BY LORI MURRAY

At our March Master Gardeners’ meeting Master Gardener Janet Schofield presented a program on her orchids. (We usually have about an hour of Continuing Education after each general meeting.) Since I know absolutely nothing about orchids except that some of them grow in trees and that all of them are pretty to look at, I learned a great deal from her presentation. Here are a few of her points, which I am presenting in a rather rapid-fire manner.

There are more types of flowering orchids than any other plant. Most people who kill orchids kill them by overwatering. Although our conditions in South Texas will grow many many types of orchids, Janet kept her topic to three genuses of orchids: Brassavola, Dendrobiums, and Oncideums. Brassavola is a fragrant orchid especially suitable to our area. B. nodosa, a night blooming species, has an intoxicating fragrance when it is in bloom.

A native of coastal Mexico, its spidery flowers emit a scent that will permeate your home. B. subulifolia originated in Jamaica. An epiphyte, it grows mounted on wood. B. cucullata grows naturally in a climate very like ours. It too has a powerful night fragrance.

Dendrobium (dend = tree; bium = life) are epiphytes and also live in trees. They can be grown outside if they are placed under trees or in other indirect light as direct sunlight will burn them. Oncidium are easy to grow. Look for “juicy looking roots” when you are selecting an oncidium. Dancing lady is a popular oncidium, as is sharry baby. After an oncidium blooms, cut off the stem and – unlike most orchids we buy – the oncidium might produce again. Because a contrast in temperatures spikes growth, provide a cool temperature at night maybe by bringing an outdoor plant indoors into air conditioned space.

Although orchids seem to be costly, they are actually not so expensive when you consider that they will bloom for weeks, unlike the flowers of most other plants or like cut flower bouquets.

Most don’t grow in dirt but in a medium called orchiata. The medium breaks down after about five years and the orchid will have to be repotted, but this is not a large problem because orchids prefer small pots. Janet said that Lowe’s carries both orchiata and a nice selection of Brassavola. She also told us that she keeps those small pots from falling over on a windy day by placing the pots in cinder blocks.

If you are interested buying an orchid or just in seeing lots and lots of orchids, the Sam Jones Orchid Conservatory at the Botanical Gardens in Corpus Christi has one of the largest collections of orchids (1800 sq. ft.) in the Southwest.

Locally The Tip of Texas Orchid Society (TOTOS) meets at 2 p.m. the first Sunday of the month (except July and August) at Valley Nature Center. Established in 1961, TOTOS also has workshops showing various techniques such as how to mount orchids and sometimes has orchids for sale.