Como’s Orchid Collection Makes a Healthy Recovery

Come and see some of the most beautiful orchids in the upper Midwest at Como’s Winter Carnival Orchid Show, coming January 29 and 30.

Did you know that plants are vulnerable to viruses, too? After losing hundreds of collection plants to orchid viruses several years ago, the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory’s Orchid Collection is making a recovery thanks to your support for Como Friends.

As Como prepares for the Winter Carnival Orchid Show coming January 29-30, we talked with horticulturist Bryn Fleming (pictured above) about what it takes to keep Como’s extraordinary orchid collection healthy and growing.

Viruses affect animals and plants, including orchids. How have viruses had an impact on Como’s orchid collection?

Several years ago, we discovered that a number of our orchids were infected with Odontoglossum ringspot virus and Cymbidium mosaic virus and we used a grant from Como Friends to purchase test kits for the entire collection. Out of about 1,600 plants, nearly 40 percent were infected and had to be destroyed. It’s tough to throw away a plant that looks great and isn’t symptomatic, but we chose to do it to keep the rest of the collection healthy.

What kinds of orchids did you lose, and what have you done to replace them?

Unfortunately, the plants we lost tended to be plants we’d had a long time, because the viruses spread really easily through human contact—on hands, tools, and even workbenches. But in the last few years, we’ve been concentrating on promoting the diversity of the collection, and have acquired some very interesting species that homegrowers might not regularly see—including some miniature plants that people might not even recognize as orchids right away.

What will be on display at the Winter Carnival Orchid Show?

It’s hard to say until the days before the show. While there are some plants that are reliable bloomers, every year is a little different because of the temperature or how cloudy or sunny it’s been. Some of the plants I was hoping to display have already bloomed, and others won’t be ready, so we kind of have to let the orchids decide what they’re going to do. But we typically have about 70 to 80 plants on display in the Fern Room.

This show attracts a lot of serious orchid lovers, and it often inspires people to take up orchid growing. What’s your best advice to new and novice orchid growers?

Because orchids are such a diverse plant family, you should look for plants that are adaptable to your household conditions. It’s a matter of being aware of the climate you have or can create, like how much light can you provide? Do you keep your house cool at night? If you put something near the window is it going to be vulnerable to drafts and cold? Can you increase humidity, or use a terrarium? A lot of beginners start with phalaenopsis because they’re affordable and super tolerant. If you forget to water them and they’re a little droopy, they can often revive. Many orchids are surprisingly tolerant, so if you have a good awareness of what your conditions are, you can find an orchid that matches that environment. The American Orchid Society has a wonderful website (https://www.aos.org/) that’s a great resource for finding out more about different types of plants. With more than 30,000 species of orchids, and over 100,000 hybrids there’s so much to choose from!

Come and see some of the most beautiful orchids in the upper Midwest at Como’s Winter Carnival Orchid Show, coming January 29 and 30. Advance ticket purchases are required for this year’s show, one of St. Paul’s favorite Winter Carnival traditions. Click link below to purchase tickets.

Admission into the Conservatory for Winter Carnival Orchid Show weekend will be $5 for adults, and $4 for Como Friends Members, seniors 55+, and children under 12. To promote safe social distancing, guests will enter the Conservatory through the Japanese Garden Gates. A one-way walking path through the Orchid Show will exit at the main Visitor Center door, where those attending the Orchid Show may go on to explore Como Zoo. Prepayment by credit card and advanced reservations will be required.

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