Ever Green

By Lois Taylor

Friday, October 1, 1999

By Craig T. Kojima, Star-Bulletin
The three authors, from left, Adelheid Kuehnle, Haruyuki
Kamemoto and Teresita Amore, show off their newest book
and the rows of dendrobiums raised in their breeding program.

Dendrobium array dazzles

WHAT'S beautiful, easily cultivated and generates more than $30 million annually within the state? No, not the babes in "Baywatch," it's the dendrobium orchid industry. And no three people have been of more support to it than these Ph.D.s from the University of Hawaii: Haruyuki Kamemoto, Adelheid Kuehnle and Teresita Amore. This multi-ethnic trio has just had published by the University of Hawaii Press their most recent book, "Breeding Dendrobium Orchids in Hawaii," $60.

Kamemoto began the research program on dendrobiums at the University 50 years ago, and his continuing research has resulted in the naming and release of numerous cut-flower and potted plant cultivars. He holds the Gold Medal of Achievement from the American Orchid Society.

Kuehnle's field is research on orchid tissue culture, and she was awarded the 1993 Nagoya International Orchid Congress Grand Prize for her pioneering work in orchid genetic engineering.

Amore has been active in the program for the past 15 years, working on the breeding and yield of dendrobiums.


Bullet With: Authors of "Breeding Dendrobium Orchids in Hawaii," plus a first-come, first-served plant giveaway to buyers and owners of the book
Bullet When: 8:30 a.m. to noon tomorrow
Bullet Where: Magoon greenhouse, on Woodlawn Avenue, across from the Manoa Public Library
Bullet Cost: Free, but the book is $60.
Bullet Call: 956-2162

The book tells the grower with 10 pots of dendrobiums more than he really needs to know, but the gorgeous photographs by Kamemoto and descriptions of the many, many different hybrids make it a keeper. "The general reader may want to focus on only a few of the chapters," Kamemoto said, but breeders and scientifically minded readers will find all of it of interest and they'll learn a lot.

The dendrobium was one of the first orchids introduced to Hawaii, having been brought from the Philippines in 1896, and is still a favorite among gardeners here. Kamemoto said that 90 percent of the dendrobiums grown now in the state are UH hybrids. The industry hit its stride in the early 1980s as the market for both potted and cut dendrobiums grew.

There was a huge impact when supermarkets, garden shops, even hardware outlets began selling potted orchids. Hotels and restaurants used hundreds of sprays as arrangements. They have become a trademark at such restaurants as Orchids at the Halekulani and Keo's Thai Cuisine, as well as in the lobby of the Kahala Mandarin Hotel. And home gardeners realized that a potted orchid costs about the same as a florist's bouquet and lasts probably 10 times as long. Even the cut flowers, available at supermarkets, last two to three weeks if the ends of the stems are cut under water and the arrangement is kept out of direct sun. The boom was on its way.

"The major objectives of the breeding program," Kamemoto said, "are attractive sprays in an array of colors, long and erect arching sprays, high yields, year-round flowering, low bud drop and long vase life for cut sprays. For the potted orchids, buyers want a compact plant with good foliage and prolific flowering. In both cases they want lots of different colors, always ones you don't have."

That's a lot to ask, but Kamemoto and his team are providing it. The foundation of their success rests with five seed-propagated cultivars, developed between 1976 and 1982 by Kamemoto: Uniwai Blush, Uniwai Supreme, Uniwai Pearl, Uniwai Prince and Uniwai Princess. Hybrids from these are the basis of the cut flower market.

"These cultivars are all seed-propagated," he explained. The alternative is through tissue culture, a system of propagating plants by using cells from a newly forming shoot to create a clone of the original plant. "The advantages of seed propagated plants are that they are easier, faster and cheaper to grow." And the cymbidium mosaic virus, which has been so deadly to the orchid industry, is not transmitted from seed.

Kuehnle, whose field is genetic engineering of orchids, is working on a variety of new colors. One of the newest is "Icy Pink" with delicate icy pink flowers on long sprays with a good vase life. Like many orchid breeders, she is also working with some success on developing a true blue orchid and a bright red one.

Although the University's dendrobiums flower year-around, peak production is from June through November. But because not all cultivars bloom at the same time, if you grow several different ones you will have flowers throughout the year.

Dendrobiums generally should be grown in small pots, even though they may seem out of proportion to the size of the plant. They don't take well to repotting or dividing. They need frequent watering in their active growth stage, probably every other day during warm weather. When the plant is mature, watering should be cut back. A balanced liquid fertilizer such as 18-18-18 is recommended, and dendrobiums grow best in partial shade.

The authors are having a book signing tomorrow, and a plant giveaway until they run out of University-developed dendrobium cultivars for those who bring or buy a copy of the book. It is a companion to an earlier book by Kamemoto and Kuehnle, "Breeding Anthuriums in Hawaii." A third book, "Breeding Protea in Hawaii," is under way.

Do It Electric!

Gardening Calendar in Do It Electric!

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