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For the love of orchids

Local enthusiasts share passion for flowers

By: Andy Kozlowski, Kristyne E. Demske | C&G Newspapers | Published April 7, 2016

Marian Lazaro/Shutterstock

METRO DETROIT — Sarah DeDonatis, of St. Clair Shores, has been a member of the Michigan Orchid Society for more than 15 years. 

“My husband’s aunt invited me to come and work, actually, on the show all those years ago, and I just fell in love,” she said. “It’s just a way to really get to work as a community, (and) get to look at these amazingly beautiful flowers from all over the world, and meet some amazing growers.”

This is DeDonatis’ third year creating the society’s main display at the upcoming Orchid Show. The display’s theme changes every year, and this year’s theme is Amelia Earhart. DeDonatis said she doesn’t want to give away too much, but the display will be an imaginative take on if the female airplane pioneer had survived her crash in the jungle.

The display will include portions of a 1945 plane, goggles and a hat, and even some World War II-era dishes. 

But other than that, DeDonatis said she doesn’t know until the day before the show what orchids she’ll have to work with. The flowers have to be coordinated by color and have to follow color flow rules specified by the American Orchid Society. Other green plants may be used in the display, but the only flowers allowed are orchids.

“We don’t know what we’re getting because everything has to be in flower. We truly don’t know what we’re working with until that day,” she said. 

She and other volunteers will spend the day tagging the orchids as they come in so that the judges are able to find them later on. 

The display is only half of the show, though — the remainder of the show is made up of vendors from all over the world.

“Right in the middle of the room, it’s surrounded by breathtaking displays from different orchid groups from the Midwest area and beyond,” she said. “It’s quite involved.”

In emails, other orchid enthusiasts weighed in on their favorite flower.

“I love the immensity of the orchid world — the colors, sizes, growing habitats (natural and man-made), scents, and the fact that new species are continually being discovered. I love the challenge of growing orchids and getting them to bloom. Most of all, I love sharing this passion with others,” said Tim Heath, president of the Michigan Orchid Society. 

“There are so many different species and varieties of orchids that no matter your growing conditions, something will thrive and bloom for you,” said Patti DeMaire, MOS member and membership chair. “Hot, cold; bright light, dim light; humid, dry. Orchids grow on every continent except Antarctica and at many different elevations. They cover every range of color, except a true blue — no, those blue ones in the grocery store do not grow that way!”

She noted how there will be classes at the show each day with lessons on orchids, as well as culture sheets on the most popular species.

Kathy Mykolajenko, an MOS trustee, said no other flower can compare with orchids. For her, half of the fun is the element of optimization.

“I love the challenge of growing and blooming an orchid to its fullest potential,” Mykolajenko said. “I also love the science aspect of growing orchids and researching their growing requirements and habitats. … Our show brings in vendors who sell everything from orchid plants — many of which you will not find at the big box or grocery store — to supplies specialized for orchid hobbyists.”

Carolyn Butcher, another MOS trustee, said she has enjoyed growing orchids since she was a child in the late ‘70s. 

“My mother gave my sister and I a gift of money with a strange set of parameters attached to it. The gift was to be spent — not saved, and not to pay bills. She wanted to see what we would do with it so she could enjoy our enjoyment. I had been growing orchids for five years, but not very successfully on the windowsill,” Butcher said.

“I chose to go to the World Orchid Conference in Thailand in 1978, which opened an entire world of new orchids that I had never seen prior. Our Orchid Show reminds me of my days collecting orchids around the world, in various rain forests from Paraguay, Burma, the island of Borneo, Peru, the Philippines and Africa,” Butcher said. “The show is spectacular.”

The Michigan Orchid Society’s 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.