Orchid Disasters, Catastrophes, and Losses

One thing that all seasoned orchid growers have in common, regardless of their level of expertise, is a trove of war stories about how they “almost lost everything”. The power failed, the water line broke, the vents didn’t open, and so on. What is it about orchid collections that make them so prone to loss?

Like rare coins or Hummel’s, orchids are collectables and enthusiasts go to great lengths to acquire them. With 25,000 naturally occurring species and hundreds of thousands of man-made hybrids, orchids are the ultimate curiosity and no one can have them all. Some plants are proven ‘studs’ and can pollinate a stable of winners. Others have been recognized by the American Orchid Society and given prestigious awards. Still others are ‘heirloom’ varieties and may date back to the 1800’s.

Orchids are also highly perishable and, like most tropical plants, will freeze at 32 degrees F.  They aren’t too happy in extreme heat either although there is no magic temperature that kills them. Native to cloud forests where they receive dappled light, orchids in captivity can be baked beyond recognition in just one hour of full sun.

Hobbyists and commercial growers alike spare no expense when it comes to protecting their orchid investment, often building elaborate structures to house them in. Sunrooms, solariums, conservatories, atriums, and greenhouses are all fair game where the controls may be as simple as an on/off switch or as involved as a NASA-inspired instrument panel. There are back-up heaters, generators, fail safe vents, and alarm systems. The owners attend monthly meetings, subscribe to trade magazines, and participate in chat forums. 

Even still, the unthinkable can happen. Does happen. Almost certainly will happen.

Natural disasters provide endless fodder for the “almost lost everything” grower. The ice storm of ’94 that brought down the greenhouse, the record heat wave that cooked the foliage, the hurricane that blew the plants off the benches - all dramatic, and, arguably, unpreventable.

Less spectacular, but no less costly are the technology failures - a cracked heat exchanger at a phalaenopsis nursery that releases toxic ethylene gas into the greenhouse, or a faulty control panel at a local botanical garden that opens the summer vents during a cold winter night.

It goes without saying that spare heaters and back-up generators are a requirement for serious orchid growing, yet each year we hear new stories of near or total ‘preventable’ disasters. 

It takes a strong gut to grow orchids. The risks are many but the rewards are greater. A little preparation can reduce the number of “almost lost everything” incidents.

Sunday, January 1, 2017 - 15:15