Considering that flowering orchid plants today are routinely sold at the big box stores, it is hard to imagine that up until World War II they were considered a “rich man’s flower”. That perception, if not reality, began to change in the 1960s with the advent of tissue culturing, which made it possible to multiply a single superior orchid exponentially and to facilitate world-wide distribution by air.
(Friends office manager, Amanda Jordan, stands next to a schomburgkia orchid nearly 8 feet tall, on display in the Dome.)
Orchids do well in light and temperatures that are comfortable for people. The quickest way to kill an orchid is to leave it standing in water. A recent marketing ploy advises placing three ice cubes on the surface of the growing medium once a week—which assures adequate water without excess. Or, once a week take the plant to a sink and run tepid water all across the surface for a minute or two. Allow to drain and then return to where you want to enjoy the orchid. When in bloom, orchids do best in bright reflected light—in other words, good reading light. When the weather outside is warm enough for tomatoes, orchids do well there too, with morning sun or dappled sun-shade through the day. Apply fertilizer labeled for orchids.
The Botanical Center’s Margaret Swanson Orchid Collection, named for the Friends of the Des Moines Botanical Center president at the time the facility was first opened in 1979, is in a state of renewal, thanks to Team Orchid, a group of volunteers led by a champion orchid grower, Gary Heggen. They meet once a month. Instead of the typical fir-bark potting mix that has to be replaced annually, Gary advocates coconut husk fiber mixed with sponge rock, a medium that holds up well for three or four years. If you’d like to join Team Orchid and learn from a master, send an email to email@example.com.