Sultry and complicated and scandalously expressive, the orchid has a way of bringing out bee-like behavior in even the most sensible of people. (And on the flip side, making bees act a bit like delusion-prone human beings.) And friends, did Ryan and I ever swarm swarm swarm last weekend when the 70th Santa Barbara Orchid Show opened its doors. We drove the hour and a half north of Los Angeles and slid into a colorful — and goodness, fragrant — showground full of some of the most rare and spectacular members of the the Orchidaceae family, and all the people who love, grow and are driven mad (by desire, interest, frustration, you name it) them.
I read aloud from Susan Orlean’s The Orchid Thief the whole way up the 101.
In the middle of the recent heat wave, we headed to Earl Warren Show Grounds in Santa Barbara to check out hothouse flowers from around the world.
We were welcomed by this fragrant cascade of flowers: Cymbidium Langleyense = Cymbidium devonianum x Cymbidium lowianum.
From just a little ways down the coast, Orchids Royale of Carpinteria, CA, presented this layered display of Paphiopedilums. ‘Paphs’ are commonly known as lady-slipper orchids. (The full name is pronounced paff-ee-oh-PED-dih-lum.)
The tall pink and purple blooms you see here are Schomburgkia undulata, native to Trinidad, Panama, Colombia, Peru and Venezuela.
Where to even begin? Orchidaceae is home to over 22,000 species in 880 genera. That’s four times the number of mammal species and twice the number for birds. The wild diversity and sculptural (and often quite_uncanny) shapes of many of these (often epiphytic, like air plants) plants famously gave rise to the orchid hunting culture of the Victorian Era, when expeditions would trek deep into faraway forests to bring back rare flowers for collectors to display in their Mayfair drawing rooms.
We’ve been dreaming in orchids ever since. The blooms we saw included the mind-bending “slipper” shapes of paphiopedilums in colors ranging from throbbing plum to soft yellow, luxe downpours of cymbidiums, the minimalist spaceships of masdevallias, the “dancing ladies” of the oncidium genus, and light-as-air foxtails of dendrobiums, aka rock lilies. Then there was the bloom that looked exactly like a certain emoji. Specimens came from countries around the world — Japan, India, Australia, Borneo, Colombia, Ecuador and the U.S., just to name a few.
Miltoniopsis hybrids in foreground. This year’s theme was ‘Celebrate with Orchids’ in honor of the show’s 70th anniversary. Display by Gallup & Stribling.
We Snapchatted suggestive footage back to friends on the East Coast. (Just joined! Find us there at thehorticult.) The Orchid Doctor was in, and many attendees lined up for his advice.
“We are thrilled to share that for 2015, we had a record-breaking number of plant entries, as well as our highest attendance to date,” says George Hatfield, Board President for the Santa Barbara International Orchid Show, via email. “We take this as a sign that more and more people are becoming fascinated with orchids, and our mutual obsession with orchids is blooming!”
The muggy climate inside wasn’t that much of a departure from the heat wave raging outside, but beyond that, we were transported to a beautiful new world. Below, take a look at the flowers that gave us all the fevered feelins…
We were bewitched by this oxblood stunner: Paph. Shin-Yi Pulsar x Paph. sukhakulii. in a display by J. Sloniker.
And then we met, perhaps, its plump uncle: Paphiopedilum (Awasubihs Firewood x Ruby Voodoo) ‘Monsoon Fire.’
Hatfield’s display of pendulous cymbidium orchids. It’s the third year in a row that a pendulous cymbidium was chosen as Grand Champion of Show.
Cymbidium Saigon Beauty ‘Aurora.’ Display by Hatfield.
A mix of Dendrobium speciosum including var. hillii. Display by Santa Barbara Orchid Estate.
Rock lily and rock orchid are two common names for Dendrobium speciosum.
Orchids get a sudden, surprising glamour when they grow in lush stoles like these. Above, Cymbidium Dorothy Stockstill ‘Forgotton Fruit.’
Bill Robson received a show trophy for ‘Best Display 25 to 100 sq. ft. – Amateur.’
Long, spiraling petals and intensely striped dorsal petals give this Paphiopedilum Chi Hua Dancer a theatrical vibe.
A horticultural symphony! Display by Conejo Orchid Society.
Dig the gowns and coifs of these dancing lady oncidiums.
We’d like to plant a whole screen full of these graphic paphs.
Up close with an especially grand paph.
A hair-raising phragmipedium. [Insert scream emoji here.]
Dendrobium papilio ‘Rosminah’ AM/AOS by Don Brown won Best Orchid in Show. George Hatfield of the SB International Orchid Show calls it “an outstanding plant in that it has an exceptionally large flower for this species and has outstanding form. This flower is about twice the size of a regular Dendrobium papilio. It is also uncommon to see this flower in cultivation in the US.”
The uncommon bloom got a Gallup & Stribling trophy for its efforts.
We were also intrigued by the slim leaves and softer-seeming petals of this Dendrobium papilio ‘Rosminah’ AM/AOS.
This display by the Huntington showed the biology behind the blooms and won Best Educational and/or Scientific Display. Six microscopes were set up to help visitors examine different parts of a dissected Paph.
Side view of an orchid column, which contains the plant’s reproductive parts.
Be still our hearts, which leap for the stark blooms of this Masdevallia Sunny Acres.
Masdevallia Rebecca. The genus is called ‘masd’ for short.
Not your officemate’s phalaenopsis: moth orchids and Phalaenopsis OX Golden Apple.
Lost in a sea of Dendrobium Nobile Comet King ‘Akatsuki’ (purple) and Dendrobium Nobile Love Memory (white).
Doritaenopsis Chian Xen Pearl. Dtps. is an intergeneric hybrid between the orchid genera Doritis and Phalaenopsis (Dor × Phal). Fun, right?
Bridge over petalled waters. Display by Ventura Farms.
Oncidium Jung Bao Gold.
The textured, soulfully tonal Vanda Pure’s Wax No. 1.
A bird-like flock of Paphiopedilum Genevieve Booth and Paph. Bernice.
Epidendrum orchids displayed by Beauti…Florist. Hey, how did that tillandsia get in here?
A closeup on those epis. We have red ones growing at the base of our loquat tree.
Paphiopedilum Fanaticum (malipoense x micranthum).
Ryan gets up close and personal with this Paph.
Check out that slipper! Another angle on the Paphiopedilum Fanaticum.
Phragmipedium Don Wimber.
Paphiopedilum Fantastic World ‘Monsoon Cloudburst’ won Best Standard Complex Paphiopedilum.
Paphiopedilum Fantastic World ‘Monsoon Cloudburst.’
Paphiopedilum moquettianum. We admire the twisted, fuzzy petals resembling handlebar mustaches.
Rhyncholaelia digbyana is the national flower of Honduras, and is one of the most common sources of frills in hybrids.
Lycaste Abou First Spring kind of resembles friendly cartoon turtles, we think.
Dendrobium Green Elf x Andree Millar by H+R Nurseries.
Now to reveal our favorite display, by Andy’s Orchids. It was a box of small wonders, with spectacular and unusual orchids from South America, Asia and Oceana.
The display was awarded the Harry B. Ireland Trophy for ‘Best Display 25 to 100 sq. ft. – Open.’
Check out this gorgeous lineup planted by Andy’s Orchids.
Dendrobium aggregatum from India. How we wish we could grow this in some intersection of our home in need of glamming up!
Stark, spindly Dendrobium canaliculatum.
An Oberonia setigera and its cool ‘braided’ inflorescence.
The iridescent magic of Bulbophyllum maximum catches the overhead lights.
Seasoned grower/consultant Bruce Kidd was on call as the ‘Orchid Doctor,’ and it seemed like he was nonstop the entire day addressing people’s orchid foibles. We trust this man! We made sure to get our questions answered as we prepare to embark on our own orchid journey back home.
Gold dust! Andy’s Orchids had a setup in the retail section of the show, with potted and mounted plants for sale.
We took home an Oncidium flexuosum for a soon-to-be-revealed project!
Until next year!
On the hunt for more orchids from the show? Share and views yours on Instagram by tagging them #sborchidshow:
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