As Erica Forstater, the assistant of the Dr. Joe & Alice Rinard Orchid Greenhouse, walks to the greenhouse's “Cool House” section, she searches for Pleurothallis orchids, which have tiny blooms often smaller than her fingernail.
“It always feels like a scavenger hunt when I am watering that room and get to discover the tiny blooms,” Forstater said.
Since its first donation of 800 orchids in 1970 from Bill and Goldie Wheeler, the Rinard Orchid Greenhouse’s Wheeler-Thanhauser Orchid Collection has grown to nearly 2,100 orchids, all which need unique care.
“The majority of orchids would not do well as a standard household plant because their habitat requirements do not align with the typical owner,” Forstater said. “Tropical orchids require high humidity and a constant temperature of around 75 degrees [Fahrenheit]. Some require a high amount of sunlight, such as vanilla orchids, while others require more shaded environments. Orchids vary in the amount of water they need and how frequently they need it.”
Since the greenhouse’s designation as an orchid rescue center in 1985, Cheryl LeBlanc, the curator for the Rinard Orchid Greenhouse, said she receives orchids from the CITES Act program twice a year.
Under the CITES act, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Fish and Wildlife Service sends orchids to rescue centers throughout the country. LeBlanc also exchanges plants with other orchid growers to enhance the greenhouse collection’s diversity.
“In addition to growing and raising beautiful orchids, we wanted — and still want to — contribute to the preservation and conservation of rare and endangered orchid species from around the world,” Forstater said.
For those looking to take care of their own orchid, the Rinard Orchid Greenhouse sells moth orchids in a range of color and patterns during its annual plant sale online April 12-23 and in-person April 24.
Moth orchids grow well in households, Forstater said, especially in the humidity in a bathroom. They also enjoy bright, indirect sunlight and require weekly watering.
“Prior to coming to [Ball State], my graduate work focused on aquatic invasive plants, so I did not work specifically with orchids,” Forstater said. “My knowledge and experience of orchids really took off when I began working here … It’s hard work caring for such a wide variety of plants, but the rewards are incredible. Every day I get to come in and experience working in a tropical environment, and I get to share that experience with the public, which makes any hard parts more than worth it.”
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