Orchids, one of the most beautiful and varied of all flowering plants, were once so rare and exotic that they were considered the "plant of kings." Now they are readily available for Ventura County orchid enthusiasts.
"Orchids come in every color imaginable except blue and black," said Betsy Seim, nursery manager of Bergstrom Orchids in Thousand Oaks.
And this former flower of the elite, which used to command a hefty price, can be obtained at a reasonable price.
"Orchids used to be so expensive because there were very few available commercially," Seim said. "Now they are mass-produced and it's become more of a common houseplant."
The process horticulturists use to propagate orchids is called meristeming, Seim said. From a particular section of the orchid plant, thousands of plants can be created that "are exact duplicates of the mother plant," she said.
Along with its snooty stature, the orchid is also thought to be difficult to grow and maintain for those not blessed with a green thumb.
That, too, is not true.
Although many of the more than 100,000 species of orchids do need greenhouse conditions to thrive, others do very well inside house or apartment--assuming that you keep them out of perpetually snowy or arid desert areas. "Most hybridized orchids are for an intermediate growing temperature," Seim said.
"Everybody that grows houseplants can enjoy them now," Seim said. You need only know which species to buy. And, of course, you must know its particular growing needs; that is critical, she said.
As with most house plants, the key growing factors are light, water, temperature, humidity, potting mix and ventilation.
"The biggest problem is having high enough humidity," Seim said. "This can be compensated by, in part, misting."
Ventilation is also important.
"Good air circulation is a must," Seim said.
The plant requires air circulation to stir its molecular structure and raise water through the roots into the stems and leaves.
To compensate, a small fan can be placed near the plants. And the biggest threat to one's orchid?
"The biggest killer of orchids is to drown them," Seim said. "They don't like their feet soaking wet."
When purchasing, Seim said to watch for root growth as an indication of a healthy plant. Terrestrial orchids, those that are grown in pots, have roots that like to stay close to the top of the ground.
"If it doesn't have good root growth, the plant will die," she said. (Most orchids are epiphytes--they live on rocks or trees instead of in the ground. Their long roots take nourishment from misty air.)
Under proper growing conditions, orchid plants can be expected to live for many years, Seim said.
If you are an orchid novice, depending on the variety and size, starter orchid plants can be purchased for as little as $5 or $10. But be warned:
"Orchid growing," said Seim, laughing, "can be a horribly addictive disease."
Bergstrom Orchids is at 494 Camino Manzanas, Thousand Oaks. Call 495-1792.
Orchid plants can also be purchased at Orchid Park, 2929 Etting Road, Oxnard, 488-0055.
Interested in joining a local Orchid Society chapter? Area hobbyists have their choice of two.
* Besides the Conejo Orchid Society, which conducts its monthly meetings in Thousand Oaks, the Ventura County Orchid Society holds monthly meetings in Ventura. Chapter meetings often feature problem-solving clinics, guest speakers and displays of members' plants.
* For Conejo chapter information, call Betsy Seim at 498-8557. Ventura County chapter information: 642-8870 and ask for Ed Cooley.
* For an informational pamphlet on numerous orchid topics, write to the nonprofit American Orchid Society, 6000 S. Olive Ave., West Palm Beach, Fla., 33405, or call (407) 585-8666.
* WHERE AND WHEN
The Conejo Orchid Society will presents its fifth Orchid Show on Sunday at the Hyatt Westlake Plaza. From 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., enthusiasts can enjoy blooming plant displays and exhibits from members and commercial growers. Also featured will be guest speakers, instructional videotape demonstrations, orchid flower arrangements and corsage making. Free admission. The Hyatt is at Westlake Boulevard and Townsgate Road in Westlake Village. For information, call Betsy Seim at 498-8557.