It comes as little surprise for tourists to arrive on the Big Island of Hawaii and be greeted by a colorful assortment of flowers and foods. Nevertheless, the sights and smells of the Big Island’s offerings leave many overwhelmed. The plants and flowers of the Big Island are so renowned that the island earned the nickname, the “Orchid Isle.” The varied climates have led to an explosion of varied orchid types, species, and hybrids. Many growers take advantage of the various elevations and soils to create beautiful flowers.
Historians credit early 1900s Chinese laborers with introducing the first orchid species to the islands. By the 1930s, merchants and the Hawaiian monarchy had grown incredibly fond of the lovely tropical flowers. The first orchid societies were founded and led to the first World Orchid Conference in 1957. As these flower species exploded in popularity, vast fields grew in Hilo and many visiting military personnel sent flowers home to their families. Many will recall seeing photos of sailors returning home from combat being given orchid leis as their families greeted them home.
In 1967 the Hilo Orchid Society went on to create an Orchidarium on Manono Street in Hilo to display the flowers year-round for visitors and avid growers. While this Orchidarium no longer exists, there are numerous others that have carried on the tradition of celebrating and displaying the natural beauty of Hawaiian Orchids.
Among the best orchid showrooms and tours is the Akatsuka Orchid Gardens. Located just 10 minutes north of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, the retail store and showroom showcases a wide variety of orchids and tropical plants in an 8,000 square foot facility. The orchid gardens are located on Highway 11 between mile markers 22 and 23. They are open daily from 10am to 4pm, see their website for more information.
Their ‘Orchid Maze’ experience is an incredible self-guided tour that allows you to navigate the showroom and find educational display and video stations with helpful instructions if you want to grow your own orchids.
Today, orchids remain a large part of the agricultural economy of Hawaii. Statewide, they represent a $14 million dollar crop and are ranked number 14 of the top 20 commodities of the state. Across the state there are hundreds of orchid farms and about 20 orchid societies. Many of these growers and societies offer workshops and educational tours several times a year at their greenhouses so there is no shortage of opportunities to learn or get started.
Many of the Big Island orchid societies put on annual events that draw many to their colorful and vibrant displays. The Hilo Orchid Society, founded in 1938, continues to put on an annual show July 29-31st. The show is held at the Edith Kanaka’ole Stadium in Hilo.
The festival features thousands, literally thousands of orchid displays. Including some exotic species and hybrids you won’t find anywhere else. There are also orchids for sale with guidance on how to tend and grow more orchids for beginners and experts alike. Numerous lectures and demonstrations are provided for more educational resources to attendees.
A second opportunity to appreciate the efforts of local orchid growers is the annual Mother’s Day Event by the Kona Orchid Society.
Their Annual Orchid Show and Sale is Mother’s Day weekend and is held in the pavilion at the Old Kona Airport in Kailua-Kona. Several vendors will be selling orchids as well as numerous craft vendors showcasing and selling items like jewelry, fine art, ceramics and other arts and crafts.