In the dead of winter, with so much brown and gray dominating the South Mississippi landscape, there are exotic jungles thriving in homes across the Coast.
They aren't vast -- sometimes only a few pots -- but these jungles are just as exotic and enticing as any in the wild, albeit much tamer. They belong to orchid growers, who look forward to the annual Gulf Coast Orchid Society's Gulf Coast Orchid Show, where they can show off their pampered plants' fanciest blooms.
This year's show will be held Jan. 29 to 31 at the Gautier Convention Center, 2012 Library Lane, Gautier. Hours are noon to 6 p.m. Jan. 29, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Jan. 30 and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Jan. 31. On Jan. 31, several free orchid classes will be offered.
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The cost for the show itself is "free -- unless you start looking at the orchids and decide you want to buy one," said Irene Lear of Diamondhead.
She and next-door neighbor Myrtle Barrios became members of the orchid group when the charms of the flowers became irresistible. For both, that happened at one of the local shows.
"I started by visiting the orchid displays," Lear said. "When I first got there, I said, 'Gosh, I can't do that.' But I learned that I can, and I've been in for four or five years."
"She beat me to joining," Barrios said of Lear. "I wanted to go with her to a show, so I did, and that's how I got interested. I have about three dozen (orchid plants) now."
Lear's plants -- about 40 to 50 right now -- spend the winter in her sunroom and living room, and Barrios has hers near the glass patio door of her home.
"A lot of people have greenhouses," Lear said. "The orchids like different things. Some like the dark, and some like a lot of light. Some
of them like to be kept cool."
Orchids are more resilient that many people think, both women said, but there is one common thing they're fussy about.
"You use a specific potting soil for orchids with a certain type of bark," Lear said. "They need good drainage. They don't like wet feet."
Catalea is the easiest orchid for Lear to grow, but her favorite is one that is trickier, at least for her.
"My favorite is the paphiopedilum," she said; her favorite orchid also is known as Venus slipper or lady slipper. "I have to be careful with them."
For Barrios, choosing a favorite is difficult.
"I like all of them," she said with a laugh. "I really don't know." She and Lear agreed she likes the vanda orchid "because of its skinny leaves."
At the orchid show, growers create vignettes to showcase their flowers to their best. Judges look for uniformity and floral perfection.
"Some people are not amateurs!" Lear said. "They really know what they're doing."
Current members of the Gulf Coast Orchid Society are as young as 13, and several members are men.
"We have a lot of men in the Society," she said. "A lot of them are part of a husband and wife team."