Memory Lane on Orchids in Hawaii

by June Kaichi

phalaenopsis orchidHow did the Hawaiian islands become known as “the Orchid Isles?” According to Thomas J. Sheehan’s book Ultimate Orchid; in the U.S. commercial nurseries started in mid-1800 along the East Coast, working their way West to California by 1911.

Thanks to Y. Hirose of Hilo (Hirose Nursery?), numerous orchid species were introduced to the islands in 1930, causing the cut flower industry to thrive. Prior to statehood, Hawaii was the hub of the orchid growing industry and became number one in the world commercially, earning its name “the Orchid Isles.”

So how did “old timers” in Kona contribute to Hawaii’s growth of the orchid industry? Here’s Joyce Hancock and her sister, Jeannette Federspiel’s story about their uncle:

My Uncle Mikio Izu here in Kona has the best recollection of Uncle Takeo Nishibun and his orchids . . .

Uncle Takeo lived in Kealakekua, just south of Konawaena Elementary School. Uncle’s brother –in-law was a pharmacist living on Oahu. He went on a trip to Asia in early 1950 in search of medicinal plants and returned with some phalaenopsis and gave some to Uncle Takeo.

This was the beginnings of Uncle Takeo’s prized, private collection of phalaenopsis orchids. Since he did not have a greenhouse, being a coffee farmer, he naturally hung his orchids on coffee trees. When they bloomed he moved them on his porch. As youngsters, Jeannette remembers the phalaenopsis hanging on the porch. “I vaguely remember later when he had a shelf for his orchids” Joyce reminisces. Later, cattleyas were also added to his collection.

If anyone has stories to share, please let either Clint or June know so we can share them in future KDOC newsletter issues.

Thomas J. Sheehan
Ultimate Orchid in Association with the Smithsonian Institution and the American Orchid Society, New York, New York, DK Publishing, 2001, pg. 9.

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