Many people think of Cattleya Orchids as the standard and that they are endemic to Hawaii,” says Mr. Moriyasu Akatsuka of Akatsuka Orchid Gardens, also known as “Mr. Orchid” of the Big Island. Although there are many species of orchids, there are only four that are endemic to Hawaii.
Some orchids have soft, fragile petals, some have large fleshy petals, and others have pointy or spiny petals. Some of them have shocking colors: purples so dark they look chocolatey, yellows so bright they are practically neon, and pinks so vivid that the sunset pales in comparison. Some orchids have an intoxicating fragrance that will linger in your dreams.
Orchids are classified as Orchidaceae, the Orchid Family. Cattleyas may not have originally come from Hawaii, but Mr. Akatsuka has been a pioneer in breeding Cattleyas in the islands for nearly 30 years. He moved here from Japan to help his brother with his orchid nursery. “At the time, only hobbyists were growing Cattleyas, which was not enough to supply the wholesale industry,” Mr. Akatsuka explained. “The few that we could get from Oahu were always damaged in transportation.”
In response to wholesale demand, Mr. Akatsuka decided to grow his own Cattleyas instead of importing them. Never mind that the growing process takes 3 – 5 years to bloom, and that at 2,600 feet above sea level, his nursery was not considered ideal conditions for raising orchids where temperatures can dip to 50 degrees at night. However, that was not a problem for Mr. Akatsuka. He grew orchids in hot houses in Japan, and knew that if he covered the green houses, he might have success in growing the delicate Cattleyas. The results of his efforts, some 20 years later, are hardier, bigger and stronger cattleyas that are in great demand. “My orchids take longer to grow,” he admits, “but they are stronger.”
In 1991, Mr. Akatsuka took over the family busi- ness. Today, the majority of the sales are in retail and a smaller percentage in wholesale. The most lucrative are his hybrids. Mr. Akatsuka is to hybrid orchids as Mercedes-Benz is to cars: “the best that you can buy.”
Every year, Mr. Akatsuka creates between 50 – 70 hybrids. He won’t know for at least 3 – 6 years if his hybrids will even bloom, and if they do, will they produce the flower he is looking for. “It’s a long process,” he admits, “And it’s a lot of money to invest.” But Mr. Akatsuka’s hybrids are so well known (and respected) in the orchid world, that wholesalers and hobbyists alike happily buy his plants before they bloom, knowing that any Akatsuka orchid is a treasure!