Orchid Fest brightens February blues

Sophia Moorman, a 6-year-old, takes a photo in the conservatory during Orchid Fest at Reiman Gardens on Feb. 8. The “Orchid Extravaganza” display marks the first time orchids have been displayed in the conservatory in 10 years.

Matthew Rezab

A smile bloomed on 6-year-old Sophia Moorman’s face as she rushed toward the radiantly white moth orchid to take pictures with an iPhone appearing impossibly large in her tiny hands.

Sophia and hundreds of others visited Reiman Gardens on Feb. 7 and 8 to celebrate the fifth annual Orchid Fest. The event featured dozens of unique breeds and hundreds of individual orchids for sale and viewing.

“It’s been over 10 years since we had an orchid display in our conservatory,” said Sara Merritt, education specialist at Reiman Gardens. “We’re calling it the “Orchid Extravaganza.”

There were several educational opportunities for Orchid Fest attendees, from Orchid Care 101 to the more advanced phalaenopsis culture, moth orchids. The Central Iowa Orchid Society was also on hand to answer questions and give advice to orchid lovers.

Reiman Gardens members were invited to a special preview Feb. 6.

“The turnout was great,” Merritt said. “We had 235 people show up on Friday.”

Don Haugen, president of the orchid society, said he enjoys growing orchids as a hobby and interacting with other orchid lovers.

“[Orchids] are great because of their diversity,” Haugen said. “It can be quite a challenge. Some are easy to grow, but some are nearly impossible to grow.

Haugen said orchids are special because different breeds can thrive in different climates. Orchids can be found anywhere from the top of the Andes [mountains] to the tropical rainforest.

His favorite orchid he owns currently is a Masdevallia orchid, more commonly known as a Dracula orchid because the flower appears to have grown fangs.

“I like them because they’re strange, hard to grow and they’re fun,” Haugen said. 

The Masdevallia usually thrive at high elevation in cool climates, so Haugen devised a plan to keep his plants alive.

“I boarded up all the heat vents in the basement to keep it cool,” he said. “It’s pretty cold down there all the time now … I’m not sure my wife likes it too much though.”

Carson Whitlow, vice president of the Central Iowa Orchid Society, said that while some orchids can be difficult to cultivate, beginners should not let that discourage them from trying.

Merritt echoed Whitlow. She said a lot of people are drawn to orchids because they’re so beautiful, but caring for them can be tricky.

“The funny thing is that the prettier ones are actually easier to keep alive,” Whitlow said.

Whitlow, who has been taking care of orchids for decades, said the diversity of colors and breeds has come a long way.

“When I first started collecting, we had white, pink and white with a pink lip. That was it,” Whitlow said. “Now we have just about any color you can think of.”

Whitlow and Haugen said the Central Iowa Orchid Society is always happy to have new members.

The orchid society is based in Des Moines and has monthly meetings on the first Sunday of each month. Anyone interested in joining can contact any member or go to www.c-we.com/cios/ for information.