Spotlighting the eternal allure of orchids 

Are you a not-so-green-thumbed orchid gardener who’s worried about that starter cymbidium you killed by accident? Or an eager collector looking to add a rare, $20,000 Thai specimen to your garden? 

Either way, you’re likely be be interested in the 59th annual Pacific Orchid Exposition this weekend at Fort Mason Center, where all five Bay Area orchid societies and more than 50 dealers of the beloved, mysterious flower will convene.

San Francisco’s a great place to be an orchid lover, says Jean Lee, president of the San Francisco Orchid Society.

“We’re very blessed that we have a temperature just like the Himalayan Mountains, where cymbidiums come from,” she says. “They grow prolifically here in the Bay Area.”

The difference between San Francisco’s day and night temperatures is exactly what the popular orchids need to flower outdoors. Favorite local indoor orchids include the popular phalaenopsis.

“They are a fabulous decorating item,” says Lee, who sometimes installs orchids in people’s homes. “You’ll find that there are many types of orchids that are now in homes instead of cut flowers because they’re longer lasting.”

This year’s exposition also brings some of the most recent hybrids. Horticulturists are forever hybridizing orchids, in an effort to overcome the sensitive flowers’ climatic limitations and make more types available in more places.

Perhaps the most enthusiastically awaited specimen is a new orchid species found in Ecuador. The flower is just 2 millimeters across, with nearly transparent leaves that look as if they’re made of paper-thin, frosted-over ice.

It’s not just the new finds or hybrids that are unusually beautiful. Orchids are lavishly colored and sumptuously textured by nature because they have to be to survive. They don’t give off pollen into the air. That’s good news for allergy-sufferers but bad news for hungry insects, upon which most flowers depend on to spread their pollen, ensuring their reproduction.

Orchids have to trick the insects into finding their hidden pollen with lavish colors, ultraviolet landing strips, or even trap doors. The unique process even merited a poetically attentive article by author Michael Pollan in the September 2009 National Geographic.

But don’t let orchids’ complexity deter you from joining the enthusiasts who love to grow this extraordinary flower. Experts will be on hand to inform and advise. And if you’ve found yourself with an orchid casualty or two, don’t despair.

“We’ve all killed orchids,” admits Lee. She is quick to point out that the exposition is beginner-friendly.

Pacific Orchid Exposition

Where: Festival Pavilion, Fort Mason, Marina Boulevard and Buchanan Street, San Francisco 
When: 9 to 10 a.m. preview Friday; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday and Sunday; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday
Tickets: $8 to $14 general, $20 preview
Contact: (415) 665-2468;
Note: A gala benefit is from 6:30 to 10 p.m. Friday; tickets are $35 to $40.

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Staff Report

Staff Report

A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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