What started off as a spark of intrigue of a flower in a store soon blossomed into much more as Morty Kostetsky bloomed his love of orchids into the Ramapo Orchid Society.

Built for orchid enthusiasts, the Ramapo Orchid Society is a 501 (c)(3) federal government approved, non-profit organization that was started in 1997. With about 75 members now, the organization meets every third Thursday of the month, except for July and August.

While the society has been around for many years, the idea for it was sparked much earlier, in 1980 when Kostetsky was walking by a florist in Manhattan, where he had been living at the time. He was taken by an unusual flower in the shop window and went in to investigate.

“I said, ‘I’m curious; those plants out there in small pots that have a flower, are they real?’ And the man said, ‘Yes, they’re orchids,’” he said. “I said, ‘Orchids? That’s not what I think as an orchid.’ Because I come from a generation that when you took your girl to the prom, you bought her a cattleya orchid, and she would wear it as a corsage, and that’s what I thought were orchids. And he tells me this, which didn’t look at all like what I had thought was an orchid, was an orchid. Sure enough, I bought three. I spent $100-150 and bought three plants. I took them home and I sure did grow them. They stayed in bloom for another month or two, and I saved them. I took care of them. I watered them. And the following year, about a month before a year, they suddenly started sending out blooms and I got excited. That’s how I got started.”

His collection grew from those three to 250 orchid plants in his Manhattan apartment, thriving under Kostetsky’s green thumb. In New York, he belonged to two orchid societies, one in Manhattan and one in the Bronx, but a move to Fort Lee, which allowed him to be closer to his two sisters, made it difficult to attend the society meetings.

“I was talking to my friend Carlos Fighetti, who was president of the Greater N.Y. Orchid Society and president of the American Orchid Society, and I said, ‘How come there’s no orchid society in Bergen County?’ and he replied, ‘Well, maybe it’s waiting for your to start it.’ I turned around and said, ‘Me? Start an orchid society? How do you start it?’ And the rest is history,” Kostetsky said.

Kostetsky quickly planted the seeds from there. He went to Hackensack and got the name settled and registered the organization. It’s been a 501 (c)(3) federal government approved, non-profit organization for about 20 years, he said. Then, Hilda Belman, who had signed up to be a member as soon as the society was registered, was able to find a place to host meetings – Flat Brook Nature Center in Englewood – where meetings happen once a month.

Meetings include coffee and cake, which are provided by members, and occasionally vendors to be able to purchase orchids, as well as a show table for members to bring in their own orchids.

“It’s a table where members who have grown plants at home and have bloomed them, so the plant is in bloom, bring them in and put them on the table,” Kostetsky said. “What happens then is one of our members gets up and picks up each and every plant that’s brought in and explains what it is and asks the grower if they used a lot of light or the temperature and the other members can see what others are growing and how they did it. They get a little lesson from the show table. It’s also beautiful. There are some that make you wonder how someone could have possibly grown it at home; it’s miraculous.”

Experts are also brought in to attend the meetings. The speakers, who are all professional growers, come from a range of places, including California, Connecticut and New Jersey. Their talks usually concentrate on two or three particular types of orchids, and they are usually chosen based on the kinds of orchids members have been focused on growing within the society.

Special events for the Ramapo Orchid Society happen in both June and December. In June, an auction takes place at the Flat Brook Nature Center, where members can further grow their collection. In December too, an auction occurs at the annual Christmas party, which happens at a restaurant. That event also offers orchids for sale from wholesalers that the society brings in.

With the events, meetings and experts that are brought in, Kostetsky hopes to share with people the rewarding feeling that comes from re-blooming and caring for orchids.

“Reblooming that plant is a challenge but it’s so exciting. It gives the grower a real sense of satisfaction,” he said. “A lot of people buy orchids for $10 or $20 in the supermarket, and when it’s finished blooming, they go out and buy another one. So, a lot of people don’t feel they need advice or instructions. Instead of cut flowers that last a few days, they’re buying a plant that will give them a week to even four weeks of blooming. I’m trying to find those people who are interested in the many different varieties of orchids, where they’re from and one orchid you have to keep extremely cold while another needs to be warm. It’s weird because orchids are found on every continent but Antarctica. They grow all over and come back every year – the same plant comes back every year.”

What the society hopes to do is to continue to encourage people to fully understand this diverse flower and bring people with like interests together.

“It’s like any other thing, people get together and play games or smoke cigars or watch baseball or have dinner. It’s getting together with people and interacting with them. There’s something about that I guess feeds friendships. There are a lot of people out there, and they just want to get out and meet new people and have involvement other than their kitchen or their job, and this is different,” Kostetsky said. “Don’t throw that orchid out. We’ll show you how to re-bloom it again and again and again.”

The first meeting is free, said Kostetsky, and membership costs $25 a year for a single person and $35 for family membership. The next meeting will be held the third Thursday of September and more information can be found at https://www.ramapoorchid.org.

By Tara DeLorenzo

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