Orchid Fever! is the theme for the 63rd Santa Barbara International Orchid Show. As usual it is held at Earl Warren Showgrounds. This year it runs from Friday, February 29, through Sunday, March 2. For a full description of the many exhibitors, vendors, demonstrations, and other amenities, go to sborchidshow.com and whet your appetite for this fragrant and beautiful treat.

There are probably as many trends in orchid hybridization and collecting as there are growers of these exotic flowers, but one recent trend is toward miniaturization. This definition is one of convenience and merely refers to orchids that are naturally small in stature; many different species are represented. Most can live happily in a pot no larger than six inches in diameter. This is ideal for growers who have little space to devote to their collection. Windowsills and small greenhouses, even terrariums are prime spots for these small fry. In spite of their wee size, many of these minis have big floral displays. Among those that have showy flowers are Paphiopedilum concolor (lady’s slipper orchid). Its flowers, at two to two-and-a-half inches across, are nearly as big as the three-inch plant itself. Hybrid Phalaenopsis (moth orchids), like P. ‘Caribbean Sunset’, have abundant two-inch flowers on a dwarf plant that has leaves only six inches long. The compact (four to five inches) plant of Oncidium onustum bears a profusion of small flowers on a 15-inch stalk, and one of the smallest cattleyas, Cattleya forbesii, has clusters of four-inch flowers.

Drew Mackie

Timber Press has recently published a good guide to growing orchids that focuses on these diminutive species and cultivars. Miniature Orchids by Steven A. Frowine is typical of the high-quality volumes that Timber Press puts out. The layout is handsome and easily read, and top notch photographs illustrate about 300 different orchids. Introductory chapters provide basic information about how to grow orchids in general, detailing light, humidity, temperature, insect and disease control, potting and mounting orchids, and watering and fertilizing them. The introduction may sound like the author is speaking a foreign language-which, in a way, he is-but terms like vandaceous and mini-catts should be obvious once the reader heads to the very detailed plant profiles. Plant names are carefully spelled out and even include a guide to pronunciation. In addition to the illustrated section that lists plants in alphabetic order, there are lists of additional species sorted according to their size, ease of culture, light requirements, temperature preferences, season of bloom, and presence of pleasant fragrance. Frowine has also provided a source guide to help you find the miniature orchid of your dreams.

Two of these are area businesses that participate in the Santa Barbara Orchid Show and welcome visits by the public both during the show and all year round. Cal Orchid, located in Goleta off Patterson Road on the appropriately named street Orchid Drive, has a wide variety of orchids and many of the smaller ones mentioned in Frowine’s book. They are open year-round for retail sales, but have expanded hours during the show. Just a block away, the Santa Barbara Orchid Estate has one of the largest selections of cymbidiums and other orchids that are suitable for growing outdoors in Santa Barbara. They, too, will be opening early and staying open late during the show.

If you’ve got the space, there are plenty of other orchids that thrive in our mild area, many of them outdoors. Check them out at the show and visit a couple of other local growers. Gallup and Stribling in Carpinteria specializes in cymbidiums and phalaenopsis. They have a visitors center that is open to retail buyers every day of the week, with special extended hours during the show. Orchids Royale, also in Carpinteria, holds its annual open house during the show and is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day. Other times are available by appointment.

It’s hard not to catch the fever once you’ve been introduced to these bizarre and wonderful plants. Take a stroll through the displays or browse the luscious photos in a book and you may find yourself hooked.


The Santa Barbara International Orchid Show takes place Friday, February 29-Sunday, March 2, from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. at the Earl Warren Showgrounds (3400 Calle Real). Visit sborchidshow.com for a full description of events.


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