September 2021 Speaker: Robert Hamilton on “The Orchid Craze”

I was born in Berkeley, California in 1946 to native parents and educated in the Berkeley School System. I gave up studies in physics to pursue a career as a scientific glassblower specializing in the fabrication of experimental electron tubes, lasers and optics, eventually becoming UC Berkeley’s Principal Scientific Glassblower. As a glassblower I had the privilege of fabricating equipment for three separate Nobel laureates.

A shift in research priorities for my employer, UC Berkeley’s Department of Electrical Engineering & Computer Sciences led me to becoming part of the design team for a shared semiconductor research facility, the UC Berkeley Microlab and later Equipment and Facilities manager for its successor the UCB Marvell Nanofabrication Laboratory, which serves the research needs more than 500 researchers in all branches of science.

My interest in orchids began in 1976 when my partner, John Leathers and I purchased our first home which came with a solarium. We soon filled with plants including orchids. Our first orchid plant came from a UC Berkeley Botanic Garden plant sale, Stanhopea warscewicziana which, after blooming we affectionately named “the dead chicken orchid” because of its rather gross, pendant flower spike. Since then, John has gone on to become the leading hybridizer for Dracula and Masdevallia while I have specialized in Odontoglossum and its intergenerics; we are strictly “cool” growers. John and I have trekked the forests of Mexico, Central America, and the Andes. During one such trek we discovered Pleurothallis teaguei. In addition to propagating species and making hybrids we do our own lab work and freely share laboratory techniques.

John is the recipient of The American Orchid Society, 2015 AOS Hybridizer’s Award and me, its President’s Award, granted to an individual who has made an outstanding contribution to the AOS. Besides orchids, my interests include classical piano studies, art and amateur astronomy.

I will be speaking to your society about ‘The Orchid Craze’, It’s Origin and Future
Explorations and discoveries in the 19th Century dramatically shifted human consciousness from beliefs based mostly on faith to more objective-based understandings. Exciting new revelations galvanized society. My talk attempts to encapsulate and share some of the ideas, including 19th Century science that resulted in the Victorian and subsequent orchid craze.

1st VP Note: Bob will be bringing plants from his private collection, one of the premier Odontoglossum collections, for our raffle.