Penobscot Man Nurtures Lifelong Love of Orchids



An orchid’s bloom is a show that may never go on.

If it does, it may be a short performance. Flowers can last a couple of days or a few months depending on the variety. They may not appear at all if ideal conditions for moisture, light and ventilation are not met.

Denis Roessiger became interested in orchids as a teenager.  Today he operates an orchid wholesale business and is a respected expert on orchid care.—CYNDI WOOD

Denis Roessiger became interested in orchids as a teenager. Today he operates an orchid wholesale business and is a respected expert on orchid care.—CYNDI WOOD

Despite the detailed care required for some types — or perhaps because of it — orchids inspire a near-cult following.

“Once you try one plant, you’ve got to try another,” said Denis Roessiger, owner of A New Day Farm in Penobscot.

The orchid wholesaler has a history with the flowers stretching back to his teenage years when he was a plant sitter for absent Connecticut homeowners. Today, his orchid collection fills four greenhouses.

His wholesale customers are primarily overseas, but he does sell to a few local retailers. He found the cost of growing orchids in Maine to be prohibitively expensive. Instead, he purchases plants from Hawaiian growers.

“They can grow in six to nine months what it takes a year and a half to grow here,” he said.

The variety of orchids is mind-boggling. There are more than 30,000 species and 100,000 hybrids, according to Roessiger. He is concerned about preserving them in their native environments. Species are found all over the world.

There are about 2,500 orchids in Roessiger’s collection. His flowers range from the rare to those that can be found in an average home and garden store. His is less than enthusiastic about the latter group.

“I don’t even pay attention to those,” he said with a dismissive wave of his hand at the few varieties in one of his greenhouses.

Orchid

Some of his orchids have big, showy blooms. Others have delicate flowers the size of a fingernail. Some, fed by liquid fertilizer, hang suspended from baskets without soil, their roots draping down from the greenhouse ceiling. Still others flourish in standing water.

Each has its own specific needs.

“That’s part of the challenge, you have to figure out what makes them happy,” Roessiger said.

He said research and “the art of observation” are key. He often gives talks on orchid care.

His passion and expertise for the flowers recently earned him an honor that has been bestowed on first ladies, Martha Stewart and noted horticulturists. An orchid has been named after him.

Members of the Eastern Maine Orchid Society, of which Roessiger is a founding member, pushed for the honor.

Roessiger is well-known in the orchid community and a regular on the show circuit. He will help growers prepare for orchid shows and is among the first to show up on opening day.

“The hunters are there early; the shoppers are there later,” he explained.

For all his love of the business, he’s trying to get out of it. He would like to free up more time to travel. He recently visited Ecuador, where he worked with orchid growers there.

He has seen a passion for orchids all over the world. In some places, care of the flowers has risen to an art form.

The Japanese and Chinese judge orchids on such details as the pattern of leaf formation and sometimes braid the roots of their plants.

“We’re just happy if it’s got flowers on it,” Roessiger chuckled.

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