Not for Profit: It’s a ‘Golden’ Year for Orchids

Orchids grace a St. Thomas terrace.Back in 1964, a few orchid enthusiasts on St. Thomas decided to turn their hobby into an organization devoted to sharing and promoting the love of the exotic blooms. Now, 50 years later, the St. Thomas-St. John Orchid Society is still thriving and still welcoming new members.

“We’re in the process of planning something for December” to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of the club, longtime member and official publicist Francisque Roberts told the Source. That will be in addition to the two events the group generally sponsors each year.

“In March we have our grand show,” Roberts said. It runs all weekend and is open to the public.

Orchid Society members show off the best of their best in displays that are generally elaborate and often dramatic presentations of the year’s theme.

Roberts said she still remembers the theme for her first orchid show, 36 years ago. It was “Orchids by the Sea.” Next year’s will be “Orchids around the World.” She also remembers her first orchid, given to her by a founding member of the society, the late Walter Phillips.

The local group is affiliated with the American Orchid Society, and the national organization sends certified judges to evaluate the displays and the flowers in them. Competition is real, but friendly.

“Everybody grooms their plants” with an eye toward the show, Roberts said, but you can’t rely on an orchid to bloom exactly when you want it. What you can rely on is support from the club. So when necessary, members loan one another plants to fill up their displays.

In October each year, the society sponsors a one-day event that also features local displays but without the competition. The event is more of a workshop than a show. Attendees can buy plants, pots and medium, get their orchids repotted, and get advice on the care and feeding of their plants. This year’s event, “Landscaping with Orchids” will be Oct. 25, presided over by the society’s president, Norma Jackson Burke, who has hundreds of orchids in the yard of her Tutu home.

Burke has been a member “since 1972, I think,” she said. She was invited to join not long after she opened her business, Jackson Flowers. Originally from St. Croix, she moved to St. Thomas in 1965.

Orchids are her specialty, she not only grows hundreds in pots, she uses them as cut flowers in floral arrangements.

“My favorite are dendrobium, (the type with multiple, small blossoms on a long stalk) but I never met an orchid that I don’t like,” she said.

Society members meet the second Sunday of each month – except August – at one or another member’s home. There’s generally a talk about a particular type of orchid and then there is sharing. At the “problem corner,” members advise one another on tricky situations.

“We all are ‘doctors’ and ‘nurses’ “ for the plants, Burke said.

Novices often make the mistake of overwatering plants, she said. Most orchids require very little water. “Sometimes controlled neglect is the best method,” for dealing with an orchid.

Roberts agreed, saying she can leave hers without water for up to a week with no problem.

But like any plant, they do require attention. Some do well in direct sunlight, some in partial shade and some in very little light.

You need to check them for such pests as mites and aphids and for rot, Roberts said. She uses alcohol to clean off white mites and is careful to dispose of both the tissue she uses and the gloves she wears immediately because mites spread easily. “I have the trash right there.”

Both women stressed that you don’t have to be an expert to join the Orchid Society, nor do you have to own even one plant.

“The only criterium is that you love orchids,” Burke said.

Annual dues are $40, and a lifetime membership is $150. Those interested can learn more by calling Roberts at 1-340-690-4129.

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