Understanding orchids - M.P.M. Nair shared his extensive knowledge of orchids with an interested group of gardeners at a workshop sponsored by the Indian Head Horticultural Society on Saturday, Oct. 22.

When M.P.M. Nair saw a beautiful orchid at a Toronto garden show in 1969, it started him on a journey that has lasted decades. Since then he has travelled widely, completed extensive research on the species, and even bred his own varieties.
Now in his 80s, Nair shares this knowledge with students as a lecturer in the horticulture department of the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon and with the general public through seminars like one sponsored by the Indian Head Horticultural Society on Saturday, Oct. 22.
Nair informed the group in Indian Head that there are 35,000 species of orchids worldwide, with 220 types found across Canada and 36 different ones native to Saskatchewan. He described the features of orchid plants, explaining that the flowers are bilaterally symmetrical, or zygomorphic. He noted that the flowers of some orchids will bloom for 90 days if left untouched.
He also informed the group that one of the unique characteristics of orchids is that some have aerial roots that absorb moisture and nutrients from the air. Nair explained that in their natural environment these orchids will often grow with their roots clinging to a tree branch. For this reason, he recommended that orchids kept as houseplants should have their roots exposed or held loosely in place by a medium such as bark instead of soil.
Nair shared anecdotes about ways that pollinators are attracted to different types of orchids. For example, one plant will emit a strong aroma only late at night when a particular kind of moth is active. In addition to this, he provided advice for plant care and propagation, as well as solutions for common pest problems.
Throughout his presentation, Nair showed dozens of slides for orchids that he had photographed during his travels. These revealed countless colors and varieties of orchids grown in the United States, Brazil, South Africa, Singapore, Japan, India, and elsewhere.
Nair’s fascination with orchids led him to create his own varieties from seedlings started in a petri dish because orchid seeds are microscopic. As he showed a photograph of a plant with numerous blossoms that won the North American Championship in Montana, Nair explained how he had grown it.
“I grew that thing for six years and wouldn’t allow it to produce flowers; every time it showed signs of spike coming out, I’d pinch it off,” he explained. “Then in its desperation the plant actually made a spike that had five branches and came back with 79 flowers.”
Following the presentation, Nair examined some orchids that one of the attendees had brought with her. The horticulturalist made suggestions for improving the plants’ health and answered several questions from the group. Participants found the session very informative and appreciated Nair taking the time to share his expertise with them.

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