- Associated Press - Monday, February 10, 2014

EVANSVILLE, Ind. (AP) - Even with snow and ice outside Sunday afternoon, the Mesker Park Zoo’s Amazonia rain forest exhibit stays warm and humid.

The warm air allows a couple hundred orchids to show off their bright colors with the annual Orchid Escape exhibit, which runs until March 15.

There are around 20,000 species of orchids, as well as 15,000-20,000 hybrid species, said Teresa Alexander, a Mesker Park Zoo master gardener intern. Alexander lived in Florida for a couple decades growing orchids.

The orchids add lots of color to the Amazonia exhibit.

“It’s a great way to get out of cold and dreary weather,” Alexander told the Evansville Courier & Press (https://bit.ly/1fYKAo1 ).

Most of the species are native to Central and South America, but the exhibit’s flowers came from nurseries in Florida and Indiana.

“There are very few native orchids living in the United States,” Alexander said. “And several of them blend in with the leaf matter.”

Orchids’ basic needs are similar to any other plant: sunlight and water. They are based in the tropics so warm weather is also needed.

“Once they freeze, they will no longer bloom,” she said.

Orchids bloom once a season, but their bloom period can last three to six months before they go dormant. Orchids that grow from seeds take up to about seven years to bloom for the first time. A man-made process called cloning allows the flowers to bloom in about three years.

“Cloning has helped make orchids more available and cheaper to sell,” she said.

She recommends people to place the orchids in east or west windows so they get a decent amount of sunlight each day. If people want to keep the orchids, fertilizing them can help them last up to 30 years, Alexander said.

“They aren’t that difficult to grow,” Alexander said.

The annual exhibit brings in people who specifically come in for the orchids, said Linda Kassel, Mesker Park Zoo’s advanced master gardener.

“People come strictly for them,” she said. “The orchids bring lots of cameras.”

She said people should come out for the exhibit to get a glimpse of nice weather.

“It’s relaxing, it’s beautiful,” Kassel said.

The Mesker Park Zoo and Bionic Garden gift show has orchids for sale for $30.

___

Information from: Evansville Courier & Press, https://www.courierpress.com

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