Just how popular are orchids?

There were more than 17.2 million orchids sold in the United States in 2004, an increase of 13 percent from the previous year. And more than 30,000 people belong to the American Orchid Society. Locally, orchids have captured the hearts and imaginations of many.

The Sunset Empire Orchid Society's ninth annual Fall Show and Sale takes place Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 1 and 2, at Broadway Middle School, 1120 Broadway in Seaside. The event runs from 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 4 .m. Sunday, and features hundreds of orchids on display and more than two dozen vendors and club booths. Entry costs $2 for general admission, $1 for seniors and children younger than 12 are free.

Accredited judges will review the show Friday and Saturday, awarding ribbons to top plants. Once the show opens to the public, growers can get their orchids repotted for a small fee and enjoy free refreshments as they take in the plants at the show. Members from Oregon and Washington orchid societies will exhibit their plants and answer questions about orchids.

This year's theme is "Orchids at Sunset."

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, orchids are growing in popularity in the United States. Currently second in potted flowering plant sales with a wholesale value of $128 million, orchid sales increased by 5 percent this past year, right behind poinsettias and just ahead of chrysanthemums. California and Florida produce the most orchids.

If you are new to orchids, there are some good ways to get acquainted, say local orchid growers. You can attend Sunset Empire Orchid Society meetings from 2 to 4 p.m. the second Sunday of each month in the Columbia Memorial Hospital Meeting Room, Astoria. Visitors are welcome and a yearly membership costs $10.

The American Orchid Society offers a free "instant primer" on orchid basics and how to cultivate six popular genera. To get a copy of the AOS Membership Brochure, write the American Orchid Society, 16700 AOS Lane, Delray Beach, FL 33446-4351. You also can call the society, (561) 404-2000 or make contact by e-mail at AOS@aos.org. Also check out the AOS Web site, www.orchidweb.org

In addition, the AOS offers an inexpensive guide to orchids, "Growing Orchids: A Cultural Handbook." The volume covers cultivation of popular orchid genera, growing areas, pests and diseases, nomenclature and more. A dictionary of less common orchids describes 16 genera, from Anguloa to Zygopetalum. Color photographs illustrate specific hybrids and species, and growing techniques. Also, the Society publishes several magazines that provide valuable and updated information on orchids, including Orchids, Awards Quarterly and Lindleyana, which deals with scientific aspects of orchidology.

Closer to home, the Oregon Orchid Society holds the largest orchid show in the Northwest Oct. 29 and 30 at the Washington County Fair Complex, 873 N.E. 34th Ave. in Hillsboro. The Oregon Orchid Society also publishes an excellent guide, "Your First Orchids and How to Grow Them." You can learn more about the Oregon Orchid Society online at www.oregonorchidsociety.org or by writing Oregon Orchid Society, P.O. Box 14182, Portland, OR 97293.

Cathy Peterson belongs to the Clatsop County Master Gardener Association. "In the Garden" runs weekly in Coast Weekend. Please send comments and gardening news to "In the Garden," The Daily Astorian, P.O. Box 210, Astoria, OR 97103 or online at peterson@pacifier.com

Here's some orchid trivia from the American Orchid Society:

• Orchids are among the most ancient of cultivated plants. The ancient Greeks believed orchids enhanced their sexual powers.

• Orchids are the largest group of flowering plants in nature. There are more than 25,000 identified species. A new species is discovered almost every day.

• There are more than 130,000 artificially created orchid hybrids, all officially recorded by the Royal Horticultural Society of England, the international registrar, and thousands more that have never been registered.

• Members of the Orchidaceae family grow on every continent except Antarctica. Orchids are found in every color except black.

• Two of the tallest orchids are Grammatophyllus speciosum, found in Malaysia, Sumatra and the Philippines, reaching heights of 25 feet; and Sobralia altissima, an orchid from Peru that can grow to a height of 44 feet, topped with clusters of six-inch flowers.

• The smallest orchids are from one genus: Platystele halbingeriana from Mexico and Platystele jungermanniodes from Central America. This flowering plant fits on a thumbnail.

• Orchid fragrances attract specific pollinators. The scents include coconut and chocolate, mentholatum and new-mown hay, as well as the most foul odors.

• Charles Darwin wrote one of the first major works on orchids, "On the Various Contrivances by Which Orchids are Fertilized by Insects." It was written prior to "The Origin of Species."

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