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Published: Friday, 3/14/2003

Orchids blooming in Ann Arbor


“This time of year, a lot of orchids come into bloom,” said Neal R. Foster, co-founder and past president of the society. Lengthening days reawaken the growth cycle.

Orchids will be set amongst moss-covered logs, rocks, and other materials, said Mr. Foster. “And the displays use a lot of other living plants to accent the appearance of the orchid and make the whole thing look jungle-like.”

Displays and individual specimens will be judged and vendors will sell plants.

Part of the intrigue of orchids is their sheer variety.

“It's the largest family of flowering plants in the world, and there's something like 25,000 to 30,000 species,” he said. “And there's about 100,000 registered hybrids. That's where the plant breeder's art comes to the fore.”

Orchids have large root systems that need to breathe. They drink less than one might expect, prefer east-facing windows, and are not terribly hard to grow.

“If you can grow African violets, you can grow orchids,” said Mr. Foster.

Talks on both days at 2 p.m. will discuss growing easy varieties.

In our area, the most common naturally occurring orchid is the showy Ladyslipper, with its pouch-like sac and large leaves. Often yellow, striped, or blotched with purple, it blooms in late spring and early summer.

Mr. Foster favors the Cattleya. Two of his have had beautiful blooms and fragrance lasting nearly six weeks. Some orchids bloom nonstop for years.

And some have extraordinary pollination systems. The Coryanthes genus, or bucket orchid, could be described as brilliant or devious in the way it lures pollinators, said another orchid society member. Not only is its fragrance intoxicating, it's addictive. When a bee slips into its pouch, the nectar sobers it up. It can only leave from one passage, where, of course, the pollen is.

The orchid show is open tomorrow and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., with displays open after noon Saturday. Matthaei Botanical Gardens is at 1800 North Dixboro Rd. on the northeast side of Ann Arbor. From Toledo, take U.S. 23 north to Exit 41/Plymouth Road; east about 1/2 mile. For information, contact annarboros@aol.com.

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