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Already wide, varied, legend of orchids sure to grow larger

The exotic blossoms of orchids, like Paphiopedilums, are the primary reason gardeners enjoy growing them. (Susan Mulvihill)
The exotic blossoms of orchids, like Paphiopedilums, are the primary reason gardeners enjoy growing them. (Susan Mulvihill)

Did you know that the vanilla extract we commonly use in baking comes from an orchid plant? Or that some orchids employ sneaky methods to get pollinated?

You will learn these and many other interesting facts by attending the Spokane Orchid Society’s annual Orchid Show and Sale. It will be Saturday and March 24 at the Southside Community Center, 3151 E. 27th Ave., on Spokane’s South Hill.

Showgoers will have the opportunity to view hundreds of exotic orchids, in sizes from very large to tiny. There will be vendors from around the Northwest selling orchids or orchid art, and there will be demonstrations and seminars on how to grow and maintain orchids. Experts will be on hand to answer questions.

I recently caught up with Spokane Orchid Society President Erin Nelson and show chairman Jim Pearce to learn more about this amazing plant.

“There’s such a mystique surrounding orchids,” Nelson said. “I think people like them because they’re tropical plants that bloom during the wintertime when the weather is gross outside. The flowers bloom for a long time and some have wonderful fragrances, too.”

The theme for this year’s show is the seduction of orchids and how they use mimicry to attract pollinators.

Some have probably heard tales about an orchid that smells like something has died.

“Bulbophyllum phalaenopsis is the most odiferous orchid that looks and smells like a dead animal. It uses this scent to lure in pollinators,” Nelson said.

She added that this unusual orchid is easy to grow but I don’t know if many folks would care to bring it into their homes. Fortunately, there are pleasant-smelling orchids beginners should consider.

For example, Nelson told me Gongora orchids smell like vanilla and have flowers that look like wasps.

“The flowers contain compounds smelling like a queen bee that is ready to mate and have a trigger mechanism that shoots a pollen-laden harpoon,” she said.

Other fragrant, easy-to-grow orchids include Epidendrum and Zygopetalum.

Nelson, who is the owner of the online business Small Hill Orchids (, will be bringing miniature orchids and poisonous dart frogs in terrariums to the show.

Because those attending the show will have the opportunity to see and purchase so many different types of orchids, it wouldn’t hurt to bring along a shopping list.

Nelson and Pearce suggested the following types of orchids that are easy to grow on window sills:

Phalaenopsis (Moth orchid) – has low to medium light requirements; several blossoms per flower spike; broad, strappy leaves.

Paphiopedilum (Lady’s Slipper) – requires less light than most orchids; has exotic, long-lasting flowers with pouches.

Cattleya (Corsage orchid) – prefers bright light year-round and warm temperatures.

Oncidium (Dancing Ladies orchid) – has high light requirements but will tolerate cooler temperatures; most have multiple flowers on arching stems.

Dendrobium (Spray or Lei orchid) – prefers bright light year-round; some have flowers with a fruity fragrance.

Susan Mulvihill can be reached via email at Visit her blog at for more gardening information, tips and events.