WHEATON – The hundreds of orchids at the Batavia Orchid Society's annual show displayed a variety of colors and shapes that defied the imagination.
There were large and small orchids, some with with speckled petals, sporting hues from pale green and butter yellow to blood-red and hot fuchsia.
Some were smooth-petaled others looked like velvet, some had a with a pouch like a purse, others were very simple with just three petals.
Their scent suffused the air at the DuPage County Fairgrounds in Wheaton, where the two-day Chicago Suburban Orchid Show was held this weekend. The show continues from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. Both parking and the show are free.
In addition to the intricate orchid displays, and some offered for sale, orchid society members also volunteered to show how to pot and care for orchids.
Bob Keck of St. Charles and Suki Nax of Naperville demonstrated with live plants and a pile of wood chip growing medium.
"If you plant it high, it won't die," Keck said, showing how the top of the orchid should be near the top of the pot. "If you plant it low, it won't grow. If you bury it, you've buried it."
Orchid society member Cheryl Erins said orchid cultivation is both an enjoyable hobby as well as an environmentally worthwhile pastime.
"I think this is important because we are showing people that anyone can grow orchids in their homes," Erins said. "Also, we're doing a lot to preserve orchids in the wild because the habitats are disappearing very quickly."
Erins, of Michigan, said she was just in Thailand and Malasia for the World Orchid Conference.
"Our guide told us to see the orchids today because tomorrow they won't be here," Erins said. "The poachers get them. They sell them on the black market.
Many are sold on the black market to escape regulation by Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, she said. Known as CITES, it is an international agreement between governments – including the U.S. – to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival.
"All of these orchids that come in without special tags on them, those are usually poached in the wild," Erins said. "It's really sad."
Larry Sexton of Batavia, a member of the orchid society and chairman of the show, said this year's show was judged and featured 435 plants.
"Orchids are a challenge to grow," Sexton said. "I've gone all over the world … to the Far East to see them grown over there. I've been Central and South America to see them growing there. I've been to Costa Rica, Peru and Ecuador to see them growing there in the wild."
Sexton said he built a four-seasons room in the back of his house, to re-create the orchids' growing conditions in the Midwest.
"To get them to the point where you could grow those well is a challenge," Sexton said.
Hundreds of orchid aficionados, newbies and the curious, came to look at the myriad of species – and some to buy, like Carol Gadbaw of Park Ridge.
"This is an orchid and this is a fern," Gadbow said, holding up a flowerless orchid and a small plant with frothy leaves. "I love orchids and I love ferns as well, so I'm going to create a little setting to go with my miniature orchids. It's lovely and I'm so excited."
Evelyn Ennsman and her husband Herbert, of Winfield, came to the show for her birthday.
"I think orchids are just amazing and they're so hard to grow," Ennsman said. "And to have people grow them in this area is just unbelievable."