Hidden Hawaii: The Annual Orchid Show in Hilo on the Big Island
Many visitors to Hawaii are often so busy sightseeing or relaxing on the beach that they miss some interesting local events during their stay on the islands. One of those events is the annual orchid show in Hilo on the Big Island. This 3-day orchid extravaganza is held every year in August at the historic Edith Kanaka’ole Stadium near downtown Hilo. Whether you are an orchid enthusiast, or just an admirer of these unique flowering plants, this event is a must see! Organized by the Hilo Orchid Society for almost 60 years, the annual orchid show is a highly anticipated event. Well attended by orchid growers and hobbyists from all over the state of Hawaii, it also attracts a number of avid orchid collectors from North America, Asia, and Europe. Each year, the show has a central theme which exhibitors incorporate into their exhibits inside the 18,700 square feet stadium. These lavish displays, along with a myriad of orchid varieties, are carefully judged and then presented with prestigious awards by a team of American Orchid Society judges.
This year, the 59th annual orchid show was held on Friday, August 5, through Sunday, August 7, with the theme “Orchid Safari." Thousands of orchid specimens from professional and amateur growers on the Big Island were showcased. Major orchid species in the Orchidaceae family including Cattleya, Dendrobium, Miltonia, Oncidiinae, Paphiopedilum, Phalaenopsis, Pleurothallis, Vanda, as well as many other hybrids and cultivars, were on display at the show. Exhibitors created some of the most elaborate and stunning displays across the stadium’s floor, using a profusion of orchids and tropical plants in every color, size, and shape you could imagine. Some of the displays were quite large, and it took a while for attendees to walk through and see everything. Several of the displays featured orchids that had an intoxicating fragrance to lure in viewers. Attendees were enthralled with a great variety of new orchid species on display. Some varieties produced gigantic flower sprays 4-5 feet long! Other varieties had tiny inconspicuous blooms that you almost needed a magnifying glass to see! But the most spectacular of all were those rare or unusual orchids. To see these gems up-close in person was truly an awe-inspiring experience. It was like seeing the Mona Lisa for the first time or catching a glimpse of the extinct Ivory-billed woodpecker!
The American Orchid Society judges met and did their meticulous work the day before the show started. This year, the awards for orchids included Best Species, Best Specimen and Most Unusual or Rare. The coveted Grand Champion Award went to a sensational bright yellow Paphiopedilum Dollgoldi. The awards for the displays ranged from Best Show Display to Best Theme Display to Best Educational Display. The trophies and ribbons were placed next to the winning displays or orchid plants, to be recognized by the show’s attendees.
Every year at the orchid show, along with the dazzling displays, there are also dozens of vendors from local orchid farms and nurseries with booths set up to sell their orchids. At the Plant Sales area inside the stadium, attendees are able to browse and purchase orchids—many similar to the ones viewed in the displays. Fully mature orchid plants in bloom, as well as young specimens, are available for sale. The vendors also act as orchid experts to answer questions and give advice on how to care for your newly purchased orchid. With correct watering, feeding and lighting conditions, these orchids will bloom again and again. Also available for sale are large collections of orchid pots (in wood, clay, or porcelain), jewelry, artwork, and unique orchid-related items from other vendors. Attendees can sign up for many free demonstrations scheduled for each day at the show including Flower Arranging with Orchids, Orchid Pests and Diseases, Orchid Potting Mixes, and Basic Orchid Culture. There’s also a refreshment area located at one corner of the stadium, where attendees can sit and enjoy local food and drink and watch a live hula dance performance.
Hilo Orchid Society’s annual orchid show is held at the Edith Kanaka’ole Stadium. Close to Hilo airport and downtown area, the 4000-seat stadium is a famous landmark. It is named after the beloved hula dancer and singer Aunty Edith Kanaka’ole (1913-1979) who was a native of the Big Island. Besides being the home of the annual orchid show, this stadium also hosts the renowned Merrie Monarch Festival and Hula Competition which brings thousands of hula dancers and spectators from all over the world to the Big Island every year in April.
Hilo Orchid Society’s annual show is sponsored in part by grants from the County of Hawaii and the Hawaii Tourism Authority.
Orchid Show Tips
- $4 admission fee (children 12 & under free).
- Bring a camera with good zoom lens.
- Never touch the orchids in the displays!
- Buy some orchids to bring home. Look for special deals (like buy 2 get 1 free!) from many vendors. Warning: some popular orchid varieties might sell out quickly!
- If you bought orchids in the Plant Sales area and want to go back into the Exhibit area, leave your orchids at the "Plant Hotel" area where volunteer staff will hold them for you (as no purchased orchids are allowed in the Exhibit area).
- Friday, the first day of the show, is usually less crowded and easier to find a parking spot. You’ll have a better chance to see the displays without having to stand, tip-toe, or crank your neck over a sea of heads. You may also have the first opportunity to purchase orchid plants!
- There’s a fabulous dinner gala ($65 per person to benefit local charities) on the night before the show at the stadium where you can mingle with Hilo’s finest orchid connoisseurs. This dinner includes orchid and displays preview, great food, fine wine, and live music.
When you visit Hilo town on the Big Island, or travel to any of the other islands on your Hawaii vacation, please always be respectful to the kama'aina (local people) and the aina (land).
About the Author
This author, Viet Doan, goes to the Hilo orchid show each year. There is hardly any more room for orchids in his house but he can’t help himself from bringing home a few more!
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© 2011 Viet Doan