Hilo Orchid Society to hold orchid sale in lieu of cancelled show

  • Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald Prosthechea radiata orchids are small and give off a scent of root beer in Karl Mendonca's Hilo garden.

  • Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald Karl Mendonca sits Wednesday by Miltoniopsis Lillian Nakamoto "Tanto" orchids, which grow in his garden in Hilo. Mendonca calls them "Batman orchids" due to the shape the colors makes in the middle.

The Hilo Orchid Society has canceled its popular annual orchid show for 2021, as it did in 2020, because of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

This year, however, the group is sponsoring an orchid sale. The event will be held Friday, July 30, from 11:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Saturday, July 31, from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Edith Kanaka‘ole Multi-Purpose Stadium in Hilo.

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Admission is free, and face masks and social distancing are required.

“This is going to be new for us,” said Karl Mendonca, an orchid hobbyist and the group’s president-elect. “Typically, we put on a big show that goes over four days, and with that event, about 3,500 to 4,000 people attend. Given that we’re dealing with COVID and the pandemic, that type of event is not possible with the presentations, the entertainment, the displays and all the congestion.

“Typically, we charge for entry into the show, and that’s because it includes not just selling plants, but all the displays and entertainment and demonstrations and stuff. But with this just being a sale, we are not charging any admission.

“We’re hoping that we get maybe 1,500, 2,000 people come through. People are pretty hungry for plants. A lot of people have gotten into gardening during the pandemic.”

Mendonca said nine vendors, commercial orchid growers, have signed on for the event.

“They’re happy to have an opportunity to be able to sell directly to the public,” he said.

“Everybody’s definitely excited; everybody’s been anxious to put something on for a year-and-a-half. I know with the little pop-up sales of orchids that have been going on, people have been clamoring for us,” added Ben Oliveros, the group’s vice president.

The orchid society submitted its request for the facility in June and the county granted it permission to have 100 people on stadium floor at any one time.

“My plan is, about a week before the sale, to contact the county again and see if there’s any leeway … if there’s been any incremental increasing that would allow us to bump that number up,” Mendonca said. “I’m not looking for any changes in the other stipulations, which are masking and social distancing, and one entrance and exit.”

Oliveros, owner-operator of Orchid Eros, a commercial nursery, said the pandemic has increased the demand for orchids.

“I would say that almost everybody on the island seems to be selling out. It’s been better than it has been for, maybe, 40 years,” he said.

The reason, Oliveros said, is online sales.

“They’re 100% credit,” he elaborated. “People are home and looking for something for their home. And (growers) have switched over to online sales or supplemented with them. It’s been through the roof.”

Mendonca concurred.

“A lot of our vendors have been able to refocus their efforts to do a lot of online sales and the vendors that have done that have done fairly well — and, in fact, have been doing as well, maybe even a little bit better, during the pandemic,” he said.

Asked why orchids have such widespread appeal, Oliveros replied, “They’re exotic and different with an incredible array of variety.”

Both Mendonca and Oliveros hope conditions next year allow the Hilo Orchid Society to put on its usual orchid show with all the bells and whistles.

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“As long as things are opened up again, it’s a definite go. We’ve got the tennis stadium reserved for early June every year and we hate to miss an event,” Oliveros said.

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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