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Caring for elegant orchids (and carnivorous plants) isn’t as hard as you think

David Bird shows off his “Lady Bird” orchid, named for his wife. Bird offers a wide variety of orchids, succulents and carnivorous plants at his Bird’s Botanicals underground greenhouse open to the public Tuesday through Friday. Bird also offers classes on orchid growing.
David Bird shows off his “Lady Bird” orchid, named for his wife. Bird offers a wide variety of orchids, succulents and carnivorous plants at his Bird’s Botanicals underground greenhouse open to the public Tuesday through Friday. Bird also offers classes on orchid growing. Special to The Star

Orchids are the largest species of blooming plants on earth. There are over 30,000 species and 145,000 hybrids — a huge diversity that can offer the feeling of exotic luxury to any home.

But these house additions can be a challenge, and they are a commitment. When you buy an orchid in bloom, chances are you are purchasing a plant that is 7 years old or more.

David Bird of Bird’s Botanicals has put in the time, breeding orchids earning top awards and offering his flowering creations at the City Market in downtown Kansas City. You can also visit his unusual nursery in an underground cave greenhouse at 8201 E. 23rd St., where orchids spend years incubating before they are ready for market.

Bird also sells succulents and has an entire room of carnivorous plants, including one large enough to consume rodents or a small monkey.

Bird says keeping beautiful orchids is not difficult, but it does require patience and persistence.

Q: How did you get involved with orchids?

A: I was 16. My folks took me to Hawaii. I got my first five orchids. I was already interested in bugs and plants and thought they were kind of cool. When I got back, that was it, I was hooked.

Q: What is it about orchids?

A: There are so many different kinds of orchids. They come from every continent on earth except Antarctica. Missouri and Kansas have 32 native species. We just don’t know it.

They are so diverse and so unique. I can just keep researching and growing different types.

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David Bird chose to move his greenhouse to an underground cave because of its location. “It was close to downtown. It was close to the airport,” he says. Karen Ridder Special to The Star

Q: Why are you in the caves?

A: I had a greenhouse at home and told my wife I would never need a bigger one. In a year, that thing was overflowing. I started looking for more space.

I had a friend that said greenhouses are overrated, why don’t you look for space in a warehouse or underground, and I got to thinking that Kansas City had all these caves. I came here because of the location. It was close to downtown. It was close to the airport.

Q: Why do people like orchids?

A: It is a blooming plant that can live in your home and bloom longer than any other blooming plant. It can bloom four months.

Q: What do you need to do to get it to give you four months of bloom?

A: Water it once a week and feed it.

When you water it, water it thoroughly. Take it to the sink, get the water kind of warm and really water it thoroughly. The feeding is going to be very helpful. If it’s not fed the leaves come out long and skinny. The plant needs some kind of nutrition so that it stays healthy. When you do water it, the leaves get bigger and larger and they get their energy built up for the next blooming cycle.

On a large plant you can get it to bloom twice a year. When there are two flowers left, cut it below the first flower or above the top node. It will think it didn’t get pollinated and it needs to get more flowers and it will send up a secondary spike and it will bloom in another two months again for another two months. So, you can get virtually six months of bloom on one plant.

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Bird displays one orchid in his underground nursery he had for 15 years before it produced a bloom. Karen Ridder Special to The Star

Q: What mistakes do people make?

A: They do not want it to get overwatered, so they put on ice cubes to water it. They saw this when they bought it at the grocery store.

Get it in a pot with drainage. Water it once a week. If it’s in a ceramic pot, and there is no drainage, it can get overwatered. The leaves can wilt if it is overwatered. Give it good humidity, and an east window is the best.

Q: What do you do when it is done blooming?

A: Where most people have difficulty is they don’t know how to make it re-bloom, and that is the trick. After that bloom cycle, cut it on the bottom. Water and feed it weekly. Then here is the trick: In the fall you need to chill it to 55 at night for three to four weeks.

In September and October we get our normal warm days and cool nights. Either put it outside in the shade or in a spare bedroom with the window open, somewhere that it still gets light and it gets the cool nights and warm days for a month. That is what triggers the spike.

Bring it in before it freezes and you should see the little spikes at the bottom. That spike will grow all winter and if you do everything exactly right you have flowers on Valentine’s Day.

Q: It’s that simple?

A: Yes. Water and feed it once a week. Chill it in the fall to make the spike and other than that you can cut the spike at any time. After the flowers die it is still a green plant.

There’s just so much information out there that most people are overwhelmed, and then they don’t know what to do at all.

Q: Now, you have also gotten into carnivorous plants?

A: We have lots of carnivorous. We’ve been doing them about three to four years. We have a whole room of carnivorous plants. The millennials like them.

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Carnivorous plants are one of the newest additions at Bird’s Botanicals. Owner David Bird says the carnivorous plants are easy to care for if they are kept in a tray of water and offered abundant sun. Karen Ridder Special to The Star

We have the Venus flytraps, but many others too. Sundew plants are good for gnats. We have one that is big enough it can eat a rat or a small monkey. It’s called napthenthese rabcantli./// napthens these robcantleyi // So if you are having small monkey problems, this is the one you want to get.

Q: What is the secret to carnivorous plants?

A: They have to have pure water, distilled or reverse osmosis. That is the key to growing carnivorous. You put them on a tray and the brightest light you can get and keep water in the tray all the time. That’s how you water it. You can also use rain water, Just have a bucket outside. Keep that in the bowl to keep the plant watered. They don’t have to have the flies and bugs to survive. Those are like taking vitamins.