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NOVEMBER MEETING REPORT: Conserving Orchids in the Wild & Growing Them at Home

By Donna Mallen.

Photo credit: Peter Tobias.

Cattleya vialacea in the wild. Photo credit: Peter Tobias.

Our November 2020 program consisted of two speakers, Peter Tobias, President and Co-Founder of the Orchid Conservation Alliance, and Debby Halliday, President of the San Diego County Orchid Society.

Both speakers’ presentations were so densely packed with fascinating and educational information and beautiful visuals that you will undoubtedly want to re-watch our YouTube video more than once and share it with your friends.

Peter Tobias

Peter Tobias spoke about the critical habitat conservation projects that the Orchid Conservation Alliance is supporting in Columbia, Ecuador and Brazil. Since its founding fifteen years ago, the Alliance has raised nearly $500,000, collaborating with the Rainforest Trust to assist local conservationists in the establishment and maintenance of seven orchid reserves in approximately 3,460 acres of unique orchid habitat.

He spoke primarily on reserves in Columbia and Ecuador, where the world’s highest orchid biodiversity exists. His slide presentation gave us a visual lesson in the geography, with an aerial view of the three branches of the Andes mountains in Columbia, each with its own microclimate, supporting its own unique species.

He included a time-lapse video illustrating the daily cycle of raining, clearing and resultant rushing of water down the mountainsides of the Rio Anza reserve, situated in a unique corridor where the ocean winds blow through from the West to mountains in the East to disgorge their moisture onto the mountain walls below, yielding an average annual rainfall of approximately 150 inches.

New discoveries of orchid species, as well as other newly-identified plants and animals, continue to be made in the protected niches of the reserves. In the dense forest of the Rio Anza reserve, 200-300 new species of orchids and at least one new orchid genus have been discovered.

Photo credit: Peter Tobias.

Oncidium cebolleta in the wild. Photo credit: Peter Tobias.

In preserving the orchid habitat, the local foundations are also protecting the other indigenous inhabitants, such as trees, ferns, bromeliads, liverworts, frogs and mammals. Don’t miss the stunning “forest cam” view of an ocelot hunting through the protected forest.

An aerial view of one reserve visually emphasizes the encroachment of farmland cleared where jungles previously existed, demonstrating the need for a protected reserve where these unique areas can be sheltered from invasive human activity.

To support the Alliance with your much-needed donations, and learn more about their work and tours they offer, visit their website at

Debby Halliday.

Debby Halliday presented us a full seminar’s worth of information and explanatory photos to maximize our orchid-growing skills. She recommends that instead of learning a set of rules, we try to understand orchids and “let nature be your guide.” To accomplish this in a short lecture, she provides very explanatory slides to create a visual memory that the viewer will understand better and retain longer than a list of words. As I watched her video, I saw the many orchids that I have killed over my lifetime, and came to understand what I did wrong.

Photo credit: Debby Halliday.
You, too, can grow beautiful orchids at home!

Some main points: Tree-growing orchids grow sideways in the wild, thus draining the water from their crowns after each rainfall. To grow successfully in a pot, an orchid must be able to drain fully and nearly dry out before the next watering. Generally, if grown in bark, they can be watered once a week if the water flushes through the bark and leaves air spaces. If grown in moss, they can be watered once every three weeks. Most orchids die from overwatering. You cannot overwater in one watering, but you can water too often.

Growing in the wild, orchids are living in dappled light, not being burned by the sun. They are fed with a weak solution of debris washed through their roots from the rains. At home, feed “weakly weekly.”

She recommends non-toxic petroleum-based year-round spray oil to suffocate mealybugs, scale and mites, scrubbed with a soft toothbrush for scale, applied with a tissue for spider mites.

Her photos identifying the plants, their component parts, seedpods and seeds (millions of seeds per pod), repotting and more are extensive in their information. For fun, you will probably want to try “Naturalizing a Trader Joe’s Orchid” after viewing the slide showing how to insert a potted orchid through a piece of fencing board to hang it in your yard.



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