Orchid society plants expo at Fort Mason 

The next time you wander through the forests of Ecuador, you might encounter an orchid named after Gerardus Staal.

The worldly Staal, 81, earned his namesake, the Masdevallia staaliana, through multiple orchid collecting trips to Ecuador. He has also named and registered scores of hybridized orchids, however, with the Royal Horticulture Society in London, which keeps an official list.

Staal will be one of hundreds of vendors at this weekend’s 55th annual Pacific Orchid Exposition, entitled "Orchid Fantasia," which is organized by the San Francisco Orchid Society.

He oversees thousands of orchid plants in his backyard greenhouse from his Palo Alto home, where he runs a small business creating hybrids and propagating rare species.

"You can make so many interesting hybrids with them," he said. "Orchids are the few groups of plants that have a well-established registration system. If you make a hybrid, you can give it a name and register it."

Hybridizing is an inter-breeding process of combining seeds of the same species to create a new sub-species. There are hundreds of thousands of hybridized orchids.

"I named this one after my late best friend," he said, pointing to one plant in his greenhouse. He pointed to another one. "I might name this one after Santa’s elves," because the flowers have Christmas colors.

Another vendor at this weekend’s show, Scott Dallas, owner of White Oak Orchids in Pacifica, manages 250,000 plants.

"They are very unattractive plants with an incredible flower," Dallas said. "Sort of the good, the bad and the ugly, so to speak."

While Dallas’ relationship with orchids is strictly business, Staal is a hobbyist who has hybridized orchids for more than 30 years.

A Dutch native, he got a doctorate degree in entomology before moving to the U.S. in the 1960s to develop insecticides. His love for plants sprouted while stationed in Indonesia as a member of the Dutch army.

"Orchids are very much endangered," he said. "There are two kinds of orchids. There are those that grow in the ground called terrestrial orchids. But the majority of orchids are epiphytes that grow on trees. When they chop down forests, that’s the only place orchids live."

His Web site, www.peninsulahybrids.com, displays dozens of his bloomed creations.


Orchid expo

The Pacific Orchid Exposition will take place 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. today, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday at the Fort Mason Center’s Festival Exposition in San Francisco. Tickets are $12 general, $8 for seniors and the disabled and children 12 and under are free.

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