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Orchid mania among the Vietnamese community and beyond at the Newport Harbor Orchid Expo near Little Saigon

Ha Bui, a member of both the Newport Harbor Orchid Society and the Vietnamese Orchid Society of Orange County, first brought the biannual Newport Harbor Orchid Expo to Westminster Mall ten years ago.

Shoppers purchase orchids at the 2020 Newport Harbor Orchid Society Orchid Expo and Sale that took place over three days on the second floor of the Westminster Mall, near Little Saigon. The expo, which also includes an orchid competition, drew crowds from the moment it opened Feb. 7.

Ha Bui, Newport Harbor Orchid Society’s spokesperson, explains that orchids are popular in the Vietnamese immigrant community, especially among elders, because “in the old days, only royalty and well-to-do noble people could grow orchids. So we always look at it as something very precious.”

Nowadays, it’s an accessible hobby, he says. “It’s easier than you think to grow if you understand the conditions that are needed [for each type of orchid], and it’s the largest family of flowers in the world, with a lot of variation, so everyone can find something that they like.”
 (Raul Roa/Staff Photographer)
Ha Bui, center, is also the vice president of the Vietnamese Orchid Society of Orange County. He was instrumental in bringing the biannual Newport Harbor Orchid Society expo to Westminster Mall in February 2010. The expo became a popular gathering for the Vietnamese community in Little Saigon, he explains, especially after they started including additional exhibits from the Vietnamese Bonsai Society and a showcase for Vietnamese American photographers and painters.
 (Raul Roa/Staff Photographer)
Vietnamese Orchid Society of Orange County founder Dang Bui, 92, stands in front of their exhibit at the 2020 Newport Harbor Orchid Society Orchid Expo and Sale. The Vietnamese Orchid Society is the only ethnic orchid society in the United States. Dang Bui, no relation to Ha Bui, started it in 2004.

The group’s monthly meetings are known for its food and birthday raffles, says Ha Bui, and its comprehensive website (hoalanvietnam.org), which is updated weekly, has become a resource for Vietnamese around the world who want to learn how to grow orchids or want to learn the history of orchids that are indigenous to Vietnam. (Raul Roa/Staff Photographer)
When the Newport Harbor Orchid Society expo was moved to Westminster Mall, the organizers started a tradition where they invited the Westminster mayor to attend and give out a special “Mayor’s Award” to their favorite flower. First it was Mayor Margie Rice, but in recent years, Westminster Mayor Tri Ta has attended annually. Ha Bui, left, stands with Anh Doan (Ta’s wife), Mayor Tri Ta and Ruben Colmenares from Sunset Valley Orchids. (Raul Roa/Staff Photographer)
Mai Tran of Santa Ana, center, and her friends bought themselves large orchids at the 2020 Newport Harbor Orchid Society Orchid Expo and Sale. The Vietnamese community, big buyers and fans of orchids, are known to have impact on the cost of orchids, says Ha Bui: “They decide on a flower they like, and suddenly the price becomes so high, because everyone has to have one. They create a frenzy.”  (Raul Roa/Staff Photographer)
Andy’s Orchids (andysorchids.com), from Encinitas, won Best in Show at the 2020 Newport Harbor Orchid Society Orchid Expo competition.

Andy specializes in species orchids, referring to orchids that have been collected from the wild and not tampered with — as opposed to hybrids, which are man-made. He sells his orchids mounted on wood, which mimics the way that orchids grow in nature. “Orchids on a stick” is his motto. (Ada Tseng)
When an orchid grower creates a unique hybrid, they can register it with the International Orchid Register, based in London, by providing the two seed parents. If it’s a truly one-of-a-kind, then they can name it.

The late Loren Batchman, a fellow aerospace engineer was one of the first orchid hobbyists that mentored Bui after he first became interested in 2000, named a couple of his hybrids after Bui, including the Ha Bui “His Majesty” (pictured).

Batchman ran Casa de las Orquideas in Solana Beach in San Diego County, and the store, which specializes in “high color and unusual” cymbidiums, is now run by his two children.
 (Courtesy of Ha Bui)
Cymbidium orchids are so popular that they have their own society (cymbidium.org). They are common in Southern California, because they grow in cool temperatures and California has mild winters.

This rare Cymbidium orchid, Satsuma Beach “Hideko,” is a gift from one of Ha Bui’s friends, a Japanese American in Torrance that named it after his mother. “Only three people have it, and people have been willing to pay $1,000 for it, but I made a promise that I wouldn’t sell it,” says Bui.
 (Raul Roa/Staff Photographer)
Ha Bui tends to name his hybrids after his family: his late parents, a couple he lived with in his youth that he calls “his American parents,” his wife and children.

His wife’s name is My Van (pronounced mee vahn in Vietnamese), but Bui jokes that people who don’t know him very well assume that he’s naming his orchids after his minivan. He also names a lot of his hybrids after Little Saigon.

Here, he’s standing in front of the Newport Harbor Orchid Society’s display. nhosinfo.org (Raul Roa/Staff Photographer)
The Paphiopedilum delenatii, sold by Cal-Orchid Inc. (calorchid.com) of Santa Barbara, is native to Vietnam and during wartime, it was illegal to take them from their native habitat and people were jailed for trying to smuggle them out, explains Ha Bui. It could only be purchased from a prestigious nursery in France and it was believed to be extinct in nature. Since it was re-discovered in 1993, it’s commonly sold in Vietnam and has made it over, legally, to the U.S.

“Conservation-wise, we actually propagate it, pollinate it, instead of trying to collect them from the wild, to make it more available,” Bui says.  (Ada Tseng)
Cypripedioideae are commonly known as slipper orchids because of the slipper-shaped pouches of the flowers. This Paphiopedilum Nitens “Sue” was on display at the 2020 Newport Harbor Orchid Society Orchid Expo and Sale at the Westminster Mall. (Raul Roa/Staff Photographer)
Ha Bui says that many people overwater orchids, especially if they put them in nice vases and let it sit in the water, which rots the roots. “The key is to let it nearly dry out before you water it again,” he explains. “It’s actually quite low maintenance, but if you baby it and water it too much, you kill it. It’s best to take the orchid to the sink, run water through it and let it flush out before you put it back in the vase.” (Raul Roa/Staff Photographer)
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