This fabled orchid breeder loves to chat — just not about Trader Joe's orchids

Paul Gripp served in the Navy after the Korean War, not during the war, as was incorrectly stated in an earlier version of the story.

In Santa Barbara's rarefied world of orchid breeders, Paul Gripp is as close as you can get to royalty, and today he's doing what he loves best: holding forth at the storied nursery he helped create โ€” Santa Barbara Orchid Estate.

At 90, Gripp is slender and spry, yanking weeds that flourish in the nursery's dark soil or dragging heavy fronds from its forest of palms to a pile for disposal. His memory is sometimes hazy about life events โ€” "I'm so old I don't remember how old I am," he jokes โ€” but if you want to talk orchids, Gripp is still your man.

"Working in orchids has been like living in a dream," he said. "There are thousands of different kinds, and I got to travel all over to find things people would want. But the first orchid I found? It was in Topanga Creek, Epipactis gigantea, our native orchid, and you can still find them growing in [California's] streams and canyons today."


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