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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Event shows off bounty, beauty of orchids

The diversity of orchids is what makes them so appealing. (Susan Mulvihill / The Spokesman-Review)

Orchids have one of the most exquisite flowers found in nature. Native to regions all over the world, there are as many as 30,000 species of them. Forty-one of them are native to Washington.

You will have the opportunity to see many different species and hybrids at next weekend’s Orchid Show and Sale, hosted by the Spokane Orchid Society. I recently caught up with members Jim Pearce, LaDonna Roles and Alan Alexander to learn why this plant is so special.

Charles Darwin formulated many theories about orchids, with a focus on how their flowers primarily evolved to attract pollinators.

“Many orchids have a fragrance – from a delightful lilac scent to the smell of rotten meat – to draw in the pollinators,” show chair Pearce explained. “The fragrance appears when pollinators are around. In some instances, that means the scent is released at night.”

Orchids have been used for medicinal purposes throughout history, and there are even edible orchids.

Did you know that the vanilla you use in baking comes from orchids? Vanilla planifolia, which is native to Mexico, is part of this genus and the species most commonly cultivated for this purpose.

You might also be surprised to learn how tough orchid plants are.

“They are hardier than people think,” Roles said. “If they knock a flower off, they are sure they’ve killed the plant, but it’s actually fine to touch the flowers; they’re not that sensitive.”

Pearce pointed out that orchids can tolerate a wide temperature range, from 30 degrees up to 90 degrees. He leaves his plants outside until the temperature drops to the 30s before bringing them indoors; that causes the plant to set the flowering spike.

The longevity of these plants is impressive, too.

Alexander related how his parents gave him a Phalaenopsis orchid when he went to college in 1963, and it’s still blooming and thriving.

“It’s now eligible for a senior citizen discount,” he joked. “But that shows if you treat them right, they’ll live a long time.”

New to the show this year is the addition of the Ikebana Chapter of Spokane. Ikebana is the art of Japanese floral arranging.

“Orchids have been used in arrangements in Japan for thousands of years,” Pearce said. “That’s why I’m glad the Ikebana Chapter is joining us. They’re going to do four arrangement demonstrations and raffle them off during the show.”

There will also be an orchid repotting and dividing station for show attendees to take advantage of.

The Spokane Orchid Society meets at 7 p.m. on the second Wednesday of each month (except August). They meet in the Manito Park meeting room, just east of the Gaiser Conservatory, located at 4 W. 21st Ave.

Susan Mulvihill is co-author, with Pat Munts, of Northwest Gardener’s Handbook. Contact her at and follow her on Facebook at