Botanical Garden Expands on Popularity of Orchids

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Mark Bir takes care of the greenhouse at the Cleveland Botanical Garden, where they bring in more than 1,000 plants for the annual orchid show. They come in all sizes and colors, but represent only a fraction of the 25,000 species of orchids found throughout the world.

“You never know all of the orchids. I don’t know a tenth of them and I work with them,” Bir said.

The type you commonly find in stores is the Phalaenopsis orchid, which has become a popular houseplant.

“If you think about 10 years ago, did you see them in the big box stores? You didn’t, but you do now,” said Cynthia Druckenbrod, director of horticultural exhibits.

Druckenbrod has led Orchid Mania since it began 14 years ago. She says many people may not realize it, but hundreds of the orchids on display were grown locally.

“One of the largest growers is right here in Oberlin, Ohio,” Druckenbrod said.

Green Circle Growers produces more than 8 million orchids a year under the Just Add Ice brand, and donates orchids to the show. They also have seen a growing demand for orchids.

“We’ve done consumer studies,” marketing coordinator Colleen Simon said. “Birthdays are the no. 1 occasion [to buy as a gift].”

While orchids grow outside in tropical locations like Hawaii and Florida, many can grow easily indoors on a windowsill.

“It’s a myth that orchids are difficult to maintain,” Druckenbrod said.

The botanical garden seeks to not just delight but educate visitors about orchids. People can bring questions - and even problem orchids from home- to “Ask the Orchid Doctor.”

“Sometimes we have to pass last rites, but most of the time we can bring that orchid back to life,” Druckenbrod said.

The show’s theme this year, “Hanging Gardens,” represents how orchids often grow above the ground.

“These are plants that grow on top of stuff. It can be the branch of a forest tree. It can be a rock,” Bir said.

The scented orchids are one of Cleveland resident Jim Otlowski’s favorite parts of the botanical garden’s show.

“They have chocolate-scented orchids,” Otlowski said. “They may not be as pretty as the other orchids, but they are really unique to themselves."

The popularity of orchids may attract novices, but there are also opportunities to grow a hobby. Visitors can connect with the Greater Cleveland Orchid Society and compete with local enthusiasts. There is also a photography contest for amateur photographers.

Whatever the level of interest, Orchid Mania has something for everyone and continues through March 5.  

Hear about the educational efforts at the Cleveland Botanical Garden on Here and Now featuring the Sound of Applause on Thursday at 12:33 p.m.


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