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The Many Orchids of Muncie

The Dr. Joe and Alice Rinard Orchid Greenhouse is home to Muncie’s very own orchid paradise.

By: Haley Boyce

Tucked away on University Street sits a magical building. The beauty inside is diverse and lively, coming from places across the globe. 

Who knew such a remarkable place existed in Muncie, Indiana? 

The Dr. Joe and Alice Rinard Orchid Greenhouse and Environmental Education Center houses tons of unique plants ranging from the tropics to the mountains. While all plants allow for visitors to have an educational experience, the orchids within this house are arguably the shining stars of the greenhouse. 

Joe Menard, a Ball State alumni, wanted to honor his wife, Alice, after she passed away. He chose to fund the building of the greenhouse in her honor. 

Cheryl LeBlanc is the greenhouse’s official orchid expert. Based on the guided tour the greenhouse provides on its website, it seems like there isn’t anything about orchids that LeBlanc doesn’t know. 

“Orchids can be really crazy shapes and no two are really much alike,” LeBlanc says. 

According to Susan Orlean, author of ‘The Orchid Thief,’ the fascination with orchids and collecting them started in Victorian England. Orlean says that orchid collecting was an activity that only the extremely wealthy partook in. The wealthy were able to build lucious greenhouses and pay for explorers to travel far and wide to find any new kinds of orchids. 

The creation of a new orchid is completely possible, as orchids can be mutated, crossbred or cloned. Because of this, many find them exciting and desirable. 

The greenhouse has two main rooms to house their orchids: the warm house and the cool house. The warm house is arguably where Ball State’s orchid collection shines. Out of the 25,000 – 30,000 different orchid species, Ball State houses over 2,100. 

As visitors look around the greenhouse, they’ll realize that orchids come in all shapes, sizes and colors. There’s an undeniable uniqueness to this plant and seeing the different types makes anyone wonder what else is out there.

According to Erica Oliver, an Environmental Education and Greenhouse Coordinator at the greenhouse, the history of orchids dates back to thousands of years ago.

“They’re one of our oldest plant families,” she says. “There [were] orchids on the planet when dinosaurs were roaming the earth.” 

According to Orlean, orchids come from perennial plants, which essentially means they can survive for several years and beyond. Orchids can thrive in almost any environment on the planet thanks to their ability to adapt. 

This may explain the extraordinary collection within the greenhouse. As someone walks around the warm house, it feels as though they are always surrounded by an orchid. 

The greenhouse has a special spot for the Lady Slipper Orchid in its big, green, tropical heart. The name comes from the appearance of the orchid, that’s shaped like a shoe. In 2016, the greenhouses local centenarian, Betty Kendall, turned 100 years old. 

Kendall loved wearing high heels, so when the Rotary Club of Muncie wanted to make a donation in her honor, the greenhouse decided it was appropriate to have Lady Slippers be the kind of orchid to honor Kendall. 

“Lady Slippers and Betty kind of go together,” LeBlanc says with a smile. 

In the cool house room, visitors can find orchids that naturally grow in the mountains of Central America and Asia. Here, no two plants look remotely the same. 

“It’s just, the variety is amazing in here,” LeBlanc gushes. “One of the things that our collection does that not many other educational collections do is support these plants from the mountains.” 

The cool house houses plants that were seized in customs during illegal travel. The greenhouse is one of 83 rescue centers in the United States. 

“Part of the agreement that we have with the U.S. Department of Agriculture is that we can keep these plants in perpetuity but we can’t sell them,” LeBlanc explains. “It’s a method for trying to protect the natural resources from the countries where these plants come from.” 

With a mission of hope and a home to beautiful plants, the greenhouse is a must visit place in Muncie.

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