Meet the Member

Submitted By: Norma Raiff

Introducing Cristina Eyler: A relative newcomer to Pittsburgh and new OSWP member, with a young and growing family. Amidst all these commitments and changes, she has agreed to co-author Orchid Gems. Amazing! Cristina Eyler represents the “young face” of our Society, willing to volunteer, inquisitive, excited to learn more, friendly.

How long have you been growing orchids? Cristina‘s journey to orchid growing has been a long one, marked by deep interest, withdrawal, and then, like the many tales about young broken relationships, being fortuitously reunited years later. “When I was a young girl (about 11 or 12), I saw orchid plants in a store and was so intrigued.” Her parents responded to her evident interest by buying her a book on how to grow orchids, Orchids: Success Indoors, Outdoors, or in the Greenhouse by John R. Dunmire and the editors of Sunset Books. However, the possible relationship was “nipped in the bud.” Intrigue, it turned out, was not enough. “Some of the information was quite technical and difficult to understand. What is a “foot-candle, after all?”  As Cristina’s family was living in Colorado and she had already killed a cactus where one might have reasonably thought it would thrive, Cristina concluded that between the climate challenges and technical requirements, orchid growing would be a “no”. Nevertheless, she kept her book and continued to study it.

Fast forward: Cristina moved to Pittsburgh about two years ago and the orchid bug beckoned. One day she saw a mini Phalaenopsis at her Giant Eagle and the romance was rekindled. The orchid thrived, and Cristina “whipped out her book again” and started to research orchid culture on-line. Her guiding practice was to dismiss those that she felt would be too hard to grow and to concentrate on purchasing plants that she felt were a better match to her experience and growing environment.

Current collection and growing environment: Cristina now owns ten plants. These include three Phalaenopsis, one of which a Giant Eagle find with a peloric flower: “I spotted at a distance”. Other plants include a Clowesetum (an intergeneric cross of Catasetum and Clowesia) that she received at her first OSWP holiday party (“It’s light pink with a faint fragrance in the morning and it just put out another pseudobulb), a Paphiopedilum (“a reliable bloomer”), a complex mini cattleya, and a Psychopsis. All of these grow on shelves in her morning room where there’s a lot of sunlight.

When did you join the society & why? Cristina’s membership story illustrates her relentless curiosity about all things orchids. Her web searches ended up finding OSWP on-line and discovering that we had monthly meetings. When she mentioned this to her mom, off they went to a regular Sunday meeting (11/19/17). The experience was enough to prompt her to immediately become a member. “I liked that I got to see all sorts of different plants at the Show and Tell. It was really cool to see plants that I’ve only read about or seen on video.” Cristina is comfortable asking OSWPers questions about their first hand experiences. “Even if I don’t purchase any of that type it’s nice to learn about how they grow.”

You might also be interested to know this about me: She and husband Michael, a former officer in the U.S. Navy, moved to the Pittsburgh area and settled in Irwin in 2016 when Michael took a job at Bettis Atomic Power Laboratory, a U.S. Government-owned R&D facility in West Mifflin. Their two young children, 4 year old Joao (Portuguese for John) and 14-month old José (Portuguese for Joseph), are named in honor of her parents’ cultural heritage.

Career pathway: Cristina served as a Captain in the U.S. Air Force. Her last assignment was as Operations Officer for a weather detachment tasked with providing weather support to an Army division. Growing up as an Air Force “brat” herself, Cristina wanted to serve and to attend the U.S Air Force Academy as it was more or less right in her back yard.  She was deeply interested in astrophysics but knew that she had to tailor her interest toward a degree that the Academy offered. As she tells it, “A classmate who was a real big weather nerd got me interested in trying meteorology. By the end of my first terms, I knew how really interesting the subject was.”  Cristina ultimately received a Masters from Mississippi State University in 2012.

Final words:

“My biggest advice for people who might be on the fence about joining is this: It’s worth it! It’s a good price for what you get – just compare it to professional society fees – and you get to see so many plants and to have such a wide, wide range of experiences.”

Why volunteer to help with Gems: “I have a desire to help with something. I used to write and, given the demands of a young family, I was looking for a way to stretch myself and to regain lost skills.”

Are you also thinking about what you can do, both for yourself and for the society? Take Cristina’s words to heart. The OSWP wants and needs you!

Cristina Eyler