Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Orchids' Popularity Blossoms as Competition Brings Price Cuts

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Orchids' Popularity Blossoms as Competition Brings Price Cuts

Article excerpt

ORCHIDS that once belonged only to the rich are becoming a hobby for Everyman.

Because of recent breeding advances, it is possible for commercial growers to mass produce orchids. This is making "orchids less expensive to the general public," says Mariko Kawaguchi, a researcher at DeRosa Orchids here. A blooming orchid plant that sold for $30 to $40 several years ago now costs $15 to $20.

Thanks to the price drop, the demand for orchids has been very strong, says Victor DeRosa, the shop's owner. He sold 5,000 orchids last year, up from 500 plants in 1987.

"Orchids are the queen of all the flowers," says Mr. DeRosa, who started his business in 1941. At that time, he says "only a rich person could buy orchids." When a friend gave him an orchid plant shortly after World War II, he fell in love with it at first sight.

Orchids "are so long lasting and appealing," says Ruth Owades, president of Calyx & Corolla, a fresh flower catalog firm in San Francisco. Compared to other flowers that last for one or two weeks, orchids bloom for 4 to 6 weeks. Ms. Owades says orchid sales have grown about 25 percent in the past five years. Her company sold 350,000 stems of orchids on this year's Valentine's Day, up from 300,000 in 1992.

There are about 25,000 species of orchids, ranging from the thimble-sized Mystacidium caffrum to the 20-foot-tall Renanthera storiei. The most popular varieties are Cymbidiums, Dendrobiums, Phalaenopsis, Vandas, and Cattleyas. It usually takes four to six years for an orchid to grow to maturity.

There are at least 300 commercial orchid growers in the US - mainly in California, Florida, and Hawaii - according to the American Orchid Society in West Palm Beach, Fla.

American growers have recently been facing increased competition from countries like Thailand and the Philippines that have cheap labor and a warm climate. Thailand, the world's No. 1 producer of orchids, exports more than $55 million of these flowers each year. …

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