story by Genevive Bjorn
Step into Orchidland, housed in an otherwise humdrum gymnasium, and you quickly realize that growing orchids is about passion. Every surface, from bleachers to display tables, is awash in colorful bloomsfrom blazing orange to regal purple to pale pink. Some plants produce cascades of blossoms. Others unfurl flowers shaped like pinwheels, slippers, butterflies and pine cones. Some smell like jasmine, vanilla or chocolate, others like a rotting corpse (you don’t always attract more flies with honey).
Each fall, members of the Maui Orchid Society display their bountiful blooms at Orchidland, an exhibition at the Maui County Fair in Kahului. Compared with other orchid exhibits, Orchidland is easily the biggest on Maui, among the biggest in Hawai‘i and rivals many on the Mainland. What makes Orchidland exceptional, however, are the unique breeds developed by local growers.
In 1941, the first members of the Maui Orchid Society gathered together to share their passion. A few years later they started exhibiting orchids at the fair. Over the years, competition among expert growers heated up, and Orchidland became a fierce battle for the title of Best Display. Most of the competitive growers have retired or moved away, and the club has evolved. With about 300 members and more hobbyists and backyard growers than ever, Orchidland is today about education. But traces of competitive spirit remain; judges from the American Orchid Society award ribbons each year to the best individual plants.
Darrell Tanaka, president of the Maui Orchid Society, was first drawn to orchids as a way of making extra money, but his business quickly became a passion, then an obsessionan obsession shared by many others. When the Dalai Lama visited Maui in 2007, he consulted with an MOS member about why one of his orchid plants had died suddenly.
The presentation at this year’s Orchidland, running Oct. 2 to 5, is rumored to be amazing. Tanaka won’t reveal the details, but he encourages the curious to come to the fair and find out. “We are going to try to top ourselves,” says Tanaka, “and set a new standard of exhibition.”