Murphy's love of orchids flowered for 50 years

  • Article by: BEN COHEN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 29, 2007 - 9:44 PM

Sandra Murphy, a co-founder of the Minnesota Orchid Society, nurtured the hobby as well as the plants.

Sandra Murphy first became enamored of orchids while a botany student at the University of Minnesota in the 1950s.

Murphy, a nationally recognized hybridizer of the plants, died Oct. 22 in St. Louis Park of illnesses caused by diabetes. The longtime Morningside-Edina resident was 69.

"If only I could live to be a hundred. ... I could never become bored with any of them. They are so beautiful," she would say, said her son, Phillip, an owner of Crystal Lake Floral Design & Orchids By Murphy in Minneapolis.

In the mid-1950s, while Murphy was a student at the university, a professor gave her orchid bulbs. Her father soon built a greenhouse for the family at its Como Park neighborhood home in St. Paul. There she nurtured the bulbs into plants.

Murphy worked from the greenhouse at her parents' home until 1992, when she opened the Minneapolis greenhouse.

In 1964, she cofounded the Minnesota Orchid Society, where she was known as the "Asian lady slipper queen of Minnesota."

Over the years, she won competitions for her orchids, accolades for her artwork of them and much thanks from those she supported in the love of the plant.

Jerry Fischer of Orchids Limited in Plymouth got his start from Murphy, who he said was generous with her time and plants.

"She was a very brilliant woman," said Fischer. "She could trace breeding lines way back to the late 1800s, when orchid growing was all the rage in Europe," which is useful knowledge for orchid hybridizers.

Fischer named one of his orchids for her: Angulocaste Sandy Murphy.

"She was incredibly encouraging to me and others," Fischer said.

Murphy wrote articles and created artwork for publications of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and the Minnesota Horticultural Society.

Her hybrids earned her certificates of merit in national competition. In 2000, she was featured in a gardening program on the Discovery Channel. And in the 1980s, she appeared on a Minnesota Public Television gardening series.

Murphy was a popular speaker, said Sarah Tufford of Warsaw, Minn., a former president of the Orchid Society of Minnesota, who learned much as a beginner from Murphy.

Tufford said that Murphy was a creative grower, working with some orchids that could take seven years or more to grow from seedling to plant.

Murphy developed a method of growing seedlings in plastic bags in a special mix, shaving as much as a year or two off the growing time, Tufford said.

In addition to her son, she is also survived by her husband, Greg of Edina, daughter, Shannon of Edina; brother, Larry Zinken of Minnesota, and sister, Patricia Bates of White Bear Lake.

A celebration of her life will be held from 1 to 4 p.m. on Saturday at her orchid store, 1420 Dowling Av. N., Minneapolis.

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