Orchid Society plans world-class orchid collection at Phipps

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'The Orchids Society of Western Pennsylvania Inc. is a nonprofit corporation organized to advance the propagation, horticulture and preservation of orchid species and hybrids through research, education and scientific endeavors.

Just in case you thought the Orchid Society was a purely social organization, the mission statement proves it has a scientific bent, and it takes it seriously. To that end, OSWP is involved in several regional initiatives that the annual show, which will be held today and Sunday at the Phipps Garden Center, will help fund.

'An Orchid Obsession'

Sponsored by: The Orchid Society of Western Pennsylvania Show.

Where: Phipps Garden Center, 1059 Shady Ave., Shadyside.

When: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. today and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.

Admission: Free.

While many are aware of the "Pfun at Phipps" program, which provides volunteers for orchid repotting and other help with the collection under the direction of member Nancy Kline, in conjunction with Orchid Room manager Georgia Wahl, another important Phipps program, which was begun by Demetria Marsh, is called P-OSI, the Phipps-Orchid Society Initiative. It has the directive of organizing and cataloging the existing collection. "Phipps is very much on board with this," says Ms. Kline.

To that end, society volunteers have formed seven "tribal teams," based on orchid types, such as Slipper orchids, Phalaenopsis, Cattleya, to catalog segments of the collection.

"Every orchid in [the Phipps] collection was tagged and identified," says Ms. Kline. "Some of the tags had fallen off, and some of [the orchids)]had been renamed. Some of them were named as hybrids, so we honest-to-gosh counted every one of those orchids, looked them up on software, got the current names and got information on them."

The larger goal, she continues, is to have a world-class slipper orchid collection. It is also important that the collection include historic plants of all types, as well as more cutting-edge specimens, and in so-doing make Phipps an orchid destination. Also, by having uploaded the catalog to a master registry that botanical societies can access, it will be possible to trade plants between botanical gardens, much like zoos do with animals.

Plants that can't be identified are culled from the collection. These specimens, which are healthy, just unidentifiable, are repotted by OSWP members and sold at a booth during May Market.

Because of the project Phipps is now able to better target what to acquire in the future. "They really haven't made significant purchases until we developed the program," says Ms. Marsh. "OSWP guided Phipps in what we felt should be purchased. We helped set it up, but Phipps did the actual purchasing. Phipps has done a great job in following through."

"We have years of work ahead of us [at Phipps]," continues Ms. Marsh. The Orchid Society will also help research ways to improve plant culture and give additional guidance in adding some more difficult-to-grow orchids to the collection.

"On a national level, Phipps has a huge permanent orchid exhibition room," says Ms, Marsh. The OSWP just wants to help them take the next step.

The OSWP is also working with the Botanic Garden of Western Pennsylvania on a terrestrial orchid project. Terrestrial orchids are plants that grow in the ground, differing from epiphytic orchids that grow in the trees.

According to Timothy Choltco, OSWP member and a professional botanist, "They contacted the orchid society because they wanted to have terrestrial orchids at the Botanic Garden, and they were looking for a list of things they could work toward getting. We went out and assessed the area to kind of figure out what would grow. We've given them a preliminary list."

"There are about 35 to 40 orchids that are native to our area, and then there is one or two that are not native but have been introduced," he says.

While nothing has been planted yet, Mr. Choltco says that some specimens may be put in the ground later this year, which brings us back to the show.

The annual extravaganza, with the fitting theme of "An Orchid Obsession," serves to introduce these fascinating plants to the public and educate them about their diversity and culture. Exhibits boast an astonishing array of plants. Vendors are on hand with cultural equipment and plants. Free educational sessions are held on a variety of orchid-related topics, from "Growing Orchids in the House" to "The History of Orchids."

Members are on hand to answer questions and hopefully drum up recruits.

"We need a vital working membership who are excited about orchids," says Ms. Marsh. "We are happy to have people who are starting out. It's a wonderful active group of people who love the plants and who are so willing to share plants, ideas and knowledge."

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Post-Gazette garden editor Susan Banks: sbanks@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1516. First Published March 23, 2013 4:00 AM


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