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Vol 39  No 6
Nov. 23, 2006


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Surprise orchid donation for university

International flavour

by Jeff Green

Tim Walsh, nursery manager at Memorial’s Botanical Garden, and Todd Boland, research horticulturist, admire one of the orchids recently donated to the university. (Photo by Chris Hammond)

Flora fans and garden enthusiasts will have something new to admire in the St. John’s area thanks to a one-of-a-kind donation to Memorial University’s Botanical Garden.

Earlier this fall, staff received a “generous” gift from Snanchart Devahastin, Thailand’s ambassador to Canada, which dramatically increased its collection of one of the world’s most beautiful – and admired – plants.

In early October, two large boxes arrived filled with 30 orchids, taking the staff by complete surprise.

“This is no small gift,” said a proud Dr. Wilf Nicholls, director of the garden who is also cross-appointed with the Department of Biology. “I was delighted with the gift but I had no idea of the size of it.”

Dr. Nicholls said earlier this fall Mr. Devahastin visited the university and met with Axel Meisen, Memorial’s president. He later attended a reception at the house of Charlotte Jewczyk, a member of the Botanical Garden’s board of directors. “They spoke about gardening and he suggested that he donate some orchids to the garden,” explained Dr. Nicholls. “We expected two or three – not this many.”

Staff members at the garden are now caring for the delicate plants which are housed in one of garden’s nursery greenhouses. They’ve been mounted on a wall to individual pieces of tree bark.

“These orchids are epiphytes and so in the wild they tend to be in the shade of upper branches and leaves,” Dr. Nicholls said. “Each plant that we received was wired onto its own piece of tree bark.”

Three times a day staff sprays the orchids with water to help maintain their humidity. Dr. Nicholls is optimistic the plants will flower by next year allowing gardening lovers to admire their beautiful colours and shapes.

“Hopefully when they begin to flower we will have constructed a display in the main garden for public viewing,” he said. “Right now none are in flower and I doubt if we’ll see any flowering for several months.”

Nevertheless, Dr. Nicholls said the donations will make great conversation pieces for anyone who enjoys beautiful plants from around the world.

“The garden has about 10 native orchid species and a small collection of other orchids but this donation dramatically increases our holdings,” he said with a smile, adding that there are in fact 40 hardy orchid species native to this province.

“A display of tropicals is a rather new concept for us but certainly it would be delightful to show off these exotic plants on a cold winter’s day.”

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