South Coast Orchid Society

Orchids Today and Yesterday

Call for photos of our meetings and members! Everybody has pictures of pretty orchids, but for our publicity and outreach activities, we need pictures of happy orchid enthusiasts, interacting with each other and their plants. Get out your cell phone, snap some candid (unposed) shots, and email them to the web master. Thanks for your help!

October, 2019

Two common species of thrips: Thrips tabaci and Frankliniella occidentalis, highly magnified

Don't Blame Thrips and Raccoons for Everything!

Oddly, raccoons and thrips have something in common: they are rarely seen, but they can damage our orchids. However, it doesn't seem fair that they get blamed for the exploits of all the unseen culprits that trash our plants when we aren't looking. In all fairness, we have to rule out other causes. It turns out there is enough blame to go around.

Raccoons playing in the water plants at night

Raccoons really do get into mischief during the night. We have the trail-cam pictures to prove it! But there are many other critters who inhabit our Long Beach gardens. Shall we count the ways? Skunks, rats, squirrels, possums, cats, dogs, coyotes, rabbits... Did we miss any? We know they are around, because we occasionally see a live one in our gardens.

Rats in our orchid jungle gym!

Squirrels definitely like to poke around our plants and occasionally nibble on them, but the other varmints are equally capable of gnawing, overturning, and otherwise destroying our plants. Most of this botanical vandalism seems to happen at night.

Squirrel with peanut, in our orchid habitat

It is tempting to try to trap or poison the offending critters. Here in California, the environmental dangers of traps and poisons have come to the attention of the public and the state government, with the result that our options for controlling unwanted critters are limited. This is especially true for what used to be called "rat poison": the most effective rat baits accumulate in the tissues of predators, thus endangering the whole food chain, as well as any of our pets who happen to be predatory. Our famous Los Angeles mountain lion called P-22 has had several run-ins with rat poisons, in spite of state-wide attempts to control those poisons.

Possum meets cat in the orchard

The poisons that remain available to the public are apparently not very powerful. Something in our garden seems to eat those baits on successive days for weeks at a time, as if some critter is getting fat off them. Even if we were able to eliminate the critters who live in our yards, there's nothing to prevent the neighbor's critters from taking their place.

Mountain lion P-22, famous resident of Griffith Park. Left, suffering from rat poison and mange in 2014; right, back in good health two years later

Long Beach is critter heaven. Our official city varmint is apparently the skunk, followed closely by the opposum, if we can judge from the ever-present road kill on our major streets.

Thrips on a the upper surface Plumeria leaf, photographed with an ordinary iPhone. Adult thrips are clearly visible, along with the damage they have caused, and some dust.

We don't often talk about thrips. Most of us don't know what they look like, have never seen one, and, worse, we lack the vocabulary. In hopes of clarifying the matter, we investigated. Thrips is a Greek word (singular) meaning something like "woodworm". As the "scientific" name of an insect, it is treated as a Latin noun (still singular). Because of the foreign origin of the word, the plural ought to be formed according to the rules for Latin nouns borrowed from the Greek, so the most likely plural would be Thripses. However, the dictionaries also recognize "thrips" as both singluar and plural in English. But that causes confusion in English when we have to talk about just one of them (although it can be argued that, in reality, they never occur singly); we can find "thrip" on the internet as the "alternative singular" of "thrips". Take your pick, and feel free to introduce thrip, thrips, or thripses into casual conversations with confidence.

The main problem with thrips, however, is that they are tiny. Many experienced orchid growers seem to blame thrips for just about any damage that can't immediately be attributed to some other obvious cause, without actually seeing the thrips. Contrary to what many people seem to believe, thrips are not microscopic! The adults are around 1 mm long — and they move! Think the thickness of a penny or a dime. They can be seen, and they can even be photographed with your cell phone. The immature forms are much harder to spot, because they are pale and nearly transparent. Thrips go through a series of molts before they reach the adult phase, and it is the immature forms that do most of the damage. The entire process, from egg to adult, takes around 2-3 weeks. However, if the infestation on a particular plant starts with just one batch of eggs, as seems likely, several generations will probably elapse before the damage is noticeable, and by that time, adults should be visible. Significant damage without the presence of adult thrips seems more likely to be the result of other causes.

Environmental damage on a small Cattleya flower: lots of tiny dust particles and scarring, but no thrips are visible. Probably due to ash particles. The damage appeared just a couple days after a major brush fire and Santa Ana winds.

Recently we noticed some damage to some little yellow Cattleya flowers. The scarring along the edges of the floral parts that touched each other looked just like the damage we saw on a Cymbidium at an orchid club meeting, for which the ribbon judge invoked thrips. We were curious — got out the 10 X magnifier (a souvenir from high school biology class). We saw minute dust particles, many of them black, but nothing that moved, and nothing resembling a thrip, live or dead. Our verdict? Fine ash from the fires, smoke, and Santa Ana winds that had blown through a few days earlier! Ash contains, among other things, corrosive metal oxides such as Na2O, K2O, CaO, etc., and any number of other combustion products. Add water, and you get lye.

Thrips on Plumeria leaf, iPhone photo. Note 4 pale, nearly transparent immature forms, marked with arrows.

Thrips seem to prefer other plants: They have attacked our Impatiens and Plumeria; the damage at first looked a bit like what spider mites do, but within a day or two, the adult thrips were easily seen.

Once we find thrips, what are the options? We tried pyrethrin-based sprays, which are about as safe as you can get, but they don't seem to be very effective unless every thrip is bathed in them. Systemic insecticides definitely work, but it may take a few days before the chemicals are absorbed by the roots and move up into the leaves where the thrips feed. There are a couple difficulties with systemic insecticides. Most of them are NOT safe for indoor use; they should not come in contact with your skin, nor should you breath the fumes or inhale the spray. Bayer markets a "2 in 1 Systemic Rose & Flower Care" that is easy to use, in the form of slow-release granules that are scattered around the base of the plant. This formulation seems to control sucking insects such as thrips, and also spider mites. However, the granules also contain a relatively small dose of 8-12-4 fertilizer. Just a light sprinkling seems to be enough to control thrips, scale, and mealy bugs on potted plants. Another systemic insecticide that has been recommended by some orchid growers is Safari, not usually available in California, and designed to be dissolved in water and sprayed on the plants or on the growing medium. If there is a biological control for thrips, we haven't found it. We prefer to try one of the pyrethrin formulations first. Our favorite is called "Home Defense" (thanks for the tip, Agnes!), available at Home Depot and elsewhere as a premixed spray. If that doesn't get rid of the bugs, then we can think about careful use of a systemic.

Bottom line here, let's be sure we really have a problem with thrips, before we bring out the strong chemicals.

September, 2019

Who Wants Round Flowers?

Recently we acquired a copy of Louis M. Boyle's Out West: Growing Cymbidium Orchids and Other Flowers (1952, Los Angeles: Times-Mirror Press), the story of Boyle's amazing Cymbidium and "Old West" village on his retirement ranch, El Rinconada, near Ojai. Boyle died the next year, 1953, and the copyright was never renewed, so this colorful bit of orchid and Southern California nostalgia is now in the public domain. The volume, richly illustrated, is a reminiscence of his career in the sheet metal business, which was sold in 1939, after which he bought the rancho and caught a bad case of Cymbidium fever.

Department store window, circa 1950, showing the perfect outfit to wear to an orchid society meeting! We know from a couple newspaper clippings that at least one or two SCOS members dressed in style for society events, in outfits from Dinel's in Long Beach. The Cymbidium flowers are certainly not of the full, round type favored by judges, but rather the unimproved "bird-in-flight" type that emphasizes the slim lines of the ensemble.

Writing around 1950, Boyle could see around him a confluence of fashion and horticulture. Post-war fashion seized on the Cymbidium flower, and especially the arching spikes where each flower seemed to be caught in mid-flight, as the epitome of elegance. At the same time, orchid judging, following the lead of the Royal Horticultural Society, was emphasizing full, round flowers. This trend in Cymbidium breeding was, however, not so far along; it was still possible to give new Cymbidium hybrids names recalling birds, butterflies, and various sprites.

Orchid Committee of the Royal Horticultural Society in action, 1917. Do these men look like qualified judges of fashion and beauty?

However, we couldn't help but notice a sort of disconnect between the Cymbidium flowers favored by orchid growers, even then, versus those used by professional designers for interior fashion layouts and department store mannequins. The growers apparently wanted more flowers, standing high above the leaves, and fuller, rounder petals and sepals. Moreover, the flowers were often photographed in isolation, almost as if the plant itself was not particularly relevant. On the other hand, the fashion designers tended to use arching, flexible cut stems, on which the individual flowers were well separated, each hanging elegantly and not touching the others, and emphasizing the slim, almost fragile profile of the petals, resembling birds in flight. There seem to be two very different concepts of "beauty" in play here. This point can be appreciated by considering a few illustrations from Out West that we have included here.

Photo courtesy of Art Chadwick

Fashion plate from the 1940's. Costume designer and AOS Judge Carol Beule gave us a "reading" of this illustration. "An 'afternoon' suit dressed up further with furs and orchids. It's an 'event' ensemble. Late afternoon cocktails and dinner out with dancing, in the fall or early winter most probably, by the colors depicted. NYC chic. Waldorf Astoria dinner and dancing."

From our viewpoint, the emphasis on round flowers seems to grow from looking very closely at individual flowers, in isolation from the rest of the plant. Viewed in this way, a round flower may be very pleasing, a sort of exercise in color and symmetry. The flower with "more" is "better". Over the Cymbidium generations (and likewise over the generations of Cattleyas, Odontoglossums—before RHS, in a fit of exasperation, did away with them—, Vandas, etc.), the plants whose individual flowers had "more" were consistently judged "better", and were used in the next generation to produce even rounder, larger flowers.

Cymbidium lowianum, figure from Reichenbachia, 1888. This is a fine example of botanical illustration, in which the subject has carefully been arranged to form a pleasing artistic composition within the boundaries of the page.

But in the 1950's, designers did not seem to be particularly interested in round flowers. Women's fashions and interior design emphasized line in preference to volume. This was the age of impossibly slim figures with perfectly tailored details that highlighted the graceful curves of the dancer, or the subtle lines of Oriental brush painting. Oriental influences abounded, in fact, as if American tastes were seeking a calmer, more peaceful esthetic (Zen) after the uproar of the war years. Unimproved Cymbidium flowers, such as Cym. eburneum and Cym. lowianum, provided exactly what the designers were looking for. Even bigger flowers sometimes appeared in corsages, such as Cattleya hybrids involving what was then Laelia purpurata, the long, arching segments again emphasizing line in preference to volume, as in the fashion plate that Art Chadwick has shared with us.

Cym. Rosette 'Sunrise' (Altair x Pearl, registered in 1940). Photograph from Boyle's Out West, notice the effect created by the shadows of the leaves against the backdrop.

A point to consider: Suppose we substituted big round flowers in all the old fashion plates. Would the effect be the same? We think not! The individual arching lines of the original flowers would be gone, we would see only a solid mass of indistinct flowers.

Not every aspect of "beauty" is easily quantifiable. Standards for orchid judging have historically relied on some sort of point system, based where possible on objective measurements. That history was predictable: if orchid judging were to produce consistent and repeatable results, was there ever any option but to rely on measurements? Perhaps the gentlemen of the RHS Orchid Committee should not be faulted for undertaking an impossible task, defining beauty. In any event, under a measurement-based system, it is hard to see how larger, fuller, rounder flowers would not have the advantage. However, if there are other kinds of beauty, and many of us believe there are, point systems and measurements would seem ill-equipped to assess them. Some of us, let us admit it, are not drawn exclusively to fat, round flowers! Those old-time bird-like Cymbidiums still catch our eye with their subtle elegance.

Ultimately, there are many ideas of beauty. It is hard to improve on nature, and, as products and examples of nature ourselves, it is inevitable that we will experience the many creations of nature, in all their diversity, as intrinsically beautiful. When it comes to orchids, point judging isn't all there is.

A Favorite Non-Awarded Flower from the Long Beach Judging Center

Photo by John McCoy

Rhyncatlaelia Ada Henriquez, exhibited by Sunset Valley Orchids at the December 17, 2018 judging session in Long Beach, CA

In December, 2018, we spotted a compact Cattleya seedling at the Long Beach Supplemental AOS Judging Center. What got our attention was the perfect "bisque" texture of the flowers, as if they were formed from unglazed porcelain. Not a speck of dust, no irregularities whatever. The plant did not win an award that night, but the cross, then labeled as Slc. Angel Eyes x Slc. Picotee Fire, has since been registered by Fred Clarke of Sunset Valley Orchids as Rhyncatlaelia Ada Henriquez. In case you haven't been following the wholesale revisions of the Cattleya alliance, Rhyncatlaelia is the official intergeneric name for Rhyncolaelia (used to be part of Brassavola) x Cattleya x Laelia. You'll need to know the official abbreviation, too: Ryc. The subtle pastel shading, the gently ruffled edges of the petals and lip, and the fine texture are a particularly elegant addition to the ensemble of "compact" Cattleyas for which Fred has become justly famous.

The amazing parade of extraordinary orchids that show up at the judging center is a huge draw for South Coast Orchid Society meetings. Be sure to take a peek in the back room at the next meeting. Visitors are always welcome in the judging center!

Best Orchid Flower We've Seen in an Long Time!

Photo by John McCoy

Rlc. Toshie Aoki 'Pizazz', grown by Bobby Ignacio, at the South Bay Orchid Society show, September 14, 2019

The annual show and sale staged by the South Bay Orchid Society at South Coast Botanic Garden isn't the biggest, but it is still one of the most interesting for the opportunity to talk to some vendors we don't see very often, and, especially, for the quality of the plants that are exhibited. We visited this year's show on September 14, 2019 and were stunned to see this plant, Rlc. Toshie Aoki 'Pizazz' AM/AOS, grown by long-time SBOS member Bobby Ignacio from Carson.

Toshie Aoki cultivars turn up at shows fairly often. They vary widely; some cultivars lack the red flaring completely, others have varying degrees of flaring. Flower size varies, too. We most often see flowers around 4 to 5 inches across. Toshie Aoki was created by the almost legendary Hawaiian orchid nurseryman Masatoshi Miyamoto. Mr. Miyamoto was famous for his dislike of paperwork and correspondence, and he never registered most of his crosses. However, at some point, Dr. A. G. Tharp, one of our past presidents, prevailed on Mr. Miyamoto to allow him, Tharp, to take care of the registration for several of Miyamoto's hybrids, including Toshie Aoki, so that they could be submitted for AOS judging and get the awards they deserved.

The first of the Toshie Aoki's to be awarded was one exhibited at our own Long Beach judging center by Dr. Tharp, a cultivar he called 'Miniflares', which achieved an AM/AOS, 81 points, on July 27, 1981, with flowers measured at almost 5 1/2" across. But the best of the cross has proved to be 'Pizazz', first exhibited by Howard Starke, well-known as an orchidist in Honolulu, at the Hawaiian Exposition, on July 1, 1983, with flowers measuring nearly 5 3/4" across, scoring 84 points and an AM/AOS. 'Pizazz' came back in 2017 for a second round, achieving 88 points when exhibited for AOS judging in Cincinnati by John Jaworski.

What distinguishes 'Pizazz' from the other cultivars of Toshie Aoki is the extent and subtle shading of the flares, and the exquisite form and presentation of the flowers. We understand 'Pizazz' has been cloned, but we don't know if it can be found for sale at this time.

We posted this quick photo on Facebook as soon as we got home from the show, and within a couple days, it had been "liked" or "shared" by over 2,000 people, by far a new record for our little SCOS Facebook page! That was a big surprise, because Facebook is already overflowing with pretty orchid pictures. We can only suppose that it was the combination of color and form that caused this unexpected reaction.

We had a chance to chat with Bobby about his Toshie Aoki. It came into his hands about ten years ago, as a party favor at the annual holiday party of South Bay Orchid Society! Bobby reports that the plant is a slow grower, but it has remained healthy. It has survived all the pesky slugs and bush snails that inhabit his outdoor growing area, under shade cloth—a familiar story for most of us in SCOS! This year, the plant developed two spikes, each with a single flower, but on opposite sides of the plant. The one facing the sun developed very nicely. The other, facing a wall, wasn't as strong. When we grow our orchids outdoors, we can control some things, such as the amount of light and water, but not others, such as the bugs and critters that wander through our gardens when we're not looking. We all lose a few flowers, but the occasional grand success keeps us going!

August, 2019

Games Orchids Play: Floral Mimicry

Photos from Fig. 1, Neubig et al., 2012, see text

A: Malpighia glabra, B-F: some apparent floral mimics in the Oncidium alliance, B: Oncidium sotoanum, C: Cyrtochilum edwardii, D: Tolumnia hawkesiana, E: Cyrtochilum ioplocon

One of the recent taxonomic upheavals among the orchids involves the Oncidium alliance. Doug Overstreet gave us an overview of the situation in his talk on "My 10 Favorite Oncidiums" on July 22. In brief, what was left of Odontoglossum after previous upheavals has now, with the approval of the Royal Horticultural Society, been lumped into Oncidium, and a number of species in that enlarged group have been transferred to other, much smaller genera such as Gomesa, Trichocentrum, Zelenkoa, etc. Why was this done? The main reason is that new research, mainly investigations of genetic similarity ("DNA technology"), demonstrated that some species were much more closely related to other genera than to the members of the genus where they had previously resided, provided that DNA sequences can be assumed to be an impartial reflection of true evolutionary relationships. More exactly, the assumption is that DNA mutations are generally random, and for the most part neutral with respect to gene function, and thus not themselves subject to natural selection. The presence of a significant number of apparently random mutations that do not happen to affect the amino acid sequence of any protein, in two different species, tells us that those two species share a common ancestor in some way, because the odds of a number of identical mutations occurring by chance alone in two species simultaneously are extremely remote. When data of this sort were first produced, it was still possible that the investigators had happened to choose very unrepresentative bits of DNA; today, many more and much longer DNA sequences (notably, the DNA corresponding to the extremely highly conserved 5S ribosomal RNA) are available, and the results have to be considered seriously.

Perhaps the most significant study of the Oncidium alliance based on DNA similarities, and notably using highly conserved ribosomal DNA as well as other important DNA fragments, was published in 2012. Conveniently, a web-based version of this paper, including numerous additional photographs, and highlighting the most pragmatic solutions to the problems raised by the data, has been prepared by the same authors, on the web site of the University of Florida Herbarium. The original paper is: Neubig, K.M., W. M. Whitten, N. H. Williams, M. A. Blanco, L. Endara, J. G. Burleigh, K. Silvera, J. C. Cushman, & M. W. Chase. 2012. Generic recircumscriptions of Oncidiinae (Orchidaceae: Cymbidieae) based on maximum likelihood analysis of combined DNA datasets. Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society 168: 117-146. An open-access online version of the paper is also available. The decision of the authors to make their research freely available is greatly appreciated.

Meanwhile, research has expanded into new lines of inquiry, often (as a result of deepening concern about the extinction of endangered species) dealing with the role that orchids play in nature ecosystems. The most intriguing findings for the Oncidium orchids is that many of their flowers are strikingly similar to those in the family Malpighiaceae. More than a decade of reports on this topic have all reached similar conclusions: some Oncidiums have flowers that are extremely similar to those of certain species from the Malpighiaceae family that occur in the same habitats. Based on what is known about the way bees see (from the study of their optical receptors and pigments), these flowers are believed to show the same colors as their Malpighian look-alikes, to a bee's eyes. But, where the Malpighian flowers provide "rewards" for the bees that visit them, in the form of oils that the bees gather and use in the construction of their hives, the Oncidium flowers generally do not. However, there are other Oncidium species that do provide oil "rewards", and they are the same type of oils as those produced by the Malpighiaceae.

It has to be emphasized that the research to date, and in spite of some very clever experiments, still has not produced large sample sizes and definitive proof of what the bees are thinking about. But the conclusion seems inescapable, the resemblance of the flowers is remarkable.

What are the consequences if various Oncidiums and their relatives have found ways of attracting particular pollinators that also are attracted to the Malpighiaceae? First, this sort of mimicry would only happen if both species occurred in the same area and flowered at about the same time. If a particular type of bee already knew how to exploit the flowers of some species in the Malpighiaceae, such as the pink Malpighia glabra, and if a local Oncidium species happened to bear flowers that the bees occasionally mistook for Malpighia, then the Oncidium might sometimes get pollinated. If a particular combination of hereditary traits (genes) in the Oncidium helped the plant produce a flower with a better resemblance to Malpighia such plants would be pollinated by these hypothetical bees more often, and so they would produce more seeds, and would give rise to more plants having these favorable traits in the next generation. Over some very long time, possibly hundreds of thousands of years, repeated cycles of mutation and bee-driven selection would produce Oncidium flowers with a greater resemblance to those of Malpighia.

Clever Experiments!

Oncidium cosymbephorum (some treat this form as O. luridum, or place it in various other genera): Gustavo Carmona-Díaz and José G. García-Franco. 2009. Reproductive Success in the Mexican Rewardless Oncidium cosymbephorum (Orchidaceae) Facilitated by the Oil-Rewarding Malpighia glabra (Malpighiaceae), Plant Ecology 203: 253-261, (abstract). The authors, working in the state of Veracruz, Mexico, describe their approach as follows (from the abstract): "We evaluated the facilitation by M. glabra of the orchid's pollination for natural and artificial clumps of O. cosymbephorum close to and far from M. glabra over 4 years. Two experiments were performed at five different study sites to evaluate the effect of the presence and absence of M. glabra on the reproductive success of O. cosymbephorum. In experiment 1, we recorded fruit set production in natural and artificial monospecific clumps of the orchid, and in natural and artificial heterospecific clumps of O. cosymbephorum and M. glabra. In experiment 2, we recorded the fruit set of O. cosymbephorum at different sites where individuals grow in monospecific clumps, both before and after cultivated individuals of oil-producing M. glabra had been planted in their vicinity. Both experiments showed that the reproductive success of O. cosymbephorum was greater in the presence of M. glabra than it was in its absence."

O. sphacelatum and Byrsonima lucida

Oncidium sphacelatum: Robert W. Pemberton. 2008. Pollination of The Ornamental Orchid Oncidium sphacelatum By the Naturalized Oil-Collecting Bee (Centris nitida) in Florida, Selbyana 29: 87-91, (full article available online). The author discovered an individual of Centris nitida visiting the native shrub Byrsonima lucida in a residential garden, and this particular bee had orchid pollinia stuck to its head. The source of the pollinia was apparently to be found in several hanging baskets of Oncidium sphacelatum in the same garden. The author then undertook a systematic program of observations of the orchid specimens over the course of their flowering. The main visitors to the flowers were the Centris nitida bees, and at least some of them did succeed in dislodging the pollinia of the flowers they visited, and in at least one case, carrying off the pollinia stuck to the front of its face. Seed set was observed, roughly one capsule per spike, in the orchids visited by the bees, while control specimens of O. sphacelatum, bagged to shield them from pollinators, did not produce any capsules, thus demonstrating that the capsules on the plants visited by the bees were not the result of self-pollination or apomixis. While Byrsonima lucida has pinkish flowers, and O. sphacelatum has bright yellow flowers, that is not necessarily how the bees see them! There may be more to this story. The bees apparently prefer flowers that resemble those of the Malpighiaceae, without being overly fussy about their color. At the very least, this report demonstrates that Centris nitida does visit Oncidium flowers even outside its normal habitat, in spite of the absence of any reward for doing so, and that these visits can result in pollination.

And that is certainly what we see today! Pink Oncidiums with a marked resemblance to the flowers of Malpighia glabra are indeed found together. There are similar observations involving at least some of the yellow Oncidium species (but most of these are now in other genera), and the Malpighian genus Stigmaphyllon (vines with yellow flowers that look very much like Oncidium, and usually known in the horticultural trade as "Orchid Vines"!).

The alert reader will have realized that each case of floral mimicry needs three players: the two flowers, and at least one pollinator whose behavior the two flowers are influencing. Plants, of course, don't move very far, but bees can and do move around. Climates change, habitats change, and so one of the three partners in this little dance must have sometimes disappeared. Some other pollinator, perhaps a different species of bee, may have come along and replaced the first bee species, and the newcomers may have had different flower preferences. We have to imagine that the co-evolution of flowers and the bees that pollinate them must have taken many unexpected and unknown turns over a very long period, coupled also with changes in climate, the uplift and later destruction of mountains, the changing course of rivers, and all the other components of a real tropical ecosystem.

The Players: It takes 3 to do the floral mimicry dance ~ ~ ~

Stigmaphyllon ciliatum, Malpighia glabra, and Tetrapteris sp.

The model: Several genera in the Malpighiaceae have been implicated, including various species of Stigmaphyllon (yellow flowers), Malpighia (mostly pink flowers), and likely others, such as Tetrapteris (yellow flowers with orange or red highlights). Essentially the same floral architecture and colors occur in most species from this family, which consists mainly of tropical vines and trees.

Rossioglossum ampliatum, Oncidium luridum

The mimic: Various species in the Oncidium alliance with yellow or pink/purple "dancing lady" flowers.

Centris nitida on a Stigmaphyllon flower. The bee is about 1/2" long, native to Central and South America, but now naturalized in parts of Florida as well.

The pollinator: Various species of cute little stingless bees. The genera Centris and perhaps Euglossa have been mentioned. They have been observed gathering oil and pollen from many species, but they seem to favor the Malpighiaceae. What do they do with the "floral oils" that they gather? Various theories have been advanced: Perhaps they use it to waterproof their nests? Or they use it as an ingredient in making little cakes of pollen? However, many of the Oncidium alliance flowers that are involved in this mimicry do not bear "floral oils", so the pollination strategy is often termed "rewardless" or even "deceitful" mimicry. The bees are fooled into visiting the rewardless orchid flowers, and may happen to carry away pollinia that could be deposited on the next orchid flower that they visit while looking for the real oil "rewards" offered by the similar flowers of the Malipighiaceae.

But the story of the co-evolution of flowers and their pollinators has been happening for millions of years, ever since the appearance of the angiosperms ("flowering plants"). What is new in this small chapter of the story, is that it no longer makes sense to reduce the evolutionary mechanisms to the case of one flower interacting with one pollinator. Rather, the existence of mimicry in flowers implies interactions of multiple flowers with individual pollinators.

For the problem of how we think about the species of the Oncidium alliance, how they are related to each other and what they should be called, the story of floral mimicry provides a possible explanation for the situation that led to the reorganization of the genus Oncidium: multiple species of flowers, each finding ways to exploit the tastes of the available pollinators. If multiple species, having a general similarity, were to interact with one or more species of pollinators that already had a preference for the flowers of the Malpighiaceae, it would be possible, after many cycles of mutation and natural selection, to end up with multiple Oncidium species that had each found a way to produce a mimic flower, good enough to fool the bees at least some of the time. Apart from their floral anatomy, these species would be no more closely related than any two randomly-chosen species from the Oncidium alliance, even though their flowers were very similar. Thus we could end up with a disparity between a classification based on floral anatomy, compared with a classification based on genetic similarity. And that is essentially what seems to have happened. The orchids are teaching us about how life works.

But science is always looking for the next question, the next complication. Here's one that might need to be considered: horizontal gene transfer. We know that many orchids in the Oncidium alliance can interbreed and produce fertile seedlings. They rarely are caught doing this in nature, but if it happened even once, under the right circumstances, we might end up with a natural population that got some of its floral mimicry genes from an unexpected source, some distantly related species that might not even exist today. Thus, if we posit the existence of even a little interbreeding over the long span of evolutionary history, we might have to rethink our conclusions. In fact, something like this is now believed to have happened during the course of human evolution: Neanderthals, Denisovans, and no one knows how many other early relatives of modern man that apparently interbred occasionally with "modern" humans in the very distant past. Individual genes in plants could well turn out to have origin stories of their own. In plants, also, there are "jumping genes", plasmids, chloroplast DNA, viruses, etc. that might have served as vectors to introduce genes from one plant into another.

July, 2019

Got Sobralia?

Sobralia dichotoma at Machu Piccho, Peru

In many parts of Latin America, Sobralia is a common plant along the roadsides. Along the highways in Costa Rica, the roadsides are mowed periodically, but Sobralia, usually with either white or lavender flowers, grows back quickly, along with the usual grasses, Impatiens, ferns, etc. Travelers often notice these big, cheerful flowers that look a lot like Cattleyas, even though they really belong with Elleanthus in the Maxillaria tribe. Away from the roadsides, at least 150 species of Sobralia have been described from near sea level to at least 8,000 ft, in a variety of habitats. They include "the world's tallest orchid", Sob. altissima from the mountains of Peru; one of these plants was measured at over 44 ft. in height, although they are usually "only" about 20 ft. There are also some relative miniatures, about a foot tall, such as Sob. callosa. In between, surprising diversity. Perhaps this another of those "something-for-everyone" orchids that we should all be growing.

World's tallest orchid, Sobralia altissima. Not mentioned is how this photo was taken, if the plant was indeed 20 feet tall!

Sobralia grows terrestrially, for the most part. The species and hybrids that we find at our local orchid nurseries (Andy's Orchids has a group of them near the entrance) appear to grow happily outdoors in big tubs of bark and perlite, and when they get overgrown, the canes can be cut down and new ones will quickly sprout. The canes keep their leaves throughout the year, until the cane finally dies back after several years. Repotting isn't as difficult as you might expect, it does not seem to be necessary, or even desirable, to remove the old medium (some species don't like to have their roots disturbed). Rather, just clean up the root ball and gently remove or hose off anything especially rotten, and then place it back in a suitable pot and fill in with fresh medium as you would do with any other orchid. The roots are usually large and vigorous, and new canes sprout easily from the underground stem. They like a lot of water during the growing season.

Sob. Mirabilis 'Luna Nueva' grows in Long Beach, only pest seems to be something like mealybugs in the growing tips of the canes

Flowers are produced usually one at a time (clusters in some species) at the ends of the canes. The flowers often last just a day or two, but this varies with the species. Flowers of many species are unexpectedly large! Many colors are available, mostly in the white-pink-lavender range, but also some yellows, contrasting lips, etc.

Sob. macrantha 'Voodoo Priestess' AM/AOS, exhibited in 1996 at SCOS judging center by member Neal Crosswhite

The main drawback for growing Sobralias in our area seems to be that, when they bloom, they are too big to transport to our meetings and judging center. Nevertheless, someone manages to bring in a specimen plant from time to time. Another difficulty is that they can take up a lot of space! With a little thought and experience, however, most of us can probably grow a few of them, almost as a hedge along a fence or wall, or as a screen between sections of the garden. A big plant with many canes will likely produce a few flowers, one at a time, on several canes, off and on through the summer. For the rest of the year, the canes are not unattractive, the bright green leaves are pleated and well arranged.

Sobralia xantholeuca in situ in Chiapas, Mexico

Besides the species available at Andy's Orchids, and the hybrids offered by Cal-Orchid, another notable source is Ecuagenera, based in Cuenca, Ecuador. Owner Pepe Portilla offers over a dozen species on his web site, and he brings a wide selection of orchid plants (all bare-root) to the major sales and shows in Southern California (usually the shows at Santa Barbara, the Huntington show, and the Fascination of Orchids sale).

Sobralia mutisii

Enter the taxonomists: Sobralia has not escaped their attention! The genus has long been divided into "sections" (with Latin names). Recently, a study that included DNA sequence analysis (of only 3 genetic markers, however) produced evidence that the section that includes the type species Sob. dichotoma (the one photographed at Machu Picchu, at the top of this article) is quite dissimilar to the other sections (Przemyslaw Baranow, Magdalena Dudek, and Dariusz L. Szlachetko, 2017, Brasolia, a new genus highlighted from Sobralia (Orchidaceae), Plant Systematics and Evolution 303:853-871).

Sobralia pulcherrima

One option for how to proceed in the face of this evidence would be to follow the normal rules of plant taxonomy, and leave the section including Sob. dichotoma alone, and then to transfer the remaining 140 or so species to a new genus Cyathoglottis, the oldest available synonym of Sobralia. However, observing with masterful understatment that "such a reorganization could cause confusion", another proposal, originally made by Dressler, was to designate another species as the type for Sobralia, so that the bulk of the species would remain under that name. In the article cited, we read, and apparently this statement was not intended to be ironic, "Unfortunately, no further nomenclatural changes within the genus have been made since the publication of the proposal by Dressler et al. (2011)". Accordingly, these authors have advanced the notion that the type section of the current Sobralia should be split out under Brasolia, one of the old synonyms of the genus Sobralia, and, if the proposal were approved by the Nomenclature Committee for Vascular Plants in 2017, everybody could go home happy. Whether the decision was actually accepted, we haven't yet discovered, the report from that meeting has not yet appeared on the internet.

Sobralia citrea

The orchids are now a playground for the taxonomists, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. True, the names change faster than anyone can keep up with them, possibly including other taxonomists, and if these changes are done too quickly, they may have to be undone (as has happened with a number of taxonomic adventures among the birds). But it is probably better that all available species are studied by modern methods. Without active study, it is entirely possible that no one will realize how close some of them may be to extinction from habitat loss, or just how rare some specimens in captivity may actually be.

June, 2019

Orchids By and For Our Members

Cym. Woody Wilson 'Ann' AM/AOS SM/CSA

We want to announce a new project: a web page devoted to the orchids that have been created by South Coast Orchid Society members, or for which they achieved awards, or that were named after them (either the grex or the awarded cultivar). When we started digging into our history, it didn't take long to notice how many of our members learned how to create new orchid hybrids, and how to grow them with such skill that they won major awards. We began to notice, also, that quite a few of our members have had hybrids or cultivars named after them. But what has become of those plants? Do they still exist? Can we find them? Can we even find pictures of them? A recent visit to the Batchman family's nursery at Solana Beach, Casa de las Orquideas, settled the question. What was that big, floppy white Cymbidium on the other side of the shade house? It was Woody Wilson — a familiar name! Was it the same Woodrow C. "Woody" Wilson who was President of South Coast Orchid Society in 1960 and 1961? Yes! And there was a story to go with the plant!

Woody Wilson judging Cymbidiums at the 1968 San Diego Orchid Show

Woody served in many capacities in SCOS, including at least Treasurer and President, and then he got interested in judging. He worked his way up through Associate Judge to Accredited Judge, and made the transition (at the beginning of 1968) from Orchid Digest judging to American Orchid Society judging along the way. He was a tall, imposing man who took these things seriously and wasn't shy about expressing his opinions. His opinions, according to the Batchmans, were well founded and largely respected. However, when Loren Batchman brought in his new hybrid Cymbidium Woody Wilson 'Ann' for judging (that would have been around 1993), he found that some of the judges were reluctant to deal with anything named "Woody Wilson"! Nevertheless, this cross, Cym. Loren's Treasure x Solana Beach, produced some great plants. Loren thought it was the right one to name after Woody, a white Cymbidium for a guy with a stunning head of white hair. The clone 'Ann' is named after Woody's wife, who was also a member of SCOS. Nancy Batchman told us this plant is hard to exhibit, because the flower spikes want to droop, and the plant itself is much too big to grow safely in a hanging basket. But it's gorgeous!

Paph. John Hanes 'Red Star'
Paph. Tommie Hanes 'Althea' FCC/AOS, AM/AOC

There are other plants named after our members that are still in collections. John Hanes was SCOS President in 1955 and 1956. He and his wife Elva ("Tommie") were important in the early history of judging standards, Orchid Digest, and the American Orchid Society. They also produced some excellent Paphiopedilum hybrids, which were usually known as Cypripedium at that time. Eventually they ran a small business from their home in San Gabriel, "Hanes Orchids of Distinction". Two important hybrids created by Rod McLellan & Co. were named after them, John Hanes (a big, round red) and Tommie Hanes (a big, very round green).

It's going to take some work to pull all the information together. We're not even sure what form the web page will eventually take. There will also be a separate web page with information about our past presidents. One plant at a time, however, our collection of members and their plants will grow! Do you have a plant that is named after one of our members? Do you have a plant that one of our members created? Have you got pictures of either the members or their plants? We would like to hear from you! Contact the web master or talk to any of the officers at the next meeting!

May, 2019

A Surprising Connection:
Signal Hill Oil and the Santa Barbara Orchid Industry:

A chance conversation at the Long Beach City College horticulture resource fair revealed an unsuspected connection between Signal Hill and the development of the orchid industry in the Santa Barbara area.

Samuel B. Mosher with his amazing Cymbidiums at Dos Pueblos Orchid Company

Oil was discovered, in spectacular fashion, on June 23, 1921, when a test well on Signal Hill (then an unincorporated area on the north edge of Long Beach) turned out to be a gusher. A struggling farmer in Rivera (it hadn't yet become Pico Rivera) understood the potential of this discovery. He sent away for a government pamphlet on the method of extracting oil and gasoline, borrowed $4,000 from his mother, and founded a company, Signal Oil and Gas Co., that eventually became a huge enterprise. The farmer was Samuel Barlow Mosher, born in 1892 in Carthage, NY. He had contracted polio as a child, which left him with a "withered leg" (as he wrote on his World War I draft registration form), but he was strong and resourceful. He already had a degree in agriculture from the University of California at Berkeley. He was soon to be know as "the little giant of Signal Hill".

Dos Pueblos Orchid Company display at the Santa Barbara Orchid Show, 1953

His businesses multiplied and thrived. Some of our members may remember filling up at a Signal Gas Station. In 1942, he purchased Rancho los Dos Pueblos in what is now Goleta, just up the coast from Santa Barbara. There he built up a large estate from which he could see some of his oil wells along the coast.

Mr. I. Sherman Adams receives the Samuel B. Mosher Trophy from "Orchid Queen" Jean Schmid at the Santa Barbara Orchid Show, 1953

The rancho was soon in the cattle business and the nursery business. One of businesses created from the rancho was Dos Pueblos Orchid Company. In short order, he had several acres of Cymbidiums under glass. His staff developed methods for bringing Cymbidiums to market several years sooner than was the norm at the time, with numerous innovations for orchid culture and greenhouse management. The company was soon the largest orchid company in the world!

Cym. Harry's Beach 'Dos Pueblos' HCC/AOS

Mosher wasn't the first person to grow Cymbidiums in the Santa Barbara area. There were many amateur growers, and at least one or two nuseries were already selling Cymbidiums (notably a nursery run by Bert Kallman), but there was nothing on such a large scale. It was Dos Pueblos Orchid Company that turned orchid growing into an industry in Santa Barbara.

Conservatory at Dos Pueblos Orchid Co., circa 1961

Mosher died in 1970. Dos Pueblos continued as a business perhaps as late as 1996. And that is how Signal Hill oil money created the orchid industry in Santa Barbara! Mosher's other adventures are at least as remarkable. With further research, we hope to bring you some of them.

The forest of oil derricks is long gone. You have to know where to look to get even a vague idea of what Long Beach and Signal Hill looked like during the oil boom. But there were oil wells and orchids side by side in Long Beach when South Coast Orchid Society was founded in 1950, as revealed in this account about our first president, published only a year earlier:

Orchid Digest, September-October 1949, p. 473-474:

J. P. Spitzel

We are headed for a visit with Mr. Paul N. Baker, one of our newer members. Turning off Long Beach Boulevard at 37th Street, we are rather startled to find ourselves at the very edge of a busy oil field. Oil wells pumping, over there a typical little field office—yes, right here in the midst of it all, two greenhouses. Mr. Baker’s greenhouses are not at his residence, but right among the oil wells. At first this seems rather startling, but when Mr. Baker explained that his backyard at home is too small to indulge in his hobby, and that on the other hand he has quite a bit of time during the day to take care of his plants, it all seems rather simple.

As we expected, we found Mr. Baker repotting and he was making a splendid job of it. His hobby dates back to 1942. His first collection consisted of a dozen miscellaneous cymbidiums, seven laelias and three stray “catts.” Greenhouses were not available during the war, but there was a nice peach tree in the back yard, so the peach tree pinch-hits for a greenhouse and evidently fills the bill well. Such little inconveniences as moving all the plants into the kitchen when a cold spell was predicted did not deter nor discourage an enthusiast like Paul Baker.

Early in 1948 Mr. Baker built his first 10 x 12 greenhouse. Within a matter of months it proved too small and by November of the same year a second greenhouse, slightly larger than the first one, was erected. Now, six months later, plans are under way for another of generous size.

Overhead lath is used in lieu of whitewash. The plants look well. Mr. Baker has his own ideas on potting. He believes in ramming osmunda down real hard in the lower half or two-thirds of the pot, the balance is potted medium hard. He waters every week or ten days, soaking the material well; sprays overhead on every sunny day. He thinks that by pursuing this method of watering he can lengthen the life of the osmunda to three years instead of the usual two. In line with this thought he advocates the use of larger pots to allow for three years’ growth. Some of the mature plants and seedlings are potted in Ashton’s mix. He likes this mix so well that he is experimenting with this material by potting in a combination of half osmunca and half Ashton’s mix.

Another of his experiments is potting the plants in Yucca Cactus Fibre. The cactus fibre is a by-product of water conditioning manufacturers. He claims root action is exceptionally good. Mr. Baker is also attempting to raise the carbon dioxide contents in the air of his house by letting a layer of yucca fibre decay under his benches. He hopes to raise the CO2 to 0.04 of 1%. Normal is supposed to be 0.03 of 1%.

Whenever possible, rainwater is used for watering the plants.

Only one plant was in bloom; an unidentified seedling blooming for the first time, beautiful, dark reddish color, with five flowers.

We thanked Paul Baker for having so generously expounded his theories for the benefit of the readers of the ORCHID DIGEST and we promised to drop in sometime again soon.

April, 2019
No label, no name!

In Appreciation: No-Name Orchids:

The orchids sold at grocery stores and home improvement centers frequently lack labels. As orchid hobbyists, we like to collect orchids that are properly identified, if for no other reason than that proper orchid identification is required to win awards! Beyond the vanity aspect, a proper label helps us figure out what the plant needs for best growth and flowering, and we can use the label to work out the story of the plant itself: where it came from, who grew it, and how it got to us.

Nevertheless, some of these nameless plants are remarkable for their stamina and vigor! There's nothing wrong with keeping them in your collection if the flowers give you pleasure!

No label, no name!

Here's a nameless Oncidium, very likely a species, that was sold at Trader Joe's about 20 years ago. We're still working out what it needs to flower reliably (misplacing it behind other plants doesn't seem to be what it wants). It's not spectacular as Oncidiums go, but still very nice.

No label, no name!

Some of the Cymbidiums that turn up at Home Depot are amazing. There are a handful of clones in clear, bright colors, with strong, upright spikes (well suited for traveling around in a big truck). The flowers are well-arranged and last for weeks. The price is usually around $20. Here's a green one with a nice contrasting lip, which has remained vigorous for at least 15 years.

No label, no name!

Both of these plants have survived all sorts of neglect, bad weather, attacks by bugs and critters, etc. They come back strong every year. They surprise us each time with cheerful flowers when we need them most. Yes, we're going to keep them!

March, 2019
Rth. Love Sound 'Lemon Star' AM/AOS

Everybody Loves Rhyncattleanthe Love Sound:

Every so often a Cattleya hybrid catches everyone's fancy, leading to a flood of new hybrids as orchid growers try to create something even better. So it was with Cattleya Bow Bells (Black & Flory, 1945), Cattleya Bonanza (Bracey, 1949), and Cattlianthe Chocolate Drop (Stewart, 1965). One of the latest stars of the orchid world is Rhyncattleanthe (Rth.) Love Sound, registered in 1987 by Dogashima, and now the parent of at least 154 new hybrids.

C. briegeri

Dogashima Orchid Sanctuary, which had a research center, has now apparently morphed into Orchid Resort Dogashima, on the scenic Izu peninsula in Japan. At least a few years ago, the research center was active in the field of orchid micropropagation. The cultivar name 'Dogashima' is attached to about a dozen other hybrids as well.

Rth. Bouton D'Or
Rth. Love Sound 'Dogashima' AM/AOS

Whether all the cultivars of Love Sound are the result of a single cross, or if instead there have been one or more remakes, we don't know. Love Sound itself is C. briegeri (formerly a "rupicolous Laelia", sometimes a Sophronitis, and then briefly and perhaps still, for some people who really like double letters, Hoffmannseggella briegeri — but now, after the latest taxonomic upheaval, a Cattleya) crossed with an extremely complex Rhyncattleanthe Bouton D'Or, which has a total of 14 species in its pedigree, including three more from the old "rupicolous" group.

Rth. Love Sound 'Fortissimo' HCC/AOS
Rth. Love Sound 'Sayuri Iguchi' AM/AOS

Love Sound cultivars are mostly yellow with lighter shading along the middle of the petals, with deeper tones and often also a reddish blush on the lip. Some have subtle reddish flares or shading on the margins of the petals and sepals. The form is usually good, and the flowers last well. As a parent, Love Sound transmits these characteristics to most of its progeny.

Rth. Brassy Gold
Rth. Hsinying Catherine

Among the Love Sound hybrids, of course, is the inevitable cross with Cattlianthe Chocolate Drop, which turned out quite nice, with a total of 13 AOS awards so far, Rhyncattleanthe Brassy Gold. While most of the hybrids have produced yellows or peach tones, often with a red lip, there have been some exceptions. Several have produced semi-alba seedlings (e.g., Hsinying Catherine). Izumi Charm (two awards) came out with very pale yellows and a deep crimson lip. And we can't leave out Martha Clarke, now with at least 10 awards, and a wide range of hot colors, flares, and extremely full petals.

Rth. Izumi Charm
Rth. Martha Clarke

The Love Sound hybrids are still coming to market. Fred Clarke's current seedling list includes many new first and second generation Love Sound hybrids. With a proven record of excellent plants from this line of breeding, we will probably hear more from those seedlings in coming years. Who will find the next big winner? Maybe you?

Here are some of those plants that got past hybridizers so excited:

Cattleya Bow Bells, Cattleya Bonanza, and Cattleanthe Chocolate Drop

February, 2019

A Blast from the Past: 1966 —
Fifth World Orchid Conference, in Long Beach!

Have there ever been, or will there ever be, as many orchids in Long Beach as there were in April, 1966? Luckily for us, our President at that time was Lloyd R. De Garmo, highly qualified to edit the fat volume of Proceedings of the conference, and get them published by the end of the year. There was also some excellent press coverage. But a couple of pictures reveal the scope of the event, organized largely by the Orchid Society of Southern California and our own society, running from April 14 to April 17, 1966 at the Long Beach Arena. The entire floor of the arena was filled with elaborate exhibits, viewed with enthusiasm by well-dressed crowds.

Off camera, there were important seminars. It was a significant time in the history of the orchid business. Mericloning had only recently been applied successfully by orchid nurseries (the first one out of the gate was Vacherot et Lecoufle, in France). New developments in biology and technology were just beginning to be applied to orchids. Some of the presenters went on to distinguished careers in orchid biology, among them our friend Dr. Harold Koopowitz.

The plants, too, were undergoing rapid development. Many of the familiar names in orchid hybridization had their nurseries (or in some cases their personal greenhouses) in Southern California. Our members bought seedlings of the latest hybrids from these growers for as little as $2.50 (we know this from their advertisements in the SCOS newsletter), and sometimes grew them into fabulous specimen plants.

The big orchid party had its own beauty queen, Donna Ewing, of Long Beach. We're still looking for more information about her and about the party itself. So far as we know at this time, Donna was not an orchid grower, but she clearly enjoyed posing with an armload of the latest Cymbidiums. In those days, everyone dressed for orchid shows! It was a big occasion. It has to be said, too, that while the price of commercially available orchid seedlings was very reasonable, top quality plants were still only available as divisions. Cloning was in its infancy. Unless you knew someone who had a division to spare, acquiring an awarded plant could be an expensive proposition. Or, you could buy up seedlings from the latest crosses, baby them along for several years, and maybe end up with something amazing, as several of our members have done over the years.

Certainly all the local growers were in attendance, famous names such as Ernest Hetheringon. Our friend Dr. Harold Koopowitz presented a paper in the lecture sessions, and we understand our long-time member Dr. Norito Hasegawa was inspired to start growing orchids himself after viewing the exhibits. We would very much like to hear from anyone else who was there! A copy of the official program ended up in the collections of The Huntingon. We hope to have a chance to copy it soon. Many of the local orchid hobbyists and growers helped with the logistics as well: Clark Day, Jr. and Jerry Rehfield led the transportation committee! Rita and Herbert Crothers handled plant registration. Ernest Hetherington was in charge of local publicity. Paul Gripp organized tours to the nurseries in Santa Barbara. Former SCOS President John Hanes served as the Vice Chairman for Judging. Mrs. Hanes worked on program planning and facilities (that would have included arrangements with the Long Beach Arena as well as the Lafayette Hotel). Charles Bowman, SCOS President in 1958, 1959, and again in 1969, was the liaison between the Conference organizing committee and local societies.

As time permits, we will copy the list of judges who were pressed into service for this event as well. A total of 127 plants received awards, the details of which were included in the Proceedings. The top award by far went to Andy Yamamoto of Culver City for Cymbidium Orchid Conference ‘Green Light’ (Cym. Sola x pumilum album), a staggering 91.32 points. Perhaps not surprisingly, given the season when the Conference was held, most of the awards were for Cymbidiums. There were no Paphiopedilums, because at that time they were still called Cypripedium in horticulture! The awards also included plants that had traveled great distances to participate in the exhibits, including Vandas from Singapore and Malaysia, and a selection from the Oncidium alliance exhibited by Vacherot & Lecoufle, from France.

Cymbidium Orchid Conference 'Green Light', Gold Medal winner at the 5th World Orchid Conference in 1966, exhibited by Andy Yamamoto of Culver City, a cultivar for which SCOS member Earl Felt was awarded HCC/AOS in 1973 at the Southland Orchid Society Show in Northridge (this is the photo from his award in 1973). Congratulations, Earl! The same cultivar has received the CCM/AOS award twice, most recently with 90 points in 1982. Earl first saw this plant at the Conference in 1966: "Love at first sight!" He eventually got a division from Leo Holguin at Armacost & Royston in 1970. He still has the plant, at this writing in bud with three spikes.

We are indebted to Ron McHatton of AOS for an explanation of how the World Orchid Conference awards work: These events don't actually use AOS judging standards, and there are normally judges from all over the world who volunteer or are invited to judge the exhibits, or to judge individual plants. However, there is no uniform set of standards used for World Orchid Conference judging, and therefore the awards, while clearly significant, can't be directly compared with those made under official AOS standards by AOS judges. Hence, we don't find the World Orchid Conference awards listed in the AOS awards database. Nevertheless, the flowers that caught the judges' eyes in 1966 were clearly some excellent plants! We have started searching for pictures of the awarded plants and will add our results here at a later date!

There was some interesting press coverage, too — Ernest Hetherington came through with a nice teaser in the Los Angeles Times on April 10, 1966, the Sunday before the Conference, under the headline "Orchids to See and to Grow".

Tropical plants can thrive in the gentle heat and light of this atrium. Under the Hawaiian tree fern at left are billbergia, antherium, Strelitia regina, and croton with extravagant stripes. In the basket in Chlorophytum elatum variegatum, or the spider plant. On the tree in the center is a Denrobium orchid at top, a tiny bromeliad, several cattleya orchids and a billbergia. On the right, at top, are blossoms and boughs of plumeria, or frangipani. Also shown are several orchids.

Orchids to See and to Grow

This atrium is both a proof and a reminder—proof that you can have a tropical garden in your home and a reminder to go to the show which starts Thursday at the Long Beach Arena in connection with the World Orchid Congress. Two things are essential if you want to grow orchids in your home: humidity and a soft light. These are provided here by complete enclosure, like the old-fashioned bell garden, and by a sunshade of translucent plastic. The result is more than just a huge plant container. There is an illusion of a fine garden vista from every room which look into the atrium.

We suggest that you go to the show in Long Beach because the Congress is a kind of orchid World Series. The show opens Thursday, April 14, and closes Sunday, April 17. Hours are 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. The Congress, at the Lafayette Hotel, meets from April 15 to 19. More than 2,000 growers from throughout the world are expected for the meetings. The show is sponsored by the Orchid Society of Southern California, The American Orchid Society and the Royal Horticultural Society of England. Cymbidiums will be featured prominently, but there will also be masses of the better-known cattleyas and displays of the so-called botanicals. And there will be demonstrations of the propagating technique, displays on diseases and pests, and exhibits of corsages and arrangements—everything you need to know to start this atrium. Also, watch for next Sunday’s issue of Home magazine which will carry a feature story in color on orchids. Produced by Dr. Robert E. Atkinson/Illustrated by William V. Brace.

A few days later, April 14, the Times ran a story featuring one of our long-time members, Mary Ann Barnett (we will have more about the Barnetts at a later date).

TO ATTEND CONFERENCE—Fire Chief Jan Briscoe, flanked by Mrs. P. G. Barnett, left, and Mrs. Briscoe, admires Potinara orchid, left, and B. C. Katzimo orchid. They will be attending Fifth Annual World Orchid Conference at Long Beach from Thursday through Sunday, April 14-17, with county orchid society.

Pair Ready for Orchid Conference

Newport Beach – Members of the Orange County Orchid Society participating in the fifth World Orchid Conferens and Show at Long Beach Arena today through Sunday, Paril 17, will include Fire Chief Jan Briscoe of Newport Beach and Mrs. Briscoe.

Raising orchids in their two greenhouses is a hobby of Mr. and Mrs. Briscoe.

Mrs. Briscoe enjoys a wide reputation of having won many honors for her use of orchids in arrangements. She says that her chief love is arranging orchids in artistic designs for enjoyment in the home and for wearing as corsages.

White Cattleya

Mrs. Briscoe will be exhibiting arrangements at the Long Beach Show.

Another prominent orchid-growing couple is Mr. and Mrs. P. G. Barnett, also of Newport Beach. The Barnetts enjoy their private collection of 1,000 cattleyas, among which is the renowned white cattleya, the Mary Ann Barnett, named for Mrs. Barnett. It was bred at the B. O. Bracy Co. Orchid Range in Santa Ana.

A blooming Mary Ann Barnett plant will be featured in the Barnett display at the Long Beach show, together with an oil portrait in which the orchid appears.

Over $1 million worth of orchids will be on display at the World Orchid Show. International competition will be judges by a panel of 200 judges from throughout the world.

Society Display

Robert Green of Garden Grove, president of the Orange County Orchid Society, said the show affords “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to view such beauty in exotic settings.”

The Orange County Society will have a display at the show open to the public for a fee. The Orange County group has Sidney Lowery, Santa Ana, and Vince Scoggins, Huntington Beach, as vice presidents; Peg McBurney, Yorba Linda, secretary; Walter Belville, Buena Park, treasurer, and Mrs. Robert Potter, Huntington Beach, membership chairman.

The Orange County Society meets each third Monday at 7:30 p.m. at the Orange County Farm Bureau, 1913 Chapman Ave., Orange.

Finally, a long article with photographs of many orchids, presumably from the show, appeared on Sunday, April 17. As digitized in black and white, the photos are not suitable for display here, but we think they should still be in the photo archives of the Los Angeles Times, and we can probably find other pictures of the same varieties. We will add them here if and when we find them, but for now, we will replace them with newer pictures of the same plants! The article touches on many aspects of orchid history in Southern California, to which we hope we can return later. Here it is, errors and all, with our added footnotes:

We found pictures of only 2 of the 4 plants that originally appeared at the top of this article.

Orchids: the reward is worth the effort

By Dr. Robert E. Atkinson. The World Orchid Congress1 and Show now being held at the Long Beach Arena—it closes today at 6 p.m.—has focused attention once more on the question: Are orchids practical for the average home gardener? The answer to that depends on what kind of orchid you have in mind. Cypripediums2 are as easy to grow as African violets and need about the same care. Cymbidiums can be grown out of doors in the milder parts of our area. Cattleyas, however, require an atrium or greenhouse where humidity can be provided on hot, desert-dry days. The photograph above3 shows a group of the latter, which are, reading from the left, Laeliocattleya Jim Frazer, Cattleya intermediatee Aquinii; Laeliocattleya Lemon Drop, a miniature, and L.c. Gypsy Dance.

Paph. fairrieanum 'Not So Dusty' HCC/AOS (2001, exhibited by former SCOS President Ginny Worthington)
Phalaenopsis Clara I. Knight

Generally accepted as the easiest to grow of all of orchids is the Lady Slipper, usually called “cyp,” short for Cypripedium. However, these much-hybridized natives of Assam are classified as Paphiopedilum. They are distant relatives of our native lady slipper or moccasin flower. “Cyps” are having a renaissance and the trend is away from the speckled types toward the lighter yellow-green and the red or mulberry colors. P. fairrieanum is a dwarf species, while Golden Acres is one of the newest varieties. Orchid growers like “cyps” because they bloom before cymbidiums and when most cattleyas have faced, but their popularity is due chiefly to their freedom from pests and diseases, their adaptability to varied conditions of light, temperature and humidity, and to their compactness, free-blooming habits and long-lasting flowers.

Cymbidiums come from the Himalayas where they grow about 5,000 to 7,000 feet. At these elevations near the equator the sunlight is intense, and the nights are cool and the days are mild. No wonder they thrive outdoors in California! The miniatures are even more adaptable and, unlike the standard cymbidiums, do not require cold fall nights to bloom. All they need is half shade, plenty of water and mild fertilizer. Pumander, the Imp4 developed in 1944, was one of the first miniatures. Korintji and Pipeta (1962) have the added attraction of fragrance.

Lc. Chit Chat
Brassia verrucosa

Brassia verrucosa is one of the best known of the “spider” orchids. It is popular with all collectors because of its fragrance and the ease with which it is brought into bloom. It is a native of Mexico and must be kept under the same conditions as a cattleya.

Cattlianthe Loddiaca
Lycaste virginalis

The miniature Cattleya loddiaca is one of the bifoliates with heads of delicate flowers which are 2 ½ to 3 inches across. It was derived from a cross between Cattleya loddigesii with white flowers and C. aurantiaca5 with bright orange flowers. Yellows were expected from this combination but most are pink.

Southern California breeders have led the orchid world in such advances as cymbidium breeding, the development of miniatures, and the white bifoliate cattleyas. They are at the forefront in the latest craze for red orchids and showed the way in the early development of yellow, bronze and purple cattleyas.

Cymbidium Pipeta

Back in 1922 the variety Alexandria Westenbirt6 turned up in the nursery of A. G. Alexander in Tetbury, England, and great things have been happening ever since to cymbidiums, mostly in Southern California. It produced such hybrids as Jungfrau and Rosanna Pinkie, latter the envy of every hybridist the world over. It first bloomed at Exbury, the Rothchild’s English estate, and was acquired by Dos Pueblos Orchid Co. of Goleta in 1953. Progeny of this sire include Balkis, Nam Khan and many others. Offspring of Balkis include the sterile triploid, Lillian Stewart, the world’s most highly honored orchid of all time.7 Other tetraploid stud plants, Babylon and Pauwelsii, have been used by cymbidium breeders to create highly awarded progeny. In the development of miniature cymbidiums, the leaders have been Fred Stewart, Mrs. Emma D. Menninger, Dr. Lee Lenz, Mary Bea Ireland, and the late Arno Bowers and many others, all of Southern California. Miniature cattleyas, on the other hand, have been promted chifely through the interest of Ernest Hetherington ot Stewart’s Orchids.

Cymbidium Pelleas

Armacost and Royston of West Los Angeles took a lead in breeding cattleyas. Before World War II, B. O. Bracey was in charge of the breeding program and trained many of the men who became famous for their crosses, including Oscar Kirsch and William Kirsch of Honolulu, Hetherington, Joe Ozella of Hawthorne and Joe Hampton of Dos Pueblos.

In 1952 Ben Bracey formed his own company and developed L.c. Bonanza, one of the greatest orchids of all time. Ozella developed L.c. Lee Langford and other yellow and bronze varieties before he died in 1957. Joe Urmston, who died the same year, is best known for his work on the effect of length of day on flowering. He developed the methods of blooming cattleyas under lights used in commercial flower production.

Recently the white bifoliates, called “wedding whites” have been extremely popular with florists. The while exhibition cattleyas, derived from Bowbells and Bob Betts, outstanding parents of choice flowers, also came into prominence. The “semi-albas,” white cattleyas with a purple or red lip, have received renewed interest with Leo Holquin of Armacost and Royston showing the say. The search for red cattleyas started by Ozella has engaged the talents of such orchidists as Philip Ilsley of Beverly Hills and Frank Fordyce of Carlsbad, as well as Hetherington. No crosses have excited orchid growers everywhere as much as the red Sophronitis and Potinara hybrids and the offspring of bronze and dark red-lavender cattleyas. Red strans issue from parents with no red in their ancestry and geneticists are busy explaining this inexplicable phenomenon.

1.The event was officially a World Orchid Conference, perhaps to distinguish it from the series of Western Orchid Congresses.

2.In 1966, the plants classified by botanists as Paphiopedilum were still called Cypripedium by the American Orchid Society, the Royal Horticultural Society, and most growers.

3.So far, we don't have a photograph of all of these plants. Lc. Jim Frazer is now known as C. Jim Frazer (C. Labi-Royal x Joseph Hampton), no picture has been found. C. intermedia aquinii is a well-known splash-petal variety. Lc. Lemon Drop is now a Cattlianthe due to recent changes in taxonomy. Lc. Gypsy Dance is not registered, but it is possible this was an error for (now Cattleya) Gypsy Queen, then a newly-registered hybrid by B. O. Bracey, C. Bonanza x C. percivaliana, for which we could find no picture.

4.That is, Cymbidium Pumander 'The Imp'.

5.Cattleya aurantiaca is now classified as Guarianthe aurantiaca, and the hybrid with C. loddigesii is therefore now known as Cattlianthe Loddiaca.

6.The plant is correctly called Cymbidium Alexanderi 'Westonbirt'.

7.Was Cymbidium Lillian Stewart then the most highly awarded orchid? Within the realm of the AOS, possibly it was, but we strongly suspect it might have been surpassed even then by some of the progeny of Alexanderi 'Westonbirt', or perhaps by some of the Paphiopedilum species. Today, there are certainly many hybrids and species with more awards than Lillian Stewart, but we don't know which one holds the record. Perhaps we should ask the Guinness organization to investigate this question.

January, 2019
LADY WITH THE ORCHIDS — Lovely Claire Hammel, 3804 Marber Ave., takes a last look at her reflection (and very nice too) in a smart outfit from Dinel's before departing Wednesday night for the South Coast Orchid Society's contest in Bowling Green Clubhouse, Recreation Park. The orchid corsage, fashioned by Mrs. Paul N. Baker, proved a prize winner. The orchids are oncidium Tigrinum variety, or did you already know?

A Blast from the Past: 1950 —
Our First Bash!

The story of our first big party, on December 20, 1950, was reported in The Independent on Sunday, December 24, with several pictures — two of the "lovely Claire Hammel", elegantly dressed and with South Coast Orchid Society corsages to accent her beautifully tailored outfits from Dinel's Feminine Apparel in downtown Long Beach (long gone, and perhaps that's why nobody dresses like this anymore?), and a photo of our society's first President, the "oil man" Paul N. Baker.

(From The Independent, Long Beach, California, Sunday, December 24, 1950)

Orchid Growers’ Contest


In her hair she wore a gorgeous brassolaeliacattleya, Decorating her wrist was a dendrobium Formosum giganteum . . . and adorning her bodice was an oncidium zygopetalum.

If you don’t know what the gal was wearing just ask her. She will probably say “orchids to you.”

Your reporter, who can scarcely distinguish a phaleanopsis from a dendrobium, found herself slightly confused amid an ocean of orchids Wednesday night in Bowling Green Clubhouse, Recreation Park, where the South Coast Orchid Society staged a meeting and grower’s contest. Head of the society is Paul N. Baker of Long Beach who lives at 424 Windslow Ave., and as a hobby raises his choicest blooms in a glass house at 370 E. 37th St.

ORCHIDS TO YOU — Claire Hammel wears them in her hair and at her waist for glamor when she goes to festive Christmas and New Years parties. She is shown in a strapless evening gown from Dinel’s. Orchids are in vogue . . . if you can get them for formal and informal affairs.

But as the Bard of Avon so aptly put it, “What’s in a name?” To the uninitiated a cyripedium cymatodes is just as pretty as a cypripedium delanatti . . . it’s all a matter of personal preference.

Any orchid grower will tell you that there are 15,000 varieties. Fortunately for you and me most of them have common names such as “Big Festivity” designated by the grower as “brassolaeliacattleya.”

Wednesday night’s session was in the form of a contest for plant growers and corrsage making. Many of the amateur growers also excel in the art of making bouquets and corsages of their dainty blossoms.


Winner of the grand prize was Ann MacQuiddy of Compton. First prize for the best cattleya went to Genevieve Toy of Gardena; second prize to Nora Pino of Torrance and third to Mrs. Morris Holmquist of Long Beach.

Awards for making orchid corsages went to Mrs. Paul N. Baker, Long Beach; Mrs. Charles Atkinson, Balboa, and Nora Pino of Torrance. Mrs. Baker won all three honorable mention awards for making corsages.

Judges were Lillian Newman, Rosemary Short, Claire Hammel and Minka Zorka. Many members of the South Coast Orchid Society are also affiliated with the Southern California Orchid Society and with the American Orchid Soceity at Harvard University.

During 1951, meetings of the South Coast Orchid Society will be conducted each fourth Monday night of the month in Woodland Clubhouse, Recreation Park.

The site of Mr. Baker's "glass house" turns out be the location of a big hole in the ground, intended, we think, for a Jewish senior housing development, right across 37th Street from the Latter Day Saints church, just east of Long Beach Boulevard. Perhaps not coincidentally, the location is also close to the Petroleum Club, where for decades South Coast Orchid Society held its annual banquet and installation of officers each January. Of the lovely Claire Hammel, we haven't learned anything further, but we expect to spend some time on the internet searching digitized newpapers and Long Beach history sources. We were lucky to have such an effective orchid spokesmodel.

Caption for the photo of our first President, Paul N. Baker, from The Independent: BAKER’S BLOSSOMS—Oil and orchids are beautifully blended by Paul N. Baker, Long Beach oil man, who lives at 424 Winslow Ave. Adjoining his place of business at 370 E. 37th St. he has a glass house where as a hobby he raises spectacularly beautiful orchids. He is shown here surrounded by a few of his choicest specimens. He is president of the South Coast Orchid Society. Mrs. Baker shares her husband’s enthusiasm and wins awards for her orchid corsages. (Independent Photo by Fred Wilson.)

More about our first spokesmodel: Born Claire Leonard in 1914 in Seattle, Mrs. Claire L. Hammel had worked as a model in Portland, Oregon. She and her first husband Alvin M. Hammel were active in a civic theater group in Portland in January, 1938, in the cast of Idiot's Delight, a popular comedy by Robert E. Sherwood. They were parents of two children born in 1940 and 1944. Claire was interviewed in a Portland newspaper about being a "working girl" while being a housewife and raising two children. By 1950, Claire was in Long Beach. We don't know what became of Mr. Hammel, but in 1957 she married a second time, in Las Vegas, to Cpt. Charles Stanford ("Stan") Vose. He had served in World War II and continued in his military career. His children spend some of their school years in Seville, Spain during his overseas assignments. By the 1980's, Stan and Claire were at Ft. Bliss, El Paso, Texas, and she worked as an artist there for many years. She died in 2000. Her tombstone bears the inscription "Forever Beautiful".

More abour our first president: Paul Noble Baker was born in 1892 in El Modena, California. He served in the Navy during World War I. He and his first wife Muriel W. Sheldon adopted two children. They lived in Long Beach at least as early as 1930. His second wife was Maude Audry Daume. They were married in 1941. They had several children. During World War II they lived on Winslow Ave. in Long Beach, and Paul owned Shasta Petroleum Company, offices at 370 E. 37th Street. He died in 1961. His widow Audry, whose skill at making orchid corsages was one of the things that got our society started, eventually relocated to Arkansas, where she died in 1997. Some of their children are still living. As always, we would love to know more about our founding members!

South Coast Orchids Society newsletter masthead from 1958

About those corsages...

Recently our friend Brandon Tam discovered a trove of SCOS newsletters in the "orchid archive" at The Huntington Botanical Center. Armed with our little iPhone, we spent a morning with Brandon in the basement of the Botanical Center and photographed them. They have now been converted to pdf format and are included in the Newspapers link on this web site. We were surprised to spot this motto on the newsletters from the 1950's and 60's: Orchids are gracious living — wear them.

SCOS corsage materials: Oncidium tigrinum

Dendrobium formosum var. giganteum

A quick trip to the internet shows that orchid corsages aren't what they used to be. The popular flowers now are Cymbidium, Dendrobium, and Phalaenopsis, especially the lurid, dye-infused "blue" ones. We suspect the lovely Claire Hammel, Mrs. Baker, and all the rest of the founding members of South Coast Orchid Society had better taste — and they knew how to wear their flowers!

We are grateful to Art Chadwick of Chadwick & Son Orchids, Inc. for some pictures of Cattleya corsages done right. The archives are full of pictures of American First Ladies on inauguration day, but as that happens in January, everyone is shown wearing bulky coats and, usually, furs. The pictures usually don't reveal very much about the orchids, either, except that they were numerous! Perhaps more interesting is the picture of modern corsages in the style favored by First Lady Edith Wilson, proving it can still be done, and in good taste.

But we saved the best for last: the "travel corsage" fashion plate from the 1940's is definitely high style. The corsage uses the very best quality of Cattleya hybrids and complements the ensemble. We're not so sure about the minks draped around the model's neck, though, complete with their little heads, claws, and toothy grins. When you were very young, and some big-city aunt visited you wearing one of these little varmints, didn't it creep you out? Where was the model supposed to be traveling from? Maybe a weekend at a hunting lodge? Are you sure there isn't a shotgun hiding somewhere in the picture?

December, 2018

Plate 2 from Reichenbachia, vol. 1, 1888

A Blast from the Past: 1881 —
Cattleya percivaliana: An Appreciation.

Orchid fashions are cruel. Yesterday's darling plant may not end up on today's trash heap, but it often disappears from collections. Hobby orchid growers lose their plants through benign neglect, black rot, bugs, squirrels, rats, and other pests, or sometimes through accidents such as a failure of the heating, cooling, or irrigation system, a very hot day, or a sudden frost. And orchid nurseries tend to stock not the plants that every serious orchid grower "should" have, but, rather, those plants that are likely to sell. So it is, that the wonderful plant you read about turns out to be unavailable from any of the nurseries you visit.

Just one day after opening, the lip is amazing!

There was a time when Cattleya percivaliana enjoyed commercial success as a potted plant for the Christmas season. While everybody was delighted by the intense colors and intricate pattern on the lip (like a "Persian carpet"), the flowers were judged too small for the corsage trade, as well as for the highly-publicized exhibitions where all the awards went to huge, floppy Cattleyas, or else massive specimen plants with hundreds of blooms. Yet there was something about percivaliana that appealed to just enough growers to keep it from disappearing entirely.

Same plant a few days later, on tour at SCOS meeting

C. percivaliana came late to the party. It was not discovered until 1881, many decades after most of the other large-flowered Cattleya species. At first, based on only a selection of herbarium material (dried flowers!) it was held to be just another variety of C. labiata, or else perhaps a poor relation of C. mossiae. There was a brief flurry of interest from the cut flower trade, hoping for a big orchid that bloomed between C. labiata (November) and C. trianae (January), until it became clear that the flowers of percivaliana were only half the size of those of the best labiata cultivars. By 1883, it was published as a new species, and the famous plate from Sander's Reichenbachia: Orchid Illustrated and Described (volume 1) was published in 1888. The plate, however, does not do justice to the beautiful details of the lip, nor to the overall color and form of the flowers.

Safely back home, at its peak

The new plant proved something of a disappointment to hybridizers as well. The intense colors in the lip did not show up in the primary hybrids. Did anyone think of producing an F2 cross from one of the primary hybrids, in case the genes responsible for these colors happened to be recessive? Very few percivaliana hybrids seem to have had much of a following, but new crosses continue to be made. The lip is too intriguing for orchid breeders just to give up.

Two weeks after opening

Over the years, a number of "superior" cultivars have been discovered, including a few with much wider petals ('Summit', 'Meril'), alba forms, and some semi-albas as well ('Jewel', for example). Fortunately, it is still possible to find this species, and some excellent cultivars, at a few of our local nurseries. Recently, we saw divisions for sale at Sunset Valley Orchids and Santa Barbara Orchid Estate. And we spotted pictures of some excellent cultivars on Cal-Orchid's Facebook page — perhaps a sign of things to come! There are probably other local sources as well. Orchid nurseries, at least the successful ones, pay attention to what their customers want!

An alba form of C. percivaliana

This species turns out to be easy to grow outdoors in our area. It comes from highland forests (the Andes of Venezuela and, according to some reports, Columbia), sometimes growing on rocks. It can take a lot of light, provided it does not get too hot — so, shadecloth is a must during our hot summer days. The flowers seem to last for at least 2-3 weeks in captivity.

For further reading: Chadwick, A. A., and Chadwick, Arthur. E., 2006, The Classic Cattleyas, Portland, Oregon: Timber Press.

What should a percivaliana lip Look Like?

The deep colors of crimson-purple and gold, plus the strong markings, seem to be what makes C. percivaliana distinctive. But some of the cultivars (whether from nature or from the hybridizer's greenhouse) have more of one color or the other, and some have lips that are strongly tubular, so that the gold color and the pattern are hard to see. Which type of lip best marks what we want to see in this species?

BEST IN SHOW. Exhibitor Grayce Hecker of Canoga Park
displays prize-winning Leleo Cattleya “Bonanza” orchid,
for which she turned down $1,000 offer Saturday. Thousands
of orchid plants currently are being shown
at Municipal Auditorium.—(Staff)

Blast from the Past: 1955 — More SCOS Stories from the 4th Western Orchid Congress

(Long Beach Independent, Sunday, November 13, 1955)

Woman Rejects $1,000 for Orchid. By Ben Zinser. You can become an orchid grower for as little as $2.50, insists John W. Hanes, general chairman of the Western Orchid Show ending at 6 p.m. today at Municipal Auditorium.

“Really, it’s not as expensive as most people think,” he adds.

Yet something was troubling Hanes, president of the South Coast Orchid Society.

He paused before a Leleo Cattleya, an entry of Mrs. Grayce Hecker, Canoga Park.

“A back bulb for $200, perhaps?” the San Gabriel man asked Mrs. Hecker, who with her husband operates a San Fernando restaurant.

“No,” she said, smiling.

* * * *

MRS. HECKER had reason to smile. Moments earlier someone had offered her $1,000 for the entire plant, which she calls “Bonanza.”

Mrs. Hecker admitted she thought this might happen. “Bonanza” is insured for $1,500.

The plant lived up to its name. It took four of the show’s ribbons, including that for best flower in show. There are about 300,000 plants on display.

Bonanza is a king-sized orchid. Its flowers possess a deep iridescent fuchsia shading with a touch of gold in the center.

It was grown in a plastic greenhouse and is one of 125 mature plants raised by Mrs. Hecker, who up until this year was an amateur grower.

Mrs. Hecker is a typical orchid grower. She drives to Long Beach from Canoga Park just to attend meetings of the South Coast Orchid Society.

C. Bonanza (Bracey) 'Pay Dirt' AM/AOS, the cultivar exhibited by Grayce Hecker. If you have this plant, we would like to hear from you!

* * * *

SHE, OR HANES or any one of the dozens of others exhibiting orchids can tell you:

That when you say “make mine vanilla,” you’re eating an orchid. Vanilla extract comes from a tropical North American orchid.

That in the Philippines some of the natives use a butterfly orchid to make herb medicine.

That an orchid doesn’t have to be huge to be rare. The Ornithocephalus, found in Central America, is a dainty miniature botanical orchid. There’s one at the show, incidentally.

That orchid-growing gets in one’s blood.

* * * *

“THAT’S RIGHT,” commented a security policeman at the show. “We’re here to see that people keep their pocketknives in their pockets. Someone might want to whack off a bulb, you know.”

Most growers, however, have nothing but respect for an orchid plant, despite the catalog plea of a West Los Angeles firm which calls itself the “largest breeders of orchids in America.”

“First of all, remember that orchids are plants,” says the catalog, which is handed to visitors at the show, “Don’t be afraid of them.”

$1,000 for a prize-winning Cattleya? Hard to imagine today, but if we take into account inflation since 1955, the offered price would be worth about $9,400 in 2018 dollars! Times have changed, the availability of mericloned orchids has made these wonderful plants accessible to the hobby market. You can probably get a clone (or even a division) of an awarded Bonanza, near blooming size, for around $40, although the market seems to have moved on to more recent generations of big lavender Cattleyas, such as Norman's Bay, Amy Wakasugi, etc. But the reduced price has not made the earlier hybrids any less attractive or desirable.

Ctt. Adolph Hecker 'Lynn' AM/AOS
Does anyone have this plant?

But wait! There's more! Grayce Hecker, by 1955 considered a commercial orchid grower, went on to create a number of hybrids, mostly using her Bonanza. The most successful was Lc. (now Cattlianthe) Adolph Hecker, C. (now Cattlianthe) Porcia x Lc. (now C.) Bonanza (Bracey), registered in 1959. By 1964, she and her husband had moved to Las Vegas, where we found this account of further developments in the local newspaper.

(Las Vegas Sun, Monday, January 20, 1964, p. 14) HELPFUL HANDS – Our town’s renowned orchid grower, Grace Hecker, has her new creation, the Adolph Hecker orchid, colonizing California and Florida.

In Los Angeles, the largest grower is reproducing it in quanty as (to quote his ads) “the best medium-sized bifoliate to be developed in years.” (Bifoliate heck! – it’s a by Hecker.)

In Florida, ex-Governor Gore is using it as a parent plant for further experimentation, Grace tells us.

Adolph Hecker (the husband, not the orchid) took a plant of the species named after him up to Mercury to be raffled for a member of the motor pool up there, “Tiny” Hendricks, who had to have a foot amputated at the ankle.

The boys sold 50 tickets at $1 and the one who won the orchid plant is tickled pink with it. What’ll he do with it? “Become an orchid grower,” smiles the really tiny Grace, “that’s the way we get ‘em hooked.”

(Las Vegas Sun, June 7, 1966) — Grayce Hecker, who once won fame as an orchid hybridizer, still loves the beautiful blossoms. Recently she attended the World Orchid Convention in Long Beach, Calif. Ten years ago she won the top award with her Cattleya Bonanza Paydirt. I later wrote about it. Grayce reports that this year there was nothing near as good. Not one entry received as many points as hers, but she says it was a fabulous show and orchid hobbyists are increasing. She hopes there’ll be an orchid society here, mostly because she misses hers so much.

November, 2018

Fascination of Black Orchids:

Why black orchids? Perhaps it is the association of the exotic and the mysterious, something that evokes dark recesses of the human condition, both fascinating and terrifying? In the popular media, the first example may have been the silent film Black Orchids that appeared in 1917. The film is apparently lost — mercifully, if we can judge from the lurid synopsis that survives — but a stylish lobby poster remains. As far as is known, the black orchids in question only appear in what must have been a dim, grainy film, when the evil temptress Zoraida (Fred Clarke, are you listening? How about naming one of your black orchids after this character?) places them on the grave of her husband the Marquis, who, as it turns out, is not actually dead. So, these black orchids seem to have been irrelevant to the plot, though symbolic of something evil or even depraved.

But wait! There's even more about Black Orchids !

Black Orchids, synopsis: Marie, the daughter of novelist Emile De Severac, is engaged to famous artist George Renoir. Because Marie becomes very flirtatious with other men while she is on vacation from her convent school, her father relates the plot of his unpublished novel, Black Orchids, in which Zoraida, the protagonist, seduces many men. Sebastian De Maupin, whose son Ivan is Zoraida's current lover, desires her himself and thus arranges for Ivan to go to war. When Zoraida then dallies with the handsome Marquis De Chantal she enrages De Maupin, who tries to poison the marquis, but is himself killed when Zoraida exchanges the lethal cup. After Ivan returns from battle, he and Zoraida renew their affair, thus precipitating a duel between himself and De Chantal which ends when Ivan seemingly slays his rival. Ivan and Zoraida then go to a castle which De Chantal has bequeathed to her. Although De Chantal has been fatally wounded, he lives long enough to go to the castle and seal the lovers into an airless death chamber. After the story is complete, Marie resolves to pursue a different course in life. (AFI web site)

Black orchids were a central part of the story of the comic strip heroine Brenda Starr, resourceful and fearless newspaper reporter, struggling to be taken seriously by her male colleagues. The strip first appeared in 1940 and ran until 2011 (under different authors after 1985). Something of an overachiever, Brenda was always the reporter who managed to get the most sensational stories, frequently at great personal peril. Along the way, she chanced to fall madly in love with a dashing Basil St. John, her "mystery man". But he was afflicted with some unspeakable, incurable disease that could only be held at bay with a serum derived from "black orchids" from the Amazon jungle, and so he kept disappearing on what today would be called eco-travels. These black orchids look a lot like a large Cattleya, perhaps something like C. maxima. He spent a lot of time in a jungle laboratory preparing his "serum". Countless orchid fanciers probably wanted to go with him, your web master among them.

Dale Messick (1906-2005), creator of Brenda Starr, Basil St. John, and his black orchids, was herself a pioneer in a field then reserved for men. Somehow, she came to resemble her own creation. Art resembles life and life resembles art. As for Brenda, she found her way into comic books and films, but, as far as we know, never made it onto Broadway.

More recently, black orchids appeared both as a plot device and in real life, in the form of a sort of orchid documentary, The Judge, the Hunter, the Thief, and the Black Orchid (2012), drawn from orchid-related episodes that came to the attention of the film-maker Rich Walton. Among his subjects was our friend Fred Clarke of Sunset Valley Orchids, and his real black orchids. A review in the Long Beach Post (August 9, 2012) describes Fred as "an orchid hybridizer, one of a dying breed", but, fortunately for us and for the future of orchid hybrids, Fred and many other orchid breeders are still with us. We talk with them every month at our meetings, and at shows and sales throughout the year! The lurid ideas associated with black orchids (and perhaps also with orchid fascination gone wild) apparently got the better of the reviewer.

The reviewer also reports that Walton found "[orchid] societies themselves are not nearly as clandestine as one might think"! Evidently the black orchids are still inflaming the imaginations of newspaper reporters. For us, it is more a matter of trying to grow these orchids well.

Pasadena Independent,
October 20, 1955, p. 97

Blast from the Past: 1955

South Coast Orchid Society was barely five years old when it hosted the Fourth Annual Western Orchid Congress, November 10-13, 1955. SCOS was already meeting at 7:30 PM on the fourth Monday of every month, in 1952 at the Woodland Clubhouse in Recreation Park, and by 1955 at the Silverado Park Clubhouse. The headquarters for the convention was the venerable Lafayette Hotel at 140 Linden Ave. in downtown Long Beach, now an apartment block. Admission to the exhibits and lectures at the Municipal Auditorium was 75¢. Presiding was Morris Holmquist (Oscar Morris Holmquist, 1902-1990), a Long Beach realtor and developer, but at the time apparently living in Artesia, who was active in the little group of orchid enthusiasts who were responsible for the organization of various orchid clubs in Southern California. Holmquist served as President of the Orchid Society of Southern California in 1952.

Lafayette Hotel, circa 1955

At the Congress in 1955, the first Orchid Digest Medal of Honor, an award of recognition for "Meritorious Service to the Orchid World", was presented to Robert Casamajor, first editor of Cymbidium News, who had been chairman pro tem at the 1946 organizational meeting of the Cymbidium Society. Casamajor (1885-1960) was active in many of the garden clubs in Southern California, including the Camellia Society, whose members formed the nucleus of the new Cymbidium Society. He has the distinction of having a Camellia, a Paphilpedilum (he was well known for his Paph hybrids and his cultural techniques), and a Cymbidium named after him.

The Long Beach Press-Telegram (November 7, 1955, p. 15) reported: "Orchid Care to be Shown Parley Here — Demonstrations and displays on corsage-making and potting and care of orchids will be held Friday at Municipal Auditorium as part of a four-day convention of the Western Orchid Congress. The show Friday, from noon to 10 p.m., will be open to the public.

"The congress will open sessions Thursday at 5 p.m. with a reception and social hour at convention headquarters, Lafayette Hotel. Morris Holmquist, Artesia, will preside.

"Special convention events include tours of the commercial orchid-growing establishments in the Long Beach – Los Angeles areas, meeting of the amateur growers, tours of amateur greenhouses and a banquet."

Long Beach Municipal Auditorium
(built in 1932, it was demolished
in 1975 to make way for the
Convention Center)

Both Holmquist and Casamajor were involved in the development of orchid judging in Southern California. John D. Stubbings (A Short history of American Orchid Society judging, Awards Quarterly, 18:90-91, 1987) noted that "in 1953, judging was expanded to include quarterly sessions in California headed by Morris Holmquist, Jay Muller, Robert Casamajor, Howard Anderson, and Etta Gray as a subcommittee of the COA" [Committee on Awards, renamed as the Judging Committee in 1996]. By 1955, as a result of developments at the First World Orchid Conference (St. Louis, 1954), a second edition of the AOS Handbook on Judging and Exhibition had been published, and an AOS regional judging center, meeting monthly, had been established in Los Angeles. Although we haven't tracked down the rest of the story yet, it appears that SCOS must have been involved in orchid judging under the Orchid Digest rules at that time, since the article in the Pasadena Independent seems to mention those rules. And it has been a very long time since we saw an orchid corsage, although we seem to recall that more than a few them were worn with the obligatory floppy Cattleya facing upside-down.

Ernest Hetherington (March 14, 2004, "Introduction", on the web site of the Cymbidium Society of America, Inc.), quotes Jack Hudlow, one of the founders of the Cymbidium Society of America who spoke in 1966 at a meeting of the Society in Pasadena, Californa, as follows: "Early in 1946, a small group of gardening enthusiasts (previously members of the Camellia Society) were invited to meet at the Pasadena public library with the purpose to 'initiate steps toward the organization of an "outdoor orchid society" '. These invitations, in the form of a letter, were sent out by Dr. David McLean. Prospective members were invited to bring a Cymbidium plant for the exhibit table. The organizational meeting was held April 3, 1946. At this meeting, the following persons were elected, pro tem: Robert Casamajor, chairman; Roy M. Bauer, secretary; and James Wright, treasurer. About forty members paid a $5.00 entrance fee..."

So far, we have not found any press coverage about the exhibits, the plants and their awards, or other activities held during the 1955 Congress. Please contact the web master if you have additional information.