Highlands Orchid Society promotes the love of orchids

They are elegant, graceful and colorful. Charming, mysterious and interesting. It's no wonder that people get passionate about orchids. In Florida, where orchids can grow outside, it's even easier to fall in love with these exquisite beauties that you can sometimes find hanging off a tree, growing on a piece of wood or even sprouting on a wine cork.

Locals who do fall in love with them often join the Orchid Society of Highlands County, a society that was established in 1994 and now has 250 members. Cindy Barber, the current president of the society, has about 20 orchids at her home, including the species Marfitch "Howards Dream" and Vanda.

Some members have thousands of orchids in their greenhouses, including the adaptable and easy-to-grow species: Cattleya, Dendrobium, Epidendrum, Oncidiums, Paphiopedilum, and other less common ones, including: Florida Butterfly orchid, Grass Pink orchid and Rose bud orchid.

The purpose of the Society is to gather orchid lovers together to share growing tips and learn more about orchids - from re-potting to plant problems to orchid types - as well as hold fundraisers that help support the society and help fund the scholarships for local college students who are majoring in botany or horticulture. The society also donates time and hosts orchid shows and other events.

Oftentimes an orchid lover gets hooked after purchasing an orchid or getting one as a gift. Their love for orchids can then last a lifetime as it has for many of the Orchid Society's members.

"Often the first orchid is purchased from a local store or nursery," explained Barber, an orchid lover who has a passion for the purple ones. "The first ones owned are often Phalaenopsis," added Barber. Phalaenopsis are one of the easiest orchids to grow and can be grown in low light, so they are perfect for inside of a home and out of direct sunlight. They also bloom in vibrant pinks, purples, blues and whites, throughout much of the year.

Orchid species, like other flowering plants, each have their own unique growing requirements but generally they need little water and little light. "Most people kill orchids with kindness and overwatering," said Barber who explained that it's best to learn about the species you own as the specific needs vary accordingly. Some orchids are best grown indoors, while others can tolerate the outdoors. Some can tolerate indirect light while others require low light.

There are many species of orchids in the world and in Florida there are more naturally occurring ones than anywhere else - thanks to our perfect growing conditions for them.

According to UF (2012), "There are more than 30,000 species of orchids in the world, and Florida is home to 99 of them - the largest number of naturally occurring orchid species in the United States. "

As part of Florida's agriculture, orchids comprise part of the Potted Flowering Plants category, a category that also includes poinsettias, roses, African violets and azaleas, among other flowering plants. According to FDASC, in 2012, the number of orchid producers in the Florida Potted Flowering Plants category was 23 percent of the total number of producers overall. Moreover, the Florida orchid industry generated more than $43 million in sales in 2011.

The Orchid Society of Highlands County has an upcoming Annual Show and Sale on March 29 and 30th at the Bert J. Harris Jr. Agricultural Center. Attending this event might just be the perfect start to a lifetime love of orchids.

For more information:

Orchid Society of Highlands County

Single membership $25

Family membership $35

Meetings held at the Civic Center behind the library.

On the 4th Monday of the month. January-November (December Christmas Party).

Doors open at 6 p.m. Meetings start at 7 p.m.

Contact them for further details.