Orchid Gems



Curiosity Embodied:  Mary Ann Pike

By: Norma Raiff

When Covid-19 first started, many of us bemoaned the loss of our ordinary OSWP routines: annual show cancelled, Monthly meetings on Zoom, no goodies provided by fellow OWSP members. However, we have pivoted, and many feel successfully. In other words, in the “good enough” box.

So it certainly piqued my interest when Newsletter editor and E-blaster in chief, Jim Yamber, e-mailed photos from Mary Ann Pike as part of his ongoing feature “Currently Blooming.” Her orchids were great, but what really caught my eye was this:

“I must say that this is the largest number of orchid I’ve ever had bloom indoors and at one time, and it’s because I joined the orchid society and have been regularly able to attend the Zoom meetings and learn a lot from the members. If you were having in person meetings, I probably wouldn’t be able to attend as regularly or learn as much.”

A double surprise: both happiness that a member is learning to grow better; and a second message, keep the Zoom coming. And just who is Mary Ann Pike?

The answer is simple. Mary Ann Pike was one of the very large contingent of new members who joined OSWP during last year’s OSWP South Hills Show.  It turns out that she’s been faithfully attending our Spring shows for some 20 years, but never became a member because of her busy schedule and many other competing interests. However, as a South Hills resident, Mary Ann was now ready to sign on.

Mary Ann and her husband Tod live in Venetia, Washington County. Both of them are curious people and have numerous hobbies, but orchids are Mary Ann’s interest (however, read to bottom of article to find out more about Tod the Orchid Finder).

Mary Ann’s educational background includes a degree in Electrical Engineering from CMU and a Master’s in Professional Writing. The past 10 years of her career have been spent as a technical writer for Ansys, which designs simulation software and offers consultative services. “I’ve always done a lot of writing, from my high school newspaper to documentation for my engineering projects,” Mary Ann notes, including the fact that she is the current editor of her local Electrical Insulator Club’s newsletter. 

Aside: The things you learn from talking to members: there is a devoted following of antique electrical insulators collectors with clubs all over the United States. So Mary Ann’s back-story fits in nicely with many of our other members’ out-of-Society interests, which range from running for political office, raising and rescuing snakes, to professionally acting/directing theater to a host of other well-rounded activities.

Mary Ann has been casually growing orchids since the early 2000’s. “I never had more than a dozen or so” and, like so many of us, she would often pick up reduced price orchids at the big box stores or would receive phals as gifts from family members. She is particularly attracted to Dendrobium Kaila Quintal crosses “because they flower regularly, the flowers last a long time, and they take a lot of abuse (before I generally kill them).”The photo that accompanied her latest successful flowering was bought from Mayfield Village Orchids at last year’s show.

Mary Ann credits our Zoom meetings and her other OSWP contacts for her recent success is raising so many blooming orchids this season. Our advice and support have inspired her to design an orchid growing area, a shelf, replete with plant trays with pebbles designed to raise winter humidity levels, and specialty grow lights. “I’ve just been amazed at how well they’re doing. I’m determined to keep them alive this year.” OSWP chats have also made her aware of other orchid resources so that she started to purchase plants from a variety of out-of-state vendors she heard about, including Windswept in Time and Fred Clark.

“The Zoom meetings are so easy to attend and provide lots of information; however, the downside is that you get don’t to meet people in person.” On the other hand, Mary Ann has also connected on line with OSWP members. When Janet Greenberg, our treasurer called her with a follow-up query about her email address, they became orchid buddies. Mary Ann has also talked with Tim Choltco and learned about our Society’s spring nature walks involving the search for blooming native orchids.

And as for Tod the Orchid Finder: here are two remarkable coincidences. Nine years ago, Mary Ann went to Wolf Creek Narrows Natural Area on a Botanical Society of Western PA trip (another one of her hobbies) and Tod accompanied her so that he could pursue his interest in geocaching. Geocaching is outdoor treasure hunting game where participants navigate to a specific set of GPS coordinates and try to find the hidden geocache (container) concealed at that location. “It’s a good way to get to explore on a day trip and to learn about an area,” says Mary Ann. However, that day something new happened. While Mary Ann and the other botanical society members were examining plants along the trail, Tod called them over and said, “Look I found a flower I’ve never seen,” which turned out to be an orchid, Galearis spectabilis, or Showy Orchis.

Then while on a trip to Machu Picchu, it happened again. Mary Ann was looking at antiquities and Tod went behind a wall and announced he had found an orchid. They believe it to be a type of Stelis orchid. It was growing on a rock and the plants consisted of tiny flower spikes that were at most 8 inches long. So, do you know this orchid?  Take a look and email me at normaraiff@gmail.com.


© 2023 Orchid Society of Western Pennsylvania

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