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Discover variety of orchids at upcoming show

Free event coming to Madison Heights April 23-24

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published April 4, 2016

 Orchid enthusiasts take pictures and study specimens in the show section of the event in 2011.

Orchid enthusiasts take pictures and study specimens in the show section of the event in 2011.

File Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

METRO DETROIT — Orchids appear on every continent except Antarctica, and they come in many forms. Some grow on the bark of trees, while others grow deep underground. Some smell sweet, while others smell rancid. Some are microscopically small and require a magnifying glass to see, while others are shaped like insects to attract the birds that pollinate them. And of course, they come in a dazzling variety of colors and patterns. 

Those who want to learn more about this fascinating flower are invited to attend the free Orchid Show held by the Michigan Orchid Society, where 500 to 1,000 specimens will be on display.

The show is normally held the weekend of Palm Sunday, but it is running late this year due to a scheduling conflict. Now in its 62nd year, the Orchid Show will take place from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, April 23, and from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, April 24, at the United Food Workers Building, also known as Madison Place, 876 Horace Brown Drive in Madison Heights, one block south of 13 Mile Road and just east of Interstate 75. Parking and admission are free.

According to Joe Peterson, chairman of the event, some orchids are easy to grow and require little maintenance. This leads many people to try the hobby. Once they have one orchid, chances are they’ll grow curious about others, he said — and that’s where the rabbit hole begins.

“I bought my first orchid at one of these shows 30 years ago, and now I have 400,” Peterson said. “I have an outdoor greenhouse attached to the house. We have some members who grow over 1,000 in their basements. That’s a lot of plant lights!”

Of course, someone could also just grow them on their windowsill. The Orchid Show will not only be a chance to see and smell the wide variety of flowers, but also a chance to learn from the people who grow them — numerous vendors and groups, including the Michigan Orchid Society and other societies from Lansing, Saginaw, Grand Rapids and Ann Arbor.

The American Orchid Society is the overarching organization behind the event, and it utilizes one of the most prestigious orchid judging systems in the world, with accredited judges such as Peterson having spent six years apprenticing in the field.

Currently, the society recognizes between 30,000 and 40,000 unique species of orchids, and more than 110,000 hybrids — a number that is growing all the time. Depending on the flower, you may note its color or smell first. The latter can be especially strong. Oncidium sharry smells like dark chocolate; Maxillaria tenuifolia has the odor of coconut; and Bulbophyllum sandersonii smells like rotting meat — repulsive to humans, but irresistible to the flies that spread their pollen. And then you have the sweet perfume of Rhyncholaelia digbyana, which saves energy during the day by releasing its scent at night and attracting moths instead of butterflies.

As different as any two orchids are, they all share some things in common. The orchid flower is broken down into six parts: the top petal, called the dorsal sepal; two petals on the side; two lateral sepals on the bottom; and the lip, often the showy part, where all the reproductive organs are located.

Likewise, there are some across-the-board traits looked for in judging. The color has to be saturated, full; the color separation has to be sharp; and beyond that, each genus has its own criteria — similar to how two different breeds would be judged at a dog show. The Orchid Show has 100 categories in which plants are judged, with the AOS judges huddling around computers and textbooks behind a black curtain, comparing each specimen to pictures and descriptions of past winners from shows around the world.

To learn from the experts at the show is to learn from the best. And all of the attendees share a passion for the plant.