Johannesburg - Joburg is hosting the 21st World Orchid Conference at the Sandton Conference Centre from September 10 to 14.

“Dubbed the Orchid Olympics, this show promises to be one of the most extraordinary botanical events and floral extravaganzas ever held in South Africa, and we encourage the public to attend,” says Anthony Grohovaz, who led the initiative to bring the conference back to South Africa and win the bid for Joburg.

The theme for this international spectacle is “Orchids: Gold in the Green Age”, which seeks to combine Gauteng’s mining heritage in an ecological age of conservation. This is the second time South Africa is hosting the conference. South Africa last hosted it in Durban in 1981.

Over 500 orchid enthusiasts from 32 countries around the world have registered for the conference and up to 80 000 visitors are expected to attend the event which is planned to cover 10 000m2 or two soccer fields of flowers, landscaped exhibits, orchid vendors and floral art at the Sandton Convention Centre for five days.

“The World Orchid Conference is one of the biggest flower shows held anywhere in the world – and comparatively bigger than the famous Chelsea Garden Show held annually in the UK,” says Pumla Ntsele, deputy director of Joburg Tourism’s Convention Bureau.

The blooms of the Star of Africa (Angraecum stella-africae) have been used for the orchid logo. A small plant that grows on trees in misty areas, the Star of Africa bloom is a large white flower with a long spur. It is found only in Swaziland, Zimbabwe and South Africa and is threatened with extinction.

National orchid displays from 11 countries and 17 South African organisations will share and promote our incredible biodiversity.

 

To help promote this event, a World Guinness Record attempt will take place on September 6 in Nelson Mandela Square, Sandton, where an attempt will be made to create the largest flower arrangement ever made with clivias.

For gardeners, the highlight of the orchid show will be the country’s biggest floral and plant show. A keynote exhibit will be a unique wetland display which includes a habitat for a host of indigenous orchids created by the Witwatersrand Orchid Society.

National clivia, protea, cycad, aloe, bonsai, strelitzia and carnivorous plant displays will be created and a floral art exhibition, together with the entries into a World Orchid Photography Competition and National Botanical Art Competition, will also be on display.

Orchid exhibits from China, Ecuador, Peru, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, US, Taiwan, Thailand and Australia are being shipped to South Africa for the show.

Local exhibits from the Cape Orchid Society, Natal Orchid Society, Lowveld Orchid Group, Wolkberg Orchid Society, Eastern Cape Orchid Society, Wild Orchids from South Africa and Rustenburg Orchid Society will be mounted. The South African National Biodiversity Institute, Wetland Society of South Africa and eThekwini Municipality parks and display department will all have exhibits at the show.

 

South African orchids

South Africa has many beautiful orchids, both epiphytic and terrestrial, and from early spring until the first snows they can be seen flowering on rocky cliffs, in grasslands and on forest floors, alongside streams and in vleis, on road verges and protected reserves.

The Cape is rich in terrestrial (ground) orchids, of which the red disa orchid (Disa uniflora) is the most famous, growing in half shade or full sunlight alongside streams and waterfalls in the mountains of the south-western Cape. Not as spectacular, but just as fascinating, are tiny species like the spider orchid (Bartholina burmanniana) with white spider-like flowers that grow under bushes, and granny bonnets with their quaint “faces”.

Our daintiest epiphytic, or tree orchid, with arching sprays of scented white flowers (Mystacidium capense) is often found on thorn trees in scrublands and sometimes on rocky outcrops.

The much larger flowered leopard orchid (Ansellia gigantea) forms large clumps of thick bamboo-like stems in the forks of trees in valleys and scrublands of KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga. In winter and early spring, yellow-green flowers appear, some faintly marked, others with large dark spots.

Urban development and farming are responsible for the destruction of many orchid habitats, as are roots and bulbs that are collected and used by traditional healers for healing. All indigenous orchids are protected by international legislation. No wild orchids may be removed or collected without a permit, and may only be purchased from an authorised dealer.

 

Growing orchids

Choose orchids to suit your conditions. Orchids need air movement, humidity, good quality water, excellent drainage and regular feeding. Some orchids such as dendrobiums will tolerate more light, while slipper orchids need less light. Once you have the right conditions, orchids are easy to grow.

There are books to guide you, as well as information on the internet. Become a member of an orchid society or club near you, where you can meet local enthusiasts and learn what can be grown in your area.

Interested in visiting the World Orchid Conference?

It takes place from September 10 to 14, 10am to 8pm at the Sandton Conference Centre, Alice Lane, Sandton. Tickets: R120. Students and seniors: R80. Buy tickets online at www.woc21.org.

KAY MONTGOMERY, Saturday Star