Your contributions to Como Friends and a generous community keeps the flower power growing in Marjorie McNeely Conservatory’s orchid collection

In a St. Paul tradition as reliable as Vulcanus Rex and his crew, visitors queued up in the cold outside the Como Visitor Center the last weekend in January to enjoy a glimpse of the tropical orchids chosen for top honors at the Winter Carnival Orchid Show.

Celebrating its 43rd year, the Midwest’s premiere orchid event attracted more than 5,000 visitors who came to marvel at the blue-ribbon blooms and take home tips for growing orchids at home.

Did You Know?

  • There are 25,000 flower species in the family Orchidacea, and scientists believe there are many more species in the tropics yet to be discovered.
  • Como’s Orchid greenhouse, next to the Fern Room, was unveiled in 2005 as part of the opening of the Visitor Center and Tropical Encounters.
  • Contributions to Como Friends help provide the funding necessary for horticulturists at the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory to acquire new and unusual orchid species for the collection, one of the largest in the Midwest.

The Marjorie McNeely Conservatory won best of class for an open exhibit, and earned an American Orchid Society Show Trophy and Silver Award.

“Orchids are very alluring to collectors because there’s a little bit of a mystique attached to being able to grow plants that seem so exotic and that are so strongly associated with the tropics,” horticulturist Bryn Fleming says about the enduring popularity of the orchid. Not only are hardy commercially-available  Phalaenopsis orchids encouraging many entry-level gardeners to grow them successfully, “living in a cold climate like Minnesota, I think it’s exciting for people when they think ‘This plant should be in Borneo or the Amazon, but I got it to flower in my kitchen!’ ” 

Como’s horticultural staff displayed 91 orchids and entered 55 of its best specimens for judging in the American Orchid Society sanctioned competition, earning a total of 31 ribbons–including 11 first place, 12 second place and eight third place rankings.  The Marjorie McNeely Conservatory also won best of class for an open exhibit, and earned an American Orchid Society Show Trophy and Silver Award.


Laelia anceps var. dawsonii ‘Jo Bailey’

Two plants in Como’s specimen collection were also awarded Certificates of Cultural Merit (CCM) by the American Orchid Society: Prosthechea sima ‘Marla Ordway’ and Laelia anceps var. dawsonii ‘Jo Bailey’, both named for former Como Friends board members and long-time supporters of Como Park Zoo and Conservatory.

Contributions to Como Friends were critical to helping Como’s orchid collection reflower after horticulture staff detected signs of Cymbidium Mosaic Virus and Odontoglossum Ringspot Virus, two common orchid viruses. Further testing funded by Como Friends found that one or both of the viruses were present in nearly 700 individual plants, which had to be removed from Como’s Orchid Collection. “We lost about half of the collection, sadly, but we’ve enjoyed an outpouring of support from members of the Orchid Society of Minnesota and Como Friends, which have helped to recoup some of the species we lost, and to acquire new ones as well,” says Fleming.


Prosthechea sima ‘Marla Ordway’

Inspired to grow your own? Fleming says start by identifying the conditions you can recreate in your own home, and then look for orchid species that are right for the setting. “Even at Como, we don’t have the right conditions to grow the kind of orchids you’d see in a cloud forest, with 60 degree temperatures and 90 percent humidity,” she says. “Start with plants that will be content with the conditions you can supply and then grow from there.”


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