JARS v55n1 - Vireyaholics Arise! Viva Vireya!

Vireyaholics Arise! Viva Vireya!
Sherla Bertelmann
Mt. View, Hawaii

In January of 1997 a handful of vireya rhododendron enthusiasts gathered in Volcano Village on the Big Island of Hawaii to lay the foundation of establishing a chapter in Hawaii of the American Rhododendron Society. In October of 1997 the Hawaii Chapter was formally granted ARS chapter status. Over the past three years membership and interest has steadily increased. Little did the new members know they, too, would soon become "vireyaholics."

First comes the fascination for the many varieties one sees at the monthly meetings. This leads to the challenge of learning how to root them. Oh, the sense of accomplishment when more cuttings take root than don't. This leads to wanting to try more.

The Hawaii Chapter fully supported this need by putting on demonstrations by some of the more successful growers. There was much sharing about what worked and what didn't among the members. Advice from others, such as Bill Moyles, was sought and ideas incorporated. As each member learned about his or her particular microclimate and what was needed for success in his or her area, the success rate of propagation rose.

Once a vireyaholic's confidence is up they are ready to try more things, such as new varieties, species, seed sowing, and growing out seedlings. Now new territories start to open up as talk turns to fertilizer, lacewing bugs, and potting media. The craving for more strengthens as they look for articles, books, and newsletters whose main topic is the vireya.

Once again the Hawaii Chapter rose to support the members' needs. New plants were brought in from Australia, seedlings grown by Mitch Mitchell were distributed, books from America, England and Australia were bought and copies of articles on vireyas put into the small but growing library. Speakers from Scotland and New Zealand presented slide shows of far away places and more exotic vireyas. The need for more continues to grow and along with it comes the realization that vireyaholics are worldwide.

The thirst for more and the awareness it brings opens up more worlds. Communication by way of email and snail mail has greatly helped satisfy some of the burning questions. Sites on the web like Chris Callard's with vireya photos have been invaluable. The Hawaii Chapter sponsored a Vireya Seminar in March of 2000 with participants coming from around the world all with one thing in common, a fascination for the vireya.

Now comes the desire to share the beauty and joy of growing vireyas with everyone - encouraging others, offering advice, or hands-on help.

This is a true attribute of a vireyaholic - the sharing. Cuttings, plants, advice, and help are given with a free and loving spirit. For two years the Hawaii Chapter has participated in our annual Orchid Show with an education/demonstration booth. Members man the booth and give openly of their experience to all interested persons. The need to share, to encourage growing, to increase the awareness and interest in vireyas has led the Hawaii Chapter to their next big challenge, a vireya educational/demonstration garden. It started about a year ago as a small outdoor planting of fifty plus vireyas at the Rainforest Zoo in Panaewa, Hilo. It didn't take long to realize that we wanted more than a casual planting of a few vireyas. We had a bigger vision, one with several beds that could house not only hybrids but also species. Raised beds lined with hapuu ferns, filled with organic material, with a rain sensitive irrigation system that would go on only if there was no rain and with proper plant identification signs - that was more in line with the vision.

A landscape architect has drawn such a vision in his preliminary sketch consisting of a 6,000 square-foot area. A memorandum of agreement has already been signed between the Hawaii Chapter and the zoo director. Everything is in line to start - except the funds. It has been estimated to cost about $25,000 to clear the land, prep it, and put in the irrigation and the bedding material for a completely public outdoor vireya garden in the United States.

The Hawaii Chapter wants to avoid a financial burden upon the zoo or the County of Hawaii and is seeking private funding in the form of grants or direct donations. I am appealing to all vireyaholics for help. The help can come in many forms, such as money, plants or advice and leads.

Vireyaholics Arise! Viva Vireyas!