Business blooms for orchid grower
Record Staff Writer
Saturday, February 7, 2004


HICKORY - Phyllis Erikson said if a person wanted to, thereís something new he could learn about orchids every day for the rest of his life.

"But you donít have to know it all to successfully grow orchids," said the owner of Ironwood Estate Orchids on Sandy Ford Road. "Many first-time customers come back and comment on how easy theyíve found them to grow.

"They want more."

Customers at the recently-expanded Ironwood Estate Orchids are among the growing number or enthusiasts who have pushed wholesale orchid sales to the No. 2 position among potted, flowering plants in the United States.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, only poinsettia sales rank higher, and those of chrysanthemums rank a distant third.

To Erikson, the reasons for the boom in orchidsí popularity are obvious. Their exotic appearance adds a distinctive touch to homes and offices. And with more than 25,000 identified species, thereís an orchid for nearly every personís taste.

"Overall, people are becoming more comfortable with orchids," said Erikson, a member of the American Orchid Society and the Catawba Valley Orchid Society.

"Theyíre realizing that itís something that they can be successful at, that itís not beyond them."

Ironwood Estate Orchids, a family-owned business that operates from two greenhouses behind Eriksonís home, sells retail and wholesale and even rents orchids for use at wedding receptions, business open houses and other special events.

Besides orchids, it also carries decorative pots, potting mediums, fertilizers and a few other plants including bromeliads, ferns and geraniums.

But itís the thousands of orchids, priced from $5 to $85, that take center stage, enticing buyers with their lush blooms and unusual fragrances.

Ironwood Estate carries such familiar plants as phalaenopsis (moth orchid), cattleya (corsage orchid), paphiopedilum (lady slipper), oncidium (dancing lady), dendrobium and vanda. It also has rarer plants, including angraecum (Darwinís orchid); the vanilla orchid, the seed pods from which are used to make vanilla flavoring; orchids imported from the Philippines; and orchids that when in bloom smell like chocolate.

Some orchids are potted, others are mounted on moss-covered cork, and a few hang completely free, as they would from tree limbs in a tropical rain forest.

Erikson and her husband began growing orchids as a hobby about 20 years ago when they received one as a gift.

"We kept getting more and more," she said. "First they were on our dining table, then we added a card table. We finally ran out of room and built a greenhouse."

Orchid-growing remained a hobby until Erikson took early retirement from her job a couple of years ago. "I began praying as to what I was supposed to be doing, and as far as I can tell, this is it," she said.

Ironwood Estate Orchids opened in April 2002. The business, a member of the Catawba County Chamber of Commerce and the Southwest Business Association, more than doubled in size with the recent addition of the second greenhouse. An open house was held Friday and Saturday.

Erikson, who has won awards for her orchids at home-and-garden shows in Hickory and Charlotte and at the Hickory American Legion Fair, shares her knowledge during presentations to garden clubs and orchid societies. And, naturally, with her customers. In addition to providing printed care instructions with each plant purchase, she enjoys answering customersí questions about orchids.

"I love people, and I love to talk about orchids," she said. "Every day I come out here and look for new blooms. They make me smile."


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