Orchid Gems


Happy New Year to all our members! May 2021 be better than 2020!
However, as we look ahead, we don’t want to forget those who have brightened our days in the past and who continue to inspire us with their presence. So, as an introduction for our new members and a reintroduction for our old, we include the following updates from some of our members who have so kindly let us feature them as “Orchid Gems” in the past.
We appreciate all our members. So, if you would like to be featured in a future “Orchid Gems,” or if you would like to write “Orchid Gems” articles, please let us know. Your input is always welcome!
Pam Horter-Moore and Norma Raiff




An avid orchid collector and a gifted writer and teacher, Don Ammon has many friends in OSWP who know him as a warm and obliging personality who is always willing to work to support the success of our Society, shows, and projects.

Covid-19 has not changed Don's growing habits but caused him to change his buying habits. "I was advised by Barbara Tisherman to only buy plants I've actually seen from vendors or other growers. When you buy online, you don't know what you are going to get."

With social distancing and Zoom meetings being the order of the day, Don has ordered plants online for the first time. "I was so impressed with Fred Clark's presentation that I bought four plants from him." He has also ordered from Ecuagenera and vendors he knows from OSWP annual shows because of the quality of their product.

Don has developed an enthusiasm for Catasetum orchids. Through purchases made from OSWP members Vicki Stroud and Carol Panza, Don developed an interest in these orchids and has expanded his collection from five to nine specimens. "I now grow Clowesia, Monnierara, Fredclarkeara, Mormodes, Mormodia, Catasetum, and Cycnoches.”

“These orchids require little care in the winter when they are dormant, which was one of their attractions,” Don says. “They started blooming in November after dropping their leaves. They are warm growers, so once the temperature hits 70 degrees, I put them outside and I water and feed them heavily in summer.”

Word of advice: “Buy what you have room for,” Don says. “The Catasetum I got from Sunset Valley Orchids are in 3-inch pots, which fit well between my larger plants.”


An epidemiologist and the Director of Infection Prevention at VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System, Brooke Decker has been especially busy since the Covid-19 pandemic began in March of this year trying to keep employees and veterans safe. Nonetheless, she is a member of the OSWP Board of Directors and has been very helpful in preparing PowerPoint slides and overseeing Zoom meetings as we continue to meet online to avoid the virus. She is also a wife and the mother of four-year old Willow who loves orchids.

When asked for an orchid update, Brooke reports that she is very happy with her Dendrobiums, which are now showing some improvement after the October mini-class. 

She is especially happy that we finally have a Covid-19 vaccine. “I was in tears when I was scheduled. Finally, we are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel,” she says

This time of pandemic has been especially hard for Willow, who misses the weekend trips to Phipps conservatory and hikes with Mr. Tim. “She’s mad. She says she hates Corona. She misses hugs and visits to her Nan-Nan.”



Demetria Marsh has played a leading role in the OSWP in many capacities for many years. She’s been past President. She was a 2nd Vice President once, and 1st Vice President three times (and one of those as co-1st Vice President). She has been Show Chairperson and co-Chairperson several times, as well as co-Chair of the “Watch Us Grow Mini-Orchid Show Fall Festival.


She also started the Cultural Study Group in the 1980s. “Once a month we would meet at an OSWP member’s home to see how they were growing their orchids, and we would have an OSWP member as the speaker. Those meetings could be on a night or weekend afternoon, depending on the host/hostess.


Luckily others picked up and helped as Chair of the Cultural Study Group. It has faded away as people have less free time to get together.”


Demetria helped organize our OSWP work at Phipps, starting in 1990, and then re-invigorated our help and Phipps partnership in 2007, which was formalized in 2011.


“Nancy Kline and I are the co-Chairs of P-OSI (the joint initiative between Phipps Conservatory and the OSWP), and so we are grateful for the many years of help our members have given us. Of course, right now, we cannot help at Phipps, and Katie Schuller, Phipps Orchid Manager and OSWP member, has been doing everything on her own.”


The big news of 2020 was the Covid-19 epidemic. Like many other organizations, the OSWP had to modify its activities in order to remain a viable, active organization, while keeping its members safe.


“We were lucky to get the OSWP show in just before the first shut down, so I was able to purchase all the orchid supplies I needed from Roberts Orchid Supply of Columbia Station, Ohio,” says Demetria. “With our virtual Zoom meetings, I have been able to diversify our orchid collection a little from the knowledge I’ve gained from our speakers. I then use those speaker’s websites to buy new and different orchids. It’s not nearly the same as seeing their plants in person and talking with them, but I am still able to learn virtually. The orchids I have ordered have all been very nice and make me happy!


I miss seeing our OSWP members in person. This summer, when the virus had taken a bit of vacation, several of the OSWP members took part in the outdoor Sales and Swap OSWP Event held at South Park. It was so special to see those members who were comfortable attending, and to enjoy a lot of lovely orchids. It was just wonderful and a respite from all this. I can’t wait until we are able to get back to our regular meetings. Although I miss seeing everyone, we need to stay safe.


Brien and I are in the midst of moving from our downtown condo to an apartment at the Cork Factory, and so we have lots of change in our lives, and that includes changes in our orchid environment. Our windows face three directions. The ones I will be using face east and south, so the light will be wonderful. And, of course, our terrarium fits in beautifully with a simple lamp to provide the proper light. I have to thank OSWPers Dave Miller and Carolyn Bolton once again for so generously sharing all their terrarium knowledge with us.


Speaking of terrariums, my Dendrobium Hibiki has become so big and tall that I had to take it out of the terrarium. I wasn’t sure how it would respond to the change, but it seems to be doing just fine on the window sill.”


Word of advice: “Aside from wonderful orchid people and the beauty and complexity of orchid flowers, my favorite thing is that there is always something new to learn, new to try.

Orchid growing provides lots of room for all kinds of growth. So, think Orchids!”


Jim Yamber, our long-term Newsletter Editor, has continued to connect us to each other by emailing photos of members’ blooming plants. Its “Show and Tell” time on-line, spreading the grace and beauty of our favorite orchids. Cheering us up during these dark days. When asked for an update, Jim talked about his growing environment. “Because of cold temperature issues, one of the main things I did was move my plants to the basement to grow under lights. I still use my greenhouse for a variety of cold tolerant plants, and I am especially interested in seeing what happens to a Cypripedium that I recently got from Yugoslavia. I’m hoping that the colder green house will help it to break dormancy.”


As for my roles in the OSWP, we now have the virtual Show and Tell, where people are sending in pictures to share. The newest thing that is going to start is that OSWP members will now also be encouraged to send in ‘problem pictures’ – photos of orchids which aren’t doing so well and where they are seeking advice. Nancy Kline has volunteered to do this and there may be others who are also willing to help. With the e-blasting that I do, I am sort of like a clearinghouse for all these things, whether it be Show and Tell, special announcements, newsletters, or whatever. I think it has really helped to keep the Society together. And it’s not just here in Pittsburgh, because we have members in Florida, Philadelphia, Indiana and Ohio.”


Words of advice: “New members need to enjoy this time and, if you have new plants, remember that they are living creatures and you have to take care of them.” Don’t forget to send me the pictures of your orchid beauties so I can resend them to all of our members.


An OSWP member since 2012, many of us know Dave as someone who has truly embraced the world of orchid growing. He is now an AOS judge, a great guest speaker, and by the way, belongs to four Orchid Societies (just count them; Greater Cleveland, West Shore, Greater Akron, and OSWP). And even if you grow in a greenhouse, Dave will manage to convert you to think about growing certain orchids in the protected confines of an aquarium. “My orchids never looked better as we never go anywhere due to caution and COVID guidelines in Ohio. But that is not the whole story. It has always been difficult for me to stick to a schedule, but now, with less to do I am being more conscientious about my orchid care schedule. It is not that I’m spending more time caring for my orchids, but that I am spending better time. “One reason for spending better time is I have finally admitted that I cannot grow all orchids in my limited space so little by little I have weaned myself off certain kinds of orchids even though they are quite beautiful. I am focusing on those that grow well in my house and I stick with those alliances. These include slipper orchids, Catasetinae, Bulbophyllums, Tolumnias (equitants) and Phals. With the exception of Phals (obviously requiring lower light), the rest of these basically have the same culture with only slight variations in potting requirements. I grow them right in my small growing space and grow them successfully by modifying the intensity of light, distance from the light and potting media. Alas, I must admire the work of others for the great orchids that do not fit my environment.

Rich Sipko, a long-time OSWP member, once told me I was stupid for trying to grow so many different orchids in my small space. He was right but it is extremely difficult to admit such a thing and then stick to it, requiring quite a bit of discipline when facing the orchid sales table. One of the big problems with the COVID pandemic is that most of our preferred vendors and speakers are not available in person and we have not had any orchid shows in almost a year. Instead, I am putting forth every effort in supporting our speakers by purchasing from them as they speak remotely or have their online sales. I also grow my collection by trading with other members as well. Please make every attempt to support our cherished vendors by visiting their open houses or making an online order. Right now, I am also working with eight other AOS judges on a task force that is focused on making improvements to the AOS Judging program. We are focusing on standardizing judging edu- cation across all AOS judging centers and also expanding our outreach program to educate the public on how to become a judge and how to get their plants judged. Many of you may have already seen the new “AOS Judges” ads I am placing in society newsletters as well as the “Judges Viewpoint” articles. Words of advice: “I would tell everyone that it’s important to find experienced people in their society who are willing to teach them about orchids. Talk to them by phone, send them texts or emails and build an interactive relationship. I am working with a new member right now that I have never met, but we talk frequently, sometimes daily. Be sure to ask questions, no matter what that are.”

Happy Orchiding to All of You.


An OSWP member since 2005, Raj Popat is an enthusiastic orchid grower who has purchased specimens nationally and internationally, and has won many ribbons.

Asked for an update on his orchid environment, Raj has good news to report. After struggling with fungal infection, he has solved the problem with the addition of oscillating fans standing at plant-level in his greenhouse. The 180-degree rotation of these fans moves the air gently through the leaves of the orchids, as a mild breeze would in their natural environment.

The only downside, if it can be considered a downside, is that he must water more frequently as the orchid medium dries out more quickly.

“I have to water every four or five days instead of weekly. It’s more work, but there is no fungus, so my time is rewarded. The Cymbidiums are thriving and loving the extra aeration, as are the Oncidiums and Cattleyas.”

Raj’s environment includes an exhaust fan high above ground level at one end of the greenhouse which pushes air out, as vents at floor level open to bring fresh air in. As heat rises in the greenhouse, fans high in the eaves drive heat down to the orchids below. In the summer, ridge vents open to release heat, while they close in winter to retain heat. These are controlled by a thermostat that opens and closes the ridge vents as temperatures dictate. Even in the winter, temperatures may rise to 95 degrees Fahrenheit in the greenhouse, necessitating the opening of the ridge vents.

Light is not an issue for Raj, because the clear glass in the greenhouses allow 2- to 3,000 candlepower on dark days, and up to 4- to 5,000 candlepower on sunny days.

“I don’t fertilize after Halloween, and I stop fertilizing Dendrobriums as early as the end of August,” Raj says.

Words of advice: “Orchids can’t tell you what they need. You must be attentive to the condition of your plants and respond accordingly.”


© 2023 Orchid Society of Western Pennsylvania

  • Facebook Social Icon