Orchids are exotic beauties that, because of their exorbitant prices in the thousands of dollars, were once the playthings of only the very rich. Now, thanks to the process of micro-cloning — also known as tissue culture — they are available for much more reasonable prices. This allows more people the opportunity to try their hand at growing and blooming them.
The orchid family of plants is the largest on the planet, with more than 35,000 species and well over 100,000 manmade hybrids. They grow everywhere on Earth except Antarctica, and they range in size from micro-mini plants with minuscule flowers best viewed with a magnifying glass to plants bearing blossoms up to 8 inches wide.
Some orchids are highly fragrant with delicious odors, while others have extremely obnoxious odors. The scent depends on the type of pollinator the orchid is trying to attract.
And the colors are mesmerizing. Every color that can be conceived of is available and often highlighted by spots and stripes on the petals. There is something for everyone in the orchid family.
In their natural state, most orchids that hobbyists grow are epiphytes, although there are some that are terrestrial. Epiphytes grow on tree limbs and rocks, attaching themselves to their host with their roots. Because they do not take any nourishment from their hosts, they are not considered to be parasitic. Most hobbyists grow them in pots or mounted on wood, rocks or tree fern slabs.
The most commonly seen orchids in the Baton Rouge area are those in the genus Phalanopsis (fail-a-NOP-sis). These can be found everywhere from grocery stores to big-box stores and many places in between. These plants do not require light levels as high as some other varieties, so they make great house plants and are easy to grow and re-bloom. The blooms on these beauties can last up to three months.
Some orchids require more cold weather than we can provide in the Baton Rouge area, so hobbyists are wise to learn the difference between the ones that need cold and those that thrive in our heat and humidity.
The Baton Rouge Orchid Society is devoted to helping hobbyists learn how to grow and bloom orchids successfully, and members are eager to share their knowledge. On the second weekend of July, the society will hold its annual two-day show and sale. The free event will offer exhibits from area orchid societies and vendors, providing an opportunity to view a sample of the enormous variety of the orchid family. Plants will be available for sale.
Anyone interested in developing their knowledge of orchid culture is invited to attend Orchid Society meetings on the third Wednesday of each month at 7 p.m. at the LSU AgCenter Botanic Gardens at Burden, 4560 Essen Lane. Before each meeting, a plant clinic is held at 6:30 p.m., where plants in questionable health can be brought for cultural advice. Visit the Orchid Society website at www.batonrougeorchidsociety.com for more information and to subscribe to the free monthly newsletter.
The LSU AgCenter and the LSU College of Agriculture