responsibility of making sure the orchid you buy is free from disease and has been looked after correctly. This article will guide you through the process of buying an orchid as well as offering some suggestions for a good "first orchid" for beginners.


Enjoy and don't forget to visit the site!

Phillip Estenson