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Countless orchids spring up at Madison Place

Convention center bursts into bloom March 23-24

March 15, 2013

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Lisa Keinert and Roger Vogel, of Pontiac, examine an orchid display at last year’s Palm Sunday Orchid Show. As in the past, this year’s show will feature many intricately arranged orchid displays assembled by expert enthusiasts.

MADISON HEIGHTS — Not all orchids smell nice.

In fact, some really stink.

Bulbophyllum echinolabium, for example, releases the stench of rotting meat. The lip of the flower — the part that attracts pollinating insects — even has the rough texture and fleshy color of, say, a decomposing rat.

This is because this orchid wants to attract flies to spread its pollen.

“If you think orchids always smell good, you’ve never been in a bulbophyllum greenhouse,” said Paul Zimmerman, of St. Clair Shores, a long-time member of the Michigan Orchid Society. “In general, there are some that smell very good, but some smell very unpleasant. Some smell like you stuck your nose up someone’s behind.”

The Michigan Orchid Society hopes to demonstrate the appeal of orchids at their 59th Annual Palm Sunday Orchid Show, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. March 23-24 at the United Food & Commercial Workers Hall.

B. echinolabium is just an example of how crazy orchids get. Another orchid that bucks convention is Brassavola nodosa, “the Lady of the Night.” While one normally associates flowers with a sunny day, this white-colored orchid only releases its sweet scent at night, attracting moths.

Orchids, as it turns out, are far more diverse than the prom-time corsages for which they’re best known.

There are more than 30,000 species and 100,000 hybrids registered with the American Orchid Society, on every continent but Antarctica. Some grow on rocks or underground. Some are so small they’re nearly invisible without the aid of a microscope. Others resemble birds in a tree or the insects that pollinate them.    

They can take years to bloom but, with the right care, can be nurtured indoors. It is their sheer variety and all the intricacies of their upkeep that have turned them into an endlessly deep hobby for those who love them.

Workers Hall — also called Madison Place — is located at 876 Horace Brown Drive, south of 13 Mile between Interstate 75 and John R in Madison Heights. Parking and admission are free.

One-half of the convention center will be packed with vendors selling orchids and orchid supplies. The other half will be filled with displays that competed in the contest.

By the time the show opens, judges accredited with the American Orchid Society will have already checked the different displays, awarding ribbons based on the standards for each type of flower. Other factors include the orchid’s presentation.

Popular flower types even have multiple classes, broken down by color and spots, different specimens competing in different categories. Even the rarest of orchids may have two or three classes in which to compete.  

“I think it’s incredible that there are so many, and they’re so different, night-and-day different in looks, in growth patterns, in areas — some like it hot, some like it cold,” said Betty Clindinning, of Macomb, program and publicity chairman for the Michigan Orchid Society. “I don’t care how long you’ve loved them or studied them, and I don’t care if you’re a genius — you can’t know all of them.”

“And the fact is, you can have such beauties, like the corsages, as well as the truly grotesque, some truly ugly flowers,” she said. “Unless you study each individually, you’d never know how they were related, since they seem so different.”

From 1-3 p.m. each day, different speakers will have seminars on such topics as how to start growing orchids, how to re-pot them, and how to grow them under LED lights.

There’s a lot to learn. Zimmerman was first introduced to the wonders of orchids when his wife picked up some from a tourist shop on their honeymoon in Hawaii. They took several years to bloom and really impressed him when they did. He didn’t want to wait for more to grow, though, so he went straight to a greenhouse specializing in them and found some ready to bloom next season.

“And so the obsession began,” Zimmerman said with a laugh.

Now he grows and hybridizes countless orchids — around 1,500 in his basement.

“It’s a plant most people can’t even grow in their backyard, so when you see one, you want to grow it, but it’s a challenge,” Zimmerman said. “So off you go, and once you get one, you want more.”

The Michigan Orchid Society hopes to get even more people hooked on their hobby. Consider it a way to kick off the spring season.

“If you’ve never been to an orchid show, you’re in for an amazing surprise,” Clindinning said. “There are flowers you’d never see in a big box store or nursery. They’re all so different.”

The Michigan Orchid Society’s 59th Annual Palm Sunday Orchid Show will be at the United Food & Commercial Workers Hall — also called Madison Place — at 876 Horace Brown Drive, south of 13 Mile between Interstate 75 and John R in Madison Heights, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. March 23-24. Parking and admission are free. For more information, call  (586) 416-1496 or visit

About the author

Staff Writer Andy Kozlowski covers Madison Heights, Hazel Park, Madison District Public Schools, Lamphere Public Schools and Hazel Park Public Schools for the Madison-Park News.


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