By RYOKO OHNISHI
Rafu Staff Writer
Today, we can find colorful orchid plants sold at home improvement stores and even grocery stores easily. Some may buy those plants, and enjoy the beauty of them. However, Bert Tagami, a long-time orchid hobbyist, has a more advanced interest. He pollinates plants and creates something unique.
Tagami says, “The exciting part is that you really do not know how the flower comes out from every seeding. Every year, new crosses are growing.” Sometimes the results end up with a disappointment, but this unexpectedness is also exciting for him.
Tagami registers those hybrid plants to the Royal Horticultural Society in England — so far, he registered about 10 of his own crosses. He even includes his family member’s names — for example, “Tagami’s Special, Etsuko” is named after his wife. Tagami also named plants after his five grandchildren — Matthew, Jonathan, Kai, Kayli and Kaden.
“Growing orchids needs a lot of patience,” Tagami smiles. “From the time I pollinate, it takes 6-7 months to germinate. I ship them to the laboratory and they are grown there between one year and a year and a half. So it takes 4-5 years before you see the flowers — this process made this hobby more exciting. You have to have a passion and patience.”
Among hundreds of types of orchids, such as cattleya, phalaenopsis, and dendrobium, why has he gotten into cymbidiums?
“One of the advantages of growing cymbidium in Southern California is that you do not need to have a greenhouse to control the temperature,” he said. “Cymbidum is a relatively easy-care plant. Anybody can grow the plants in their backyard or balcony.”
Orchids originated from tropical countries in Asia and elsewhere. They used to be very expensive, and growing orchids was known as a hobby of the rich. However, over the past half century, the development of cloning techniques made orchids available and affordable to everybody.
Mericlone is a cloning technique that takes the tissue of the parent plants and makes exact copies. This allowed for the mass-production of orchids in the market. But this is not what Tagami does. He pollinates each flower by hand.
“Millions of seeds are created in the seed pod in the pollination process,” he said. After he ships the seed pod, he usually receives 30 plants per flask. Depending on how he feels about the cross, he orders five flasks at a time; if he is not sure, he orders just two flasks.
“You get some surprises — brown flowers and a cross with another flower which ended up being green because of the background of the species,” he said, explaining that this surprise can be caused by a “recessive.” When you cross two plants, one is dominant and recessive characteristics may come out of the other parent.
To make the crossing successful, Tagami has to conduct research on each plant, not only its features but also its genetic history — where it was started and which family it belongs to. It is similar to genealogical research.
Tagami grew up in Wailuku, Maui. His father grew a lot of orchids, so Tagami was familiar with growing plants. Tagami moved to Los Angeles in the late 1950s, and in the 1980s, his wife Etsuko’s relative gave him a yellow cymbidium orchid. “When I saw the plant, I liked it,” he said.
To get to know more about the plants, Tagami started going to the shows and visiting nurseries. He turned his backyard from a vegetable garden into an orchid nursery.
Tagami and five of his hobbyist friends started a group called Torrance Cymbidium Club. It is recognized as the Torrance branch of the California-based Cymbidium Society, which has Japan and New Zealand branches.
“Being in the club is beneficial in that we are among people who have the same interest as we do since we exchange information and learn from each other,” he said. “The Torrance club has a welcoming committee, so any new members will receive a package of basic knowledge about growing orchids.”
When we purchase an orchid from a store for the holiday season, how do we keep it blooming?
“If you buy phalaenopsis in a plastic container without a drain hole, check the roots and repot it to a pot with a hole,” Tagami advises. “During the winter, once-a-week watering is good enough. Besides fertilizer, use epson salt. It is a good booster for lots of plants. Put one tablespoon for a gallon of water and give it once a month. It boosts the plants.”
The Torrance Branch of Cymbidium Society of America holds regular meetings on the first Wednesday of each month from October to June (no meeting in December), at 7 p.m. at J.H. Hull Middle School, 2080 W. 231st St., Torrance.
There are also branches in Santa Monica, San Gabriel Valley, San Diego, and Santa Barbara. For more information, visit the Cymbidium Society of America website.
CSA Torrance Branch Show: April 12-13, California Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas
Newport and Harbor Orchid Society Show: Feb 7-9 at Westminster Mall
Santa Barbara International Orchid Show: March 14-16 at 3400 Calle Real
Gardena Cymbidium Club Show: Feb 22-23 at Ken Nakaoka Community Center