Demystifying Orchids In Kapa‘a

Neill and Fely Sams grow, sell and ship orchids to the Mainland. Daniel Lane photos

Orchid Alley Kaua’i has been growing and selling award-winning orchids for 15 years. MidWeek Kaua’i chatted with Neill Sams about orchid care.

“We have 1.6 acres in Kapa’a and grow orchids in three greenhouses,” says owner and orchid connoisseur Sams.

Sams also offers classes and provides living garden design services.

“I want it to feel like you just walked into some golden place off the trail where there’s a log and water’s dripping out of it,” he says of his tropical environments created with flowers and foliage including orchids, anthuriums, cycads and palms.

The recently remodeled space has more shopping area and an open flow.

Howard’s Dream is ‘a very pedigree type of orchid’

Sams dedicated a sitting area, complete with tropical plants and a koi pond, to his mentor Tadao Nishio. Nishio died last year and left Sams his Adirondack chairs as a daily reminder of the timeless hours the two spent discussing orchids at Nishio’s home.

HOWARD’S DREAM These medium-wide orchids are heavily hybridized. “They have been naturally crossed with three different species,” says Sams. “So it’s a very pedigree type of orchid.” The blooms are about 6 inches high and 5 inches wide, and last about five weeks.

Season: Preferring cooler temperatures, Howard’s Dream blooms during Christmas and sometimes again in the spring.

Watering: “Orchids want less water than most people think,” says Neill, who credits overwatering as the leading cause of death in orchids. “Outdoors, in the summer, water every other day. In the winter, once or twice a week.” Soak the base of the plant for 30 minutes; the soil should be damp but not soggy.

These orchid blossoms measure less than half an inch

Care: “Howard’s Dream would be wonderful on a lanai or under a tree,” says Neill, adding that they prefer medium light, and 60 to 70 percent shade. “You can enjoy it indoors when it’s blooming. When it’s done blooming you can put it back outside.” It prefers early morning, or evening light but not direct, midday sun.

Tip: “In their natural environment, orchids grow on trees in a cloud forest. A cloud comes by, and they get kind of misted, and they get wet. The wind hits them, and they dry out. Wet, dry. Wet, dry. Wet, dry. When they are on a tree, you don’t have to worry about overwatering because they will dry out.”

Mounting: Contrary to our natural inclination, orchids don’t need to be put in pots. You can mount them on lava rocks, trees, logs and coconut shells. Neill says there are a variety of ways to attach them including twine, plastic coated wire, nails, staples and even glue. “If you find things with their own puka, you can just slide it in.” Covering the base with sphagnum moss will retain moisture. After six months, the roots have established themselves, and the moss, wire or twine can be removed.

Once roots wrap around the base, the wire can be removed. Daniel Lane photos

Shipping: As a certified nursery, the Sams can ship live orchid plants and blooming orchid gift baskets to 49 states. They include care instructions for each variety and location. When shipping to dry areas such as Nevada, Arizona or Colorado, orchids thrive if placed near a small water feature for humidity.

“Just don’t put them in the water feature,” he says. “They want to be near water, but not in water.” Make sure to place your order by Dec. 20 so it arrives in time for Christmas.

Health benefits: Studies largely conducted by the Psychology Department at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, found that “For more than 5,000 years people have cultivated flowers, although there is no known reward for this costly behavior. In three different studies, we show that flowers are a powerful positive-emotion ‘inducer.’

“In Study 1, flowers, upon presentation to women, always elicited the Duchenne or true smile. Women who received flowers reported more positive moods three days later. In Study 2, a flower given to men or women in an elevator elicited more positive social behavior than other stimuli. In Study 3, flowers presented to elderly participants (age 55-plus) elicited positive mood reports and improved episodic memory.

“Flowers have immediate and long-term effects on emotional reactions, mood, social behaviors and even memory for both males and females.”

The Sams’ orchids can be found only at Orchid Alley Kauai, 4-1383 Kuhio Hwy. in historic downtown Kapa’a. For more information, call 822-0486, or visit Ask about the 10 percent kama’aina discount.

This orchid is in the Dendrobium family

Orchid Alley Kaua‘i offers hundreds of orchid varieties