Not many people can say they have an orchid named after them, but Warren resident Mary Ann York can say it.
York, originally from Tennessee, moved permanently to Warren in 2005 with her husband Alan. Although she was exposed to gardening at a young age by her grandparents and her mother, York's interest in orchids was sparked in 1987 after she attended an orchid exhibit at a botanical garden near where she lived in Knoxville.
''The colors and shapes of the flowers caught my attention,'' she said, ''Especially the large Cattleyas. Their fragrance was overwhelming.''
Tribune Chronicle photos / Kathleen Evanoff
Mary Ann York stands with her favorite orchid color combination, a white flower with a red lip, pictured on this Doritaenopsis City Girl ‘Madonna.’ The orchid flower is made up of three main parts, sepals, petals and the lip, which contains both the male and female reproductive parts.
York said her first thought upon seeing the plants firsthand was, ''Someone grew these. If they can grow them, I can grow them.''
She purchased her first orchid, a Dendrobium, from a Kroger's grocery store for $7.99. The plant did poorly, she said, growing well but not flowering, which prompted her to visit the library to research orchids and their growing habits.
''I used to take home stacks (of orchid books) so heavy I could barely carry them,'' she said.
Mary Ann York's tips for growing successful orchids
- Be patient. Orchids will bloom on their own timeline.
- Educate yourself. Learn the plant's blooming cycle and what triggers the plant to set flowers.
- Give your plants bright, indirect light. Most orchids grow naturally among tree branches where the light is filtered.
- Always have air moving around your orchids. The roots are encased in a sponge-like coat called ''vellum,'' which grabs moisture from the air.
Although the books were helpful, York realized what she really needed was to find a grower who could teach her. York sought help from well-known Knoxville orchid grower, Shirley Moore.
''We became friends,'' York said. ''She was my mentor. I would spend a couple hours every day after work with her in her greenhouse.''
From Moore's greenhouse, York started her own collection of plants, which, in turn, caught the attention of her brother, Paul Fortsch, who was preparing to begin studying forestry in college. His interest in York's growing collection prompted Fortsch to change his major to ornamental horticulture and landscape design, and after serving an internship in Florida and Tennessee, they opened their own orchid nursery, called ''orchidhaven.''
Focusing on educating people on growing orchids, York advised her customers to ''think about where the plant grows naturally and try to mimic that environment.''
''You have to know what you're growing,'' York said. ''Plants can't change.''
With most orchids this means giving them bright, indirect light and to keep air circulating at all times. Ambient air is very important, York said, because most orchids hold water in the centers of the leaf stalks and into the plant's central crown. Sitting water can create an environment for fungal disease and the plant could begin to rot, but constant air flow helps evaporate that water.
Winter in Ohio is a tricky time for orchids, York said. It is a time when she waters more sparingly, less when the days are gray and overcast, but more when the winter days are sunny.
Although she doesn't monitor the humidity in her house in winter, York said she knows ''when it's comfortable for us, it's comfortable for them.''
Most orchids have aerial roots, which are covered in a spongy material called vellum. Since those types attach themselves to trees, they collect moisture from the circulating air through the vellum. York said she keeps small floor fans and ceiling fans operating around her orchids year-round.
There are three main orchid types, York said. Terrestrial orchids grow in boggy ravines and damp forest floors. Epiphytes grow on trees and produce aerial roots and lithophytic orchids attach themselves to exposed rocks and grow in rock crevices.
The orchid flower is made up of three parts, three sepals, two on each outer edge and one in the center of the flower and three petals, which are placed in between the sepals. The third part is the lip, which contains both male and female reproductive parts.
An orchid's growing habit is based on two basic structures, York said. They can be monopodial, which is to grow upward from one single stem, or they are sympodial, which is an outward branching growth habit.
Although her favorite orchid flower color is white with a red lip, the orchid bearing York's name, which was cultivated and grown in her store in Tennessee, has brilliant orange petals and sepals and a pale orange lip with the impressive name Sophrolaeliocattleya Seagull's Mini-Catt Heaven 'Mary Ann' Am/Aos. The prefix, Am/Aos indicates the plant was awarded the Award of Merit from the Orchid Society of America.
Not limiting her love of flowers to only orchids, York also has an impressive flower garden at her house where she is learning to garden in northeast Ohio.
''I love the summers here,'' she said. ''In Tennessee, the summers are so hot we have to fight to keep things growing because of the heat.''
Taking her love of plants even deeper, York, who works as a surgical nurse at St. Joseph Health Center, also volunteers her expertise where it is needed. She recently mentored Howland Girl Scout Olivia Patchen, who is working toward her Silver Award by identifying and labeling wildflowers on a walking trail in Howland Park. The Wetlands and Wildflower Walk will be held at 10:30 a.m. Saturday at the back pavilion behind Tiger Town in the park.