Revelling in exotic blooms

Revelling in exotic blooms

Floral charisma Often described as the most beautiful flowers in the world, orchids constitute one of the fastest growing segments of the floriculture industry. Their popularity has increased steadily, attracting people from all walks of life, writes Deepika Nidige.

An orchid by any other name would smell as sweet, wouldn’t it? And it would also look as beautiful and have as many enthusiastic followers as well. For it is a flower with numerous complexities that add to its beauty and elegance. The Orchidaceae form a large and diverse family of flowering plants. What is, however, interesting to note is that there are many growers of orchids in the state, who look at it as more than a hobby. It is an everyday affair, almost a ritual for them.

For many orchid enthusiasts in Karnataka, their tryst with the flower began two to three decades ago. Take Sandhya Shroff, for instance. She was introduced to orchids by her in-laws close to 30 years ago. There wasn’t much knowledge or awareness about orchids back then. A few years later, they began gathering some more knowledge about orchids and slowly got to know more about them. Stalls that are generally put up in Lal Bagh in Bengaluru during flower shows were the precursors. This led to them meeting orchid experts and piqued their interests further; so they obtained saplings from Indo-American Hybrid Seeds in Bengaluru. There has been no looking back since.

For the love of orchids
Nalini Kottolli has a similar story to share. Her cosy home in Bengaluru has myriad varieties of orchids. You’d be amazed how she tends to each of these plants, fully knowing their names, needs and yields. “Smell this flower,” she tells me excitedly, as she points to a particularly dainty-looking pink-petalled one. “Can you tell what it is,” she asks. When I nod my head in a nay, “It’s cadbury,” I hear, and then, I can smell the flower exuding chocolate-like fragrance! This is only the beginning of what I began to learn more about this fascinating species of flora. Nalini has over 25 varieties of orchids in her home. She looks after them like they are her own children. Of course, it is but obvious. She is, after all, the vice-president of the The
Orchid Society of Karnataka (Toskar).

Toskar is the fructification of the combined efforts of several orchid enthusiasts across Karnataka, that came together in the year 2005. The main focus of the society is to promote awareness about orchids, get more people to grow them, and obtain plants for those interested. Orchids are mostly procured from Kerala and sometimes, from parts of the North-East; more exotic varieties are got from Thailand. The society also holds  bi-monthly meetings, where all the members come together to discuss progress with their orchids and exchange ideas. There are usually talks by experts in the field on how best to grow these flowers. The society has also been organising orchid flower shows for the last three years.

At the outset, this might all sound attractive to you, making you wonder if you should look towards getting these plants home. But all is not rosy with orchids. Let’s look at a back story. Asha Sheshadri is an agriculturalist from Thirthahalli in Shivamogga district. They are mainly growers of rubber, vanilla and arecanut. In 2004, they began growing orchids for ornamental purposes, and that soon turned into commercial cultivation.

When it came to flowers, they mostly grew anthuriums and dandelions. Phalaenopsis is the variety of orchids they mostly grow across half acre of their farm. Compared with many other flowers, growing orchids on a large scale basis is relatively simpler, Asha says. The growth is slow and it does not require much water to grow. The plants bear flowers twice a year and they last up to two months. However, the method and medium of growing orchids is different. Barks of trees, along with charcoal and coir are used as a medium. This is so that they can retain the optimum amount of moisture. The most commonly affecting disease is the fungus (mostly due to over watering). “It is not an easy practice. There is not much demand for flowers in rural areas. So to make sales, we have to export them to metros,” Asha explains.

While growing orchids on a commercial basis may not be too difficult, keeping them at home is a high maintenance affair. They require constant care, regular pruning and attention to detail. You might even end up spending quite a bit on them. So why orchids then? “I’ve been asked this question before,” laughs Sandhya. “It’s hard to explain. Orchids are uniquely fascinating. It draws you to itself. There is some character in the flowers that makes you addicted,” she explains. Of course, sharing her sentiments is Nageshwar M, calling whom an enthusiast would be an understatement.

Nageshwar’s home, nestled in the midst of south Bengaluru has an entire terrace dedicated to orchids. He has mounted some of them on wood and for the rest, there is an entire greenhouse dedicated. Some are in pots, some in fern barks and some don’t even need a medium to grow in. What is even more fascinating about this is that his entire greenhouse system is automated.

A melody greets you as soon as you walk in to the terrace. Then you can spot fans, foggers, exhaust fans, solenoid valves and reverse osmosis systems; sprinklers that have been timed to  water the plants at regular intervals. Nageshwar has automated the entire system. Ariedies, Dendrobium, Oncidium, Paphiopedilum, Cattleya, Encyclia, Bulbophylum, Vandas, Cymbidiums, Masdevallia (also called as Monkey Orchid) are some of the varieties he grows at home.

More than a hobby
Some orchids come in various shapes and colours and are even colloquially named after them. For instance, there is the dancing doll orchid (looks like a dancer with a frock due to its bi-coloured petals), a queen orchid and a spider orchid. So why is it that more and more people are resorting to orchids. It is not a mere hobby for some; it is like a part-time job.

“If one really wants to take care of the plants, they will find a way to do it,” says Rajini Jaypal, an orchid enthusiast from Mysuru. She even takes trips to Kerala to procure new varieties of orchids. Such is the power of the flower. Ganesh Hegde, a former orchid grower from Sirsi says he grew the flowers over a period of six to eight years. The initial investment is quite high for orchids, he says. Their market is mostly in Bengaluru and Goa. Farmers sell orchids by the spike (comprising five flowers each), costing Rs 10. Their retail prices are about double of what is generally given to the farmers.

So we now begin to see what orchids are to large scale farmers as well as home growers. Simple to grow and export, an aesthetic favourite, it is something everyone in all age groups with a little time and space can probably invest in. As Nalini says, “We want the younger generation to take this up. It makes a wonderful hobby for anyone with interest.”

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