BOISE - Have you seen those beautiful orchid plants for sale in grocery stores and garden centers, and resisted buying them because you thought there were too hard to grow?
It turns out, growing orchids isn't as hard you might think.
They come in bright colors, with bizarre shapes and enchanting smells. There are over 30,000 species of orchids throughout the world, growing everywhere but the driest deserts and coldest polar regions.
“The orchid is the biggest plant group other than grass,” said James Huffman, who cultivates orchids commercially, along with his wife Lois, in his greenhouse in Ontario.
In fact, orchids may be the oldest flowering plants on Earth, originating around the time of the dinosaurs, more than 100 million years ago.
A number of orchid species are native to Idaho, but according to Huffman, they are often misidentified.
“There are, I think, about 35 to 40 native Idaho orchids out here in the hills, but you don’t realize they are orchids, but they are," he said. "So some of the wildflowers we see out there this time of year are actually part of the orchid family.”
Huffman, along with his friend, Alan Porter, are members of the Treasure Valley Orchid Society. Porter's interest in orchids started when he was a teenager.
“I started in 4-H, growing orchids at the age of 14," he explained. "Forty years later I’m still happily involved in it, and just built a greenhouse to help continue my hobby.”
So, the question many of you may be asking is, are orchids hard to grow?
"Some of them are," answers Porter. "It depends on the requirements. The ones you see in the stores are basically really easy to grow.”
The good news for anyone hoping to cultivate their own orchids, is that it doesn't require a greenhouse.
"Most (orchids), you can grow right on the windowsill," said Porter. "The key to growing them in the house is light. They need a good amount of light. They need good bright light for eight to 10 hours a day throughout most of their growing season.”
They also need water, but not too much. Watering about once per week will suffice.
“The biggest killer of the orchid is water," said Huffman. "People will buy these in the store, they’re not told how to take care of them, and they take them home, and because the water runs through them, they think you’ve got to water them all the time. And it’ll rot the roots off of them and that kills the orchid.”
Orchids have been crossbred to produce up to 500,000 different varieties. Some have even developed a unique relationship with a single type of insect or bird that is the only thing that will pollinate their flowers.
“A lot of times the flowers fade," Porter said. "Like on the phalaenopsis right there. When the flowers fade on that one, you would trim it clear back within the leaf stalk here, so it just kind of hides the old stem. And they don’t re-bloom off of that. Cattleya are the same thing. They bloom once, and that’s it.
“Phalaenopsis, this is the one we find the most," Porter added. "The plant, as long as it’s a really healthy plant, you can trim it back and it will sometimes re-bloom off the old stem.”
And as any gardener knows, it takes practice and patience to find success.
“One thing I would say is don’t be afraid of them," Huffman said. "If you want to try them, try them. If it dies, buy another one.”
“And they’re just an incredible plant," added Porter. "And you have flowers that last anywhere from a day to… these guys can last up to five months.”
If you would like to learn more about growing orchids, and join other orchid enthusiasts, visit the Treasure Valley Orchid Society's website.
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