Enthusiasts Explore World of Orchids

Orchid Festival, photo by Johnny Quirin.
Orchid Festival, photo by Johnny Quirin.

From the Grand Rapids Magazine April 2018 issue. Available on newsstands now or via subscription.

Orchids. Those delicate, multibloomed delicacies of the botanical world. So desirable, orchids are smuggled globally as devotees seek out incredibly rare varieties. They sell for as little as $20 in stores around West Michigan, yet the most extraordinary, unique specimens can sell for up to $2,000.

Local orchid enthusiasts join together as the Grand Valley Orchid Society one evening each month to share their admiration of the plant’s blooms, roots and foliage, and to exchange growing tips and advice. When they do, Gordon Griffin, society vice president and program chair, is among them, giving — and taking — advice from fellow members and guest speakers.

“It’s nice to have a society of people who say, ‘I’ve tried this, and it worked,’” Griffin said. “We’re trying to grow tropically in Michigan, and that can be a problem.

“It’s fun to get to know each other. We become friends. It’s people who enjoy the science and beauty of taking care of something other than yourself.”

Griffin said about 20 members usually attend the regular meetings, though there are close to 60 members altogether. The annual orchid show held at Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park, typically in January, is when the most members turn out, many to show off the glorious hybrids they’ve created. While species orchids also are on hand at the show, it’s the hybrids that garner the most “oohs” and “aahs.”

Orchid Festival

“Species orchids aren’t as outstanding as the hybrids,” Griffin said. “The hybrids are showy. It’s just fascinating to see the different forms an orchid can take.”

Creating ornate, colorful hybrids is just one aspect of being a devoted orchid grower. Others include finding ideal locations, lighting, humidity levels and watering for each plant.

Griffin, who also serves as a judge for orchid shows throughout Michigan, currently grows about 120 orchid plants of his own in a lean-to greenhouse, as well as in an area of his basement where he provides the perfect lighting and temperature. However, he noted, his interest began with a gift from a friend about 15 years ago. “It was a phalaenopsis (orchid), like the ones you can buy at big box stores like Meijer,” he said.

While orchid growing may present an occasional challenge, for Griffin, the work is well worth the reward.

“This is my hobby,” he said. “It’s something that builds up your ego; it makes you more attentive to nature.”

*Photos by Johnny Quirin

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