Green thumbs in Tullahoma had the opportunity to learn more about a distinct and beautiful plant when Richard Gross hosted the September Lunch and Learn about orchids.

Gross has been growing orchids in his home for decades and shared photos of different types of orchid plants with around two dozen people at D.W. Wilson Community Center.

Gross’s program described the most common types of orchids, including the kinds one can buy in the supermarket, before showing scores of photos of more exotic plants that can grow around the country.

Orchids are so varied they can encompass a number of patterns, colors and shapes, or what Gross called “genetic flexibility.”

The myriad ways to grow an orchid can yield hybrids just as well as standard plants, including the most common types of orchids, the “moth orchid.”

Other common orchids include the “dancing lady” and “lady’s slipper” orchids, both of which are named for their shapes.

For the most part, the attendees were home growers like Patricia Rogers and Millie Saunders. Rogers told The News before the program that she had seen the flyers for the program hanging up at the rec center and decided to come see if she could learn anything new about growing orchids.

Rogers has been growing orchids for more than four decades, she said, and even belongs to an orchid society down in Florida.

Saunders, on the other hand, was a self-proclaimed “black thumb” until about two years ago when she decided to try her hand at orchid growing.

Orchids are a “very simple” plant to grow, according to Saunders, and their beauty is what drew her to them two years ago.

“They’re just a gorgeous plant,” she said. “There’s so many different flowers you can get and different bloom types. They’re all different. Some of them are easy to grow in the home; some of them are not easy to grow in the home, and you have to understand what your environment is and then choose those kinds of orchids [to grow].”

She said she “absolutely loved” hearing Gross speak about his experiences.

“There’s just so many things that you could sit and ask him for hours and hours,” Saunders said, including “his orchids and what he showed – his experiences, from gathering them in the wild and his knowledge base from doing this for years.”

Saunders brought several of her own orchid plants to the program to seek advice on how to better care for them. The problem, Gross deduced, was the lack of aeration to the roots of her plants, Saunders said.

“The roots do have to breathe, and I don’t have enough aeration in my orchids,” she said.

Seeing all the different types of orchids, as well as problem solving her own orchid plants, gave Saunders a boost in her quest to make orchid growing a “lifelong hobby.”

Erin McCullough may be reached at