People in your neighborhood: Michael Bloyer and JoAnna Justiniano

By Sarah CR Clark

Hidden away in a basement in St. Anthony Park, there is a perpetual garden, home to roughly 450 individual orchids as well as many bromeliads, jungle cacti, epiphytic ferns, neotropical blueberries and some varieties of hoyas and dischidias.

Originally a collector of cactuses and succulents, Michael Bloyer in 2005 became interested in orchids after discovering that Minnesota had its own orchid nursery (Orchids Limited in Plymouth).

“I went out there and met the owner and explored this greenhouse full of orchids,” Bloyer said. “I could not believe the diversity of them! Aside from their flowers, they are so diverse that some of their leaf shapes were just about as interesting to me as their flowers, which is why I like cacti and succulents.”

Eventually Bloyer became a greenhouse assistant at Orchids Limited, working there from 2012 to 2015.

Today, Bloyer’s orchid collection is a combined effort with his spouse, JoAnna Justiniano.

“We actually, individually, collected orchids before we got together,” she recalled. Justiniano and Bloyer met each other 10 years before they started dating. (Though Bloyer confessed, “I knew when I first met her that I wanted to date JoAnna.”)

In those 10 years they separately became orchidists. Justiniano remembered, “We ran into each other at Orchids Limited and were like, ‘What?! What are you doing here?’”

Bloyer added, “When we crossed paths again it was just a really big surprise to discover that connection.” Justiniano and Bloyer each had 200 or so orchids to bring to their relationship.

“One of us is never like, ’I don’t think you should get that, we don’t really need any more plants right now.’ We don’t have that safety valve for our relationship. We’re more like, ‘Oh, another orchid? Yes!’” Justiniano laughed.

Growing in two climate-controlled orchidariums in the Bloyer–Justiniano family’s basement is a collection of plants almost 20 years in the making. Plants growing on pieces of bark hang from the walls, hanging plants cascade from the ceilings and pots of terrestrial plants rest on platforms. The plants represent species found all around the world.

In their collection, Bloyer’s favorite orchid is one called “Cattleya nobilior.” A species from Brazil, it’s a compact plant with relatively large flowers.

 “It’s a rugged plant,’’ Bloyer said. “Where it grows in the interior of Brazil, it’s dry and hot, and the plant experiences a long period with low humidity, but it still produces big, fragrant, beautiful flowers.

I think it’s kind of neat. I’ve seen pictures of it in Brazil growing on rocks and growing on these big tree trunks. It just spreads these roots out all over the place.”

When asked about her favorite orchid, Justiniano said, “I don’t know, it’s like asking my favorite child. I think, for the moment, that this one (a “Phalaenopsis schilleriana” in their living room window) was a really special gift because it reminds me of one of the first orchids that Michael ever gave me. And it’s blooming right now. Probably whatever is blooming is my favorite orchid.”

According to Bloyer, most orchids bloom in the fall and at the time of this interview (the spring) most of their family’s collection were no longer blooming.

And yet, the green patterns of the orchidariums’ multitude of leaves were still something to behold. The collection smelled like summer, moist soil and verdant.

“Most orchids have a certain time of day when they’re fragrant,” Bloyer explained, all because of pollination. “A lot of orchids that have white flowers are fragrant at night. A lot of tubular-shaped flowers attract hummingbirds or butterflies, others have bright colored flowers to attract bees and butterflies during the day.”

There are about 28,000 species of orchids, making the “Orchidaceae” family the second largest botanical family in the world. Bloyer explained, “The more I got to know about orchids, the more it made sense that there were lots of types that were appealing to me because it’s such a huge family of plants.”

He further explained that while some orchids can grow above the Arctic Circle, Antarctica is the only continent where orchids do not grow. Some orchids grow in soil (and are referred to as “terrestrial”), some grow on other plants (“epiphytic”), some even grow underground (“subterranean”).

“Though orchids are not super abundant, they are very widely adapted to different niches and habitats,” Bloyer said. “In places like Central or South America where you have lots of elevation, in one valley there will be a bunch of one type of orchid and in the next, a bunch of another, just because of microclimates.”

Minnesota is home to 43 species of native orchids. Bloyer confirmed, “They’re all terrestrial and their common names are things like, coral root, ladies tresses and lady slippers.”

While he doesn’t have a favorite spot for finding wild orchids, Bloyer remembers seeing yellow lady slippers at Jay Cooke State Park and purple fringed orchids in the St. Croix River Valley. For more information on Minnesota’s orchids, Bloyer recommends the book “Orchids of Minnesota” by Welty Smith.

Sarah CR Clark lives in St. Anthony Park and is a regular freelance writer for the Bugle.

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