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Monday, Sep. 1, 2014

Simply wild about orchids

Sunday, February 20, 2005

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CHARLESTON -- When it comes to orchids, Mother Nature just didn't know when to quit.

There are 25,000 to 35,000 naturally occurring species of orchids in an endless variety of shapes and colors. The flowers can be almost microscopic to 20-feet tall.

Today, the number of orchid hobbyists is just as varied, said Bettina Moxley, an orchid enthusiast for some 15 years. And she is working to recruit even more to the cause.

Reflecting on her interest in orchids, Moxley readily admitted she really wasn't at first. Her uncle, she recalled, had orchids growing in his yard in California then she saw them again during a visit to the Botanical Garden in Washington, D.C. Maybe, she said, it was the visit to Orchid World in Florida that finally turned her interest around.

But to keep her interest blossoming, it took the Paducah Orchid Society. She credited the group with helping keep her orchids alive and her hobby thriving.

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Now, Moxley is busy preparing for the group's upcoming show scheduled for next Friday through Feb. 27 at the Kentucky Oaks Mall. Here, she and the other members will display some of their prized plants, sell their extras orchids and work to educate and interest others in a hobby that is rapidly growing.

"People don't realize how easy orchids can be and many live outside in the shade in our part of the country," explained Moxley, who lives on a Mississippi County farm.

While she said growing orchids isn't hard, Moxley admitted she made the beginner's mistake with the plants -- overwatering. "I killed it," she said simply of her first orchid. But she has learned since then and now babies and nurtures dozens of plants to blossoming.

An endangered species, orchids grown in the wild are protected by the government. In the wild the seeds are dispersed by the wind, typically landing in crevices of tree bark where they will grow. The orchids grown by Moxley and other hobbyists are created by breeders who patiently pollinate the various plants to create new varieties.

Whenever she acquires a new orchid, Moxley tags and numbers it, keeping a history of where the plant came from, its blooms and growth.

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Paducah Orchid Society member Bettina Moxley waters some of her many orchids she grows at her Mississippi County home.
Different from other flowers, orchids are not potted in soil. Instead, Moxley uses a mixture of bark, charcoal, sponge rock and perilite. Often the roots just take off on their own, growing outside the pot like scrawny fingers reaching out into the air.

Moxley insisted while the flower looks delicate, orchids are really hardy plants. Each summer she moves her orchids outside where they thrive in the Southeast Missouri humidity; during the winter they have a place in her small greenhouse.

And even when she has given up a plant for dead and has pitched the pot to the side, she said occasionally she will later discover a bit green leaf pushing its way toward the light.

Orchids are slow growing, Moxley said, often taking four to five years before the first bloom. "So if you make a mistake you won't know it for awhile," she said. "And if you can get a bloom you know you are doing everything right."

She credited the hobby with teaching her patience adding it is a chance for her to relax from her work as nurse. Moxley surmised: "Maybe it is going back to childhood and the opportunity to play in the dirt. I do like watching them grow."

While plants may be divided from the same stock, each is different. "They may bloom at different times, have a lighter or darker color. They are never exactly the same," she said.

As the interest and understanding of orchids has increased, Moxley said the hobby has evolved from the pastime of the rich to one anyone can enjoy. She pointed out the flowers are typically available at home and garden centers while the more exotic flowers come from growers or other hobbyists.

It was during one of the Paducah Orchid Society's "pot parties" ("That's not like it sounds," Moxley said with a laugh, "maybe I should say potting party. It's where we divide and repot plants.") where she received one of the plants she will take to the Orchid Show. Pointing to a trail of small orchids along a stem, Moxley explained the plant is called Shari's Baby. One of the few orchids to have scent, these flowers have the odor of chocolate. Her favorite orchid is her Lady Slipper. The plant won third place in a show in St. Louis.

While the Paducah show is not a judged event, it is an opportunity for the public to see hundreds of plants.

"There will be over 100 mature plants in an explosion of color, really a super thing to see," said Moxley.

For more information about orchids or the Paducah Orchid Show go to paducahorchidsociety.com.