The 50th anniversary celebration of the Ball State orchid collection, now housed within the Dr. Joe and Alice Rinard Orchid Greenhouse, is set for Saturday, March 20.

Originally planned as a regional orchid conference (Mid-America Orchid Congress) to be held at the Ball State Alumni Center, the 50th anniversary celebration was to be complete with many live orchid displays, guest speakers, breakout sessions, and vendors for the public. That celebration has been changed to a virtual format due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The virtual celebration is from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on March 20, and is hosted by the Central Indiana Orchid Society, the Three Rivers Orchid Society (Ft. Wayne), and Ball State Friends of the Rinard Orchid Greenhouse. The program will include a live virtual tour of the Rinard Orchid Greenhouse (including history and highlights of the 50 years of the prestigious Wheeler-Thanhauser Orchid Collection), guest speakers, a pre-recorded orchid video hand-selected for the event, and Q&A sessions, all through Zoom.

Guests are encouraged to register online at Registration is $5 per person, or $50 for an entire orchid society. Members of the public, especially guests who may never have visited the greenhouse, are encouraged to attend.

“While we are disappointed that we could not host the celebration here on campus, we will still be able to do justice to this important milestone in our University’s history,” said Cheryl LeBlanc, Orchid Collection Curator at the Dr. Joe and Alice Rinard Orchid Greenhouse. “The history of our collection is truly noteworthy, and, with the groundbreaking on our exciting expansion expected in April 2021, we truly have much to celebrate.”

More than just beautiful orchids

Visitors to the 3,400-square-foot Dr. Joe and Alice Rinard Orchid Greenhouse experience a small tropical environment in the middle of Indiana. With over 2,000 orchids, the greenhouse contains the largest university-based orchid collection in the United States. It’s a living museum that provides opportunities for education and conservation of rare and endangered orchid species and is used for orchid research.

The collection also provides opportunities for students and visitors to learn about a diversity of tropical species. Students, faculty, local schools, community, and visitors see and learn about orchids, edible tropical plants, poison arrow frogs, birds, and other tropical creatures that are on display in a small tropical conservatory.

Community-based docents and Ball State student volunteers assist visitors during guided tours and special events. Faculty and staff also utilize the facility for a variety of academic lessons. Programs include weekly meditation, brown-bag lunches, Saturday programs, mini-educational programs, walk-in tours, and guided tours by request, all within the beautiful confines of Christy Woods at the west end of campus.

“So much is going on here every week of the year,” said LeBlanc. “And it’s only going to get better with our expansion.”

Preparing for the next 50 years

The Dr. Joe and Alice Rinard Orchid Greenhouse expansion is increasing the size of the greenhouse and creating a dedicated community learning space. Children and adults of all ages will benefit from the expanded educational programs. The enlarged tropical display area will take visitors deeper into the tropical jungle to see incredible plants and amazing animals.

“We have plans for live animal displays in the Environmental Education Center Nature Lab. In addition, new animal displays will be added in the expanded Conservatory, which will actually double in size,” LeBlanc said. “Included in the nature lab will be unique nature-based tile mosaic art pieces that will highlight the various biota of East Central Indiana. There will also be a working indoor honeybee hive and, to be honest, we just can’t wait to share!”

In 2019, over 10,000 visitors came to the Ball State University Field Station properties, which include the Rinard Orchid Greenhouse, Christy Woods, and other outdoor spaces. In 2019, over 6,000 of those casual visitors enjoyed the orchids and other biological wonders and many took part in a variety of programs. In addition, more than 3,000 visitors enjoyed a variety of nature education programs at the BSU Field Properties that meet state and national science standards.

“The expansion represents a ‘quality of place’ asset that will help our students and the entire community,” LeBlanc said. “We also have plans to connect this new facility to the Ball State Cultural Corridor, another exciting aspect of the project.”

The expansion is being financed by private gifts and an ongoing public fund drive. Prospective donors are asked to contact Deanna Zimmer at the Ball State Foundation: 765-285-1081 or

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