The Wild and Wonderful World of Orchids

Posted on Mar 13 by Leslie Dinaberg

Laelia orchid Splendid Spire “Rose Midnight” from Santa Barbara Orchid Estate. Photo by Chuck Place.

Laelia orchid Splendid Spire “Rose Midnight” from Santa Barbara Orchid Estate. Photo by Chuck Place.

Story by Leslie Dinaberg

Photographs by Chuck Place

The flowers themselves are not the only lavishly colorful component in the exotic  jungle of the orchid universe. Photographer Chuck Place—an avid grower of  cymbidiums and an eager chronicler of quirkiness—takes us on a lush visual  journey through the wild and wonderful world of orchids.

Meet the Collectors

“If roses are the flower of romance, then orchids are the flower of passion. Collectors through the years have risked life, limb and incarceration in their quest for yet another rare orchid to add to their hoard.”—Zoological Society of  San Diego.

This expensive ($1,000) Paphiopedilum orchid is from Tokyo Orchid Nursery at the Summer Hummer orchid sale at Cal-Orchid. Photo by Chuck Place.

This expensive ($1,000) Paphiopedilum orchid is from Tokyo Orchid Nursery at the Summer Hummer orchid sale at Cal-Orchid. Photo by Chuck Place.

The largest family of flowering plants, orchids are found on every continent except Antarctica. Among the many local orchid collectors whom Place photographed, he says that Don Brown “is like one of the godfathers of local collectors and growers. He’s extremely knowledgeable. Hugely so. He’s got an international reputation.” A retired UCSB anthropology professor, Brown has several greenhouses and grows a wide range of orchids using a reverse osmosis system to provide pure water. Like all of the collectors shown here, he is also an avid competitor.

Lynn Pettigrew (in plaid) is shown prepping a special cymbidium for the Santa Barbara International Orchid Show. “He has so many cymbidiums, his collection has expanded to a friend’s backyard…he picks up hybrids at various orchid shows and just keeps building his stock that way. But essentially every time he brings in new plants, he has to give away some because he needs the space,” says Place.

Bill Robson (in green), shown in his shade house holding an Odontoglossum Yellow Parade orchid hybrid, is the former manager of Gallup & Stribling Orchids Visitor’s Center and what Place describes as “another highly knowledgable expert,” along with Paul Gripp, the former owner of Santa Barbara Orchid Estate.

The Science

Orchids thrive in many different types of environments, including the climate-controlled world of the laboratory.

As Curator of Malacology at Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, Daniel L. Geiger, Ph.D. has a unique advantage as an avid collector and grower of micro orchids. His job affords him access to scanning electron microscopes and focus stacking software to photograph these tiny orchids, because they are very difficult to see, says Place, as evidenced by the mounted specimens of micro orchids being prepared for viewing in a scanning electron microscope. “I don’t think these micro orchids are any harder to grow than any other kind,” says Place. “They’re all on bark.”

The Orchid Show

Photo by Chuck Place.

Lynn Pettigrew shows one of his prize-winning cymbidium orchids from the 68th Santa Barbara International Orchid Show. Photo by Chuck Place.

With a theme of “Complements and Contrasts,” the 69th Santa Barbara International Orchid Show is March 14–16  at Earl Warren Showgrounds, 3400 Calle Real,  sborchidshow.com.

The oldest and one of the largest orchid shows in the country, this year’s Orchid Show showcases all of the many beautiful and exotic orchids from around the world. Featuring exhibits and floral arrangements by top local, regional and international growers, as well as vendors from all over the United States, South America and Asia, offering thousands of blooming orchid plants for sale, the show also offers demonstrations and lectures on orchid culture and related topics, says spokesperson Tammy Guerra.

Photo by Chuck Place.

Visitors enjoy the colorful beauty of thousands of blooming orchid plants at the 68th Santa Barbara International Orchid Show. Photo by Chuck Place.

In keeping with the theme, orchid displays showcase unusual contrasts and stunning complements and show how, while different, they can look beautiful when brought together as a whole. Competition is also an important component of the Orchid Show.

The Artist

Photo by Chuck Place.

Artist Suemae Lin Willhite. Photo by Chuck Place.

Artist Suemae Lin Willhite brings focus to the art of the orchid with her  dramatic Chinese brush paintings, often inspired by the thriving orchids  in her own back yard.

Willhite, who teaches Chinese calligraphy and brush painting, gives demonstrations of brush painting techniques at the Santa Barbara International Orchid Show. An award-winning artist with more than 40 years of experience in Chinese brush painting and calligraphy, her work can be seen in local galleries and is inspired by her grandfather, a well-known Chinese artist in Taiwan. Orchids—which symbolize grace and elegance in Chinese brush painting—are frequent subjects for Willhite’s artistry. Drawing her ideas from nature and spiritual inspirations, she says she paints, when inspired by a vision in her mind’s eye from a wide range of subjects and compositions, with a unique style of Chinese impressionism, abstract and her own fusion of East meets West. She paints with a joyful harmony that is apparent in her work as well as in the classes she teaches. For more information about Willhite, visit suemaeart.com.

Discover the Orchid Trail

This cymbidium orchid was grown by Lynn Pettigrew. Photo by Chuck Place.

This cymbidium orchid was grown by Lynn Pettigrew. Photo by Chuck Place.

The Santa Barbara International Orchid Show comes but once a year, but the diverse beauty of orchids is in full flower year-round along the California Orchid Trail. The area between the rugged Santa Ynez Mountains and the calm seas of the Pacific has seeded an industry that now produces more orchids than any other region in the country.

Five out of the seven growers on the California Orchid Trail are in Santa Barbara County (the others are in Malibu and Oxnard). From north to south, the local growers are:

Cal-Orchid, Inc.

Owners James and Lauris Rose keep a diverse inventory, reflecting the interests of not only the current marketplace, but also their many trips made to foreign locales, where James uses his sharp eye for the unusual to spot new treasures. Open 9 a.m.–4 p.m. Monday–Saturday. 1251 Orchid Dr., Santa Barbara. 805/967-1312, calorchid.com.

Dendrobium orchids from Santa Barbara Orchid Estate. Photo by Chuck Place.

Dendrobium orchids from Santa Barbara Orchid Estate. Photo by Chuck Place.

Santa Barbara Orchid Estate

Located on five acres of beautiful coastal Santa Barbara, the orchid estate is just 500 feet from the Pacific Ocean. Founded by Robert J. Chrisman, a legendary orchid grower, and now owned by Parry and Alice Gripp, the estate is one of the world’s foremost collectors and propagators of orchid species and hybrids, specializing in outdoor temperature-tolerant varieties. Open 8 a.m.–4:30 p.m. Monday–Saturday and 11 a.m.–4 p.m. Sundays. 1250 Orchid Dr., Santa Barbara. 805/967-1284, sborchid.com.

Miltonia orchids, or pansy orchids, from Gallup & Stribling Orchids in Carpinteria. Photo by Chuck Place.

Miltonia orchids, or pansy orchids, from Gallup & Stribling Orchids in Carpinteria. Photo by Chuck Place.

Gallup & Stribling Orchids

Gallup & Stribling’s home farm occupies 48 acres in Carpinteria, making it one of the largest in the country. With more than 1.5 million square feet of greenhouse space, it is a state-of-the-art breeding, growing and distribution facility. Open 10 a.m.–5 p.m. Monday–Friday and 8:30 a.m.–5 p.m. Saturday–Sunday. 3450 Via Real, Carpinteria. 805/684-1998, gallup-stribling.com.

Orchids Royale

Orchids Royale grows mostly cymbidiums, but also paphiopedilums, miltonias and odontoglossums. They maintain 70,000 square feet of temperature-controlled greenhouses. Open by appointment. 5902 Via Real, Carpinteria. 805/684-8066.

Laelia orchid from Santa Barbara Orchid Estate.Photo by Chuck Place.

Laelia orchid from Santa Barbara Orchid Estate.Photo by Chuck Place.

Westerlay Orchids

Joe Overgaag founded Westerlay Orchids following his emigration from the Netherlands to Carpinteria. Later, he earned the distinction of being among the first in the nation to widely apply hydroponic growing technology to flowers. Winter hours: 8 a.m.–4:30 p.m. Monday–Friday and 10 a.m.–3 p.m. Saturdays. Regular hours (daylight savings): 8 a.m.–5 p.m. Monday–Friday  and 10 a.m.–5 p.m. Saturdays. 3504 Via Real, Carpinteria. 805/684-5411, westerlayorchids.com.

 Originally published in the Spring 2014 issue of Santa Barbara SEASONS Magazine.

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