U of O professor wows orchid world in his spare time

Release Date: 6/2/2010

To paraphrase the famed W. Somerset Maugham on the subject of novel-writing, "There are three rules for growing orchids. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are."

“In the marsh pink orchid's faces
With their coy and dainty graces,
Lure us to their hiding places--
Laugh, O murmuring Spring!”
-- Sarah Foster Davis, Summer Song

Actually Bruce Brown knows. Brown, U of O professor of theater, is also a noted amateur orchiologist, or orchid expert. Along with partner Louis Aszod, Brown authored Orchids Through Our Eyes, a compendium of full-color photography of over 40 genera of orchids grown by members of OrchidTalk, the online forum run by Brown and Aszod at http://www.rv-orchidworks.com/orchidtalk .

The book, published by Hard Steam Photography in 2007, took a year and a half to put together and was labor intensive. “Louis and I started OrchidTalk, and the book was begun through talking to people we met there,” Brown said. He said they were looking for some way to rally the orchid forum – they have their own computer server for hosting the group – “And I thought, what if we all do a book? So I sent out a call for photograph submissions in our forum newsletter. I edited them, got rid of backgrounds. Louis wrote a lot of the articles. It just turned into this cool project. It was exciting when it started selling on Amazon and Borders. It’s cool, you know?”

Professor Brown's book, Orchids Through Our Eyes

Orchids Through Our Eyes, by Ozarks professor Bruce Brown, is a compendium of full-color photography of over 40 genera of orchids.

Orchidaceae, commonly referred to as the Orchid family, is a morphologically diverse and widespread family of monocots. It is currently believed to be the second largest family of flowering plants (only the Asteraceae is larger), with between 21,950 and 26,049 currently accepted species, found in 880 genera. The number of orchid species equals more than twice the number of bird species, and about four times the number of mammal species. It also encompasses about 6-11% of all seed plants. The largest genera are Bulbophyllum (2,000 species), Epidendrum (1,500 species), Dendrobium (1,400 species) and Pleurothallis (1,000 species).

Brown describes the book as providing an amazing connection to friends all over the world. “The book has sold in over seven countries,” he said.  He describes people’s idea that orchids are rare as “a Victorian myth,” adding that they are really hardy plants that have been around since the dinosaurs. “They’ve found extinct bees in amber with orchid pollen on their bodies.”

He says, however, that breeding them is difficult. “There are so many unique kinds of orchids,” he says. “Orchids that look like female bees, orchids that smell like rotten meat, all kinds of ploys to draw insects and spread pollen. In nature they’ve bred all these variations over millions of years. But if you and I want to breed them, it’s a different story. Orchid pollen is huge, but germinating them is difficult.”

Brown says photographing orchids is like photographing anything else. Lighting is important as well as composition. “I’m not an expert photographer, but I do know the basics,” he says. Brown also mentioned a series of orchid videos he’s shot. “My YouTube channel – http://www.youtube.com/user/orchidtalk – has had over 21,000 viewings,” he said. OrchidTalk is also represented on Facebook and Twitter.

Paph. Henrietta Fujiwara 'RVO OrchidTalk' HCC/AOS

"Paph. Henrietta Fujiwara 'RVO OrchidTalk' HCC/AOS," the cultivar named by Professor Bruce Brown.

Brown serves on the executive board of the Orchid Society of the Ozarks in Springdale, Ark. and is the immediate past president of the society.  In 2008, he won a prestigious national award from the American Orchid Society for one of his paphiopedilum orchids. The award entitled him to name the cultivar he presented for display, and he chose to name it after his and Louis’s online orchid community. The plant is now formally registered as Paph. Henrietta Fujiwara 'RVO OrchidTalk' HCC/AOS.

“The next time you buy someone flowers, buy them an orchid,” he advises. “An orchid can last seven months in bloom. I don’t think there’s a need to buy anybody cut flowers.”

Brown says he has lots of ideas for future projects. “Doing that book was such an effort though,” he adds. “It took 18 months from beginning to end. Contributors from all over the world. We couldn’t have done it without them.”

Of his passion for orchids, Brown says, simply, “It’s fun. It’s a good hobby. I enjoy theater, but when I go home I think about orchids. Last year I met a lady in Texas, 70 years old. I had helped her out on the forum. April 24 was my dad’s birthday, so I was down in Tyler. She and her husband drove to meet us and gave me two orchids, just because. In Australia I met a guy who took us out to dinner; in England there was a lady who had coffee with us. All because we had orchids in common. I have friends in all these different countries – New Zealand, Australia, India, the Philippines, all walks of life, old and young. It’s a good thing.”

For more info on the Orchid Society of the Ozarks, go to http://oso-web.org .


Orchids Through Our Eyes, published by Hard Steam Photography, is available for purchase at Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, and Borders.