Frank Fordyce

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Frank Fordyce
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BornApril 23,1924
Oxnard, California
CitizenshipUnited States of America
  • Orchid hybridizer
  • Nurseryman

Frank Fordyce was an American orchid hybridizer and nurseryman from California, USA. While he is known for breeding compact and miniature red cattleyas his knowledge and influence in orchid breeding was wide ranging, from Laelia anceps hybrids to complex splash-petal and picotee cattleyas. His most well-known and influential hybrids were Cattlianthe Hazel Boyd (Cattleya California Apricot × Cattlianthe Jewel Box) created when he managed the Rod McLellan Co. orchid nursery, and Cattleya Circle of Life (C. Culminant x C. coccinea), created at his own nursery Fordyce Orchids. In partnering with the French firm of Vacherot and LeCouffle he helped bring orchid mericlones into the American marketplace.


James Franklin Fordyce was born in Oxnard, California on April 23,1924.[1] His family had a farm that grew lima beans and walnuts. He attended Oxnard High School[2]. He entered the Army Air Corps in 1943 and was deployed with the 8th Air Force as a gunner in a B-17 bomber. In January 1944, on his fifth mission, his plane was shot down over Holland. He was a prisoner of war in Germany for 16 months until the camp’s liberation in 1945. He was held in three German POW camps, first at Stalag Luft III where, from the British compound, ‘The Great Escape’ occurred. After that camp’s closure prisoners were force marched to a camp near Nuremberg, which Fordyce never names in his autobiographies. Later, he was amongst Allied prisoners in a second force march from Nuremberg to Stalag Luft VII-A near Moosberg in Bavaria that was mistakenly strafed by Allied aircraft. [3][4][5]

Three weeks after returning to the USA he married Madge Ramsey, also of Oxnard, whom he met in first grade and dated in high school. Frank liked to say his second passion was orchids[3][4][5]. During WWII Madge Ramsey worked as a “Rosie”, so named for the poster Rosie The Riveter. She was one of the first two women to work at the Douglas Aircraft Company's aircraft machine shop in 1942. Ramsey, 18, was hired on the spot to create precision parts for B-17 bomber aircraft with a milling machine[6].

Frank and Madge have 2 children, Sue Fordyce-Darden (m. Ty Darden), son Stephen Fordyce (m. Darlene Fordyce), one grandchild Sondra Bunting, and two great-grandchildren. [1]

Frank passed away at the age of 87 on August 17, 2011. [1]

Employment and Businesses

Fred A. Stewart Orchids[4]

After WWII the parents of a neighbor hired Fordyce to work at their Coolidge Rare Plants Nursery in Pasadena, Ca. selling epiphyllums, camellias, azaleas and orchids[4]. Co-worker James Carberry was the company’s cymbidium grower. At this time there was a huge market in southern California for cymbidiums which grew well in that climate. In light of this expanding market Fred A. Stewart, a southern California orchid hobbyist, chose to open a specialized orchid nursery using his large orchid collection as its base. When Carberry began to work at Stewart Orchids he suggested Fordyce move, too. In 1946 Fordyce began work at Stewart Orchids in San Gabriel, CA. In 1947 Fred Stewart persuaded noted cymbidium grower Ernest Hetherington to move from Armacost and Royston of Sawtelle, Ca. to become his business manager and cymbidium hybridizer. Hetherington became Fordyce’s mentor both in the orchid business and in orchid breeding. They became life long friends. Fordyce credits Hetherington with teaching him everything about orchid hybridizing. They would discuss prospective crosses, often with Fordyce acting as devil’s advocate to Hetherington’s suggestions. Hetherington was familiar with Walter Armacost’s philosophy of talking about plants "in the language of the buyer, with a human quality and heart."[7] This emphasis came to be emulated by many business during the post-war economic expansion. At Stewart Orchids Hetherington and Fordyce applied these ideas through articles written for orchid magazines as well as holding classes and demonstrations on orchid care and culture for their customers and the general public.

Frank Fordyce Orchids, Oceanside, California[4]

In the early 1960s Fordyce opened Frank Fordyce Orchids by purchasing Albert Stephenson’s ‘superb cattleya collection’ but also calling it ‘an arrangement no businessman in his right mind would ever consider.'[4] He purchased half the Stephenson property in Carlsbad, Ca. as well as the property next door. After refinancing the business and with he and Madge working long hours Frank Fordyce Orchids became viable. The nursery was 20,000 sq ft. of greenhouse space. A 100-seat amphitheater built in the Hawaiian style provided a venue where customers, visitors and orchid societies could enjoy discussing and learning about orchids. In the 1960s Maurice LeCouffle[5] approached Frank Fordyce Orchids to become Vacherot and LeCoufle’s California representative for the new method of reproducing orchids by means of meristem tissue culture. [8] Unhappy with the caliber of the stock Vacherot and LeCouffle intended to sell in California, Fordyce and his friend E. W.’Doc’ Miller suggested and provided 110 cymbidiums and 14 cattleyas to Vacherot and LeCoufle for mass reproduction in France.[5] Among the cattleyas were such well-known hybrids as C. Doris (1904) ‘Pamela’ AM/AOS, C. Falcon (1917) ‘Westonbirt’ FCC/AOS, Ctt. Jewel Box ‘Sheherezade’ AM/AOS, C. Paprika ‘Tahiti, and Rlc. Fortune ‘Legacy’ AM/AOS. From these plants Vacherot and LeCoufle produced flasks of meristemmed (cloned) seedlings in France that were then shipped to the USA to be grown on from flask at Frank Fordyce Orchids. According to Fordyce they became the backbone of the entire cut flower industry in cymbidiums for a number of years afterwards.[5] Fordyce Orchids first sold orchid meristems at the 5th World Orchid Conference held at Long Beach, Ca. in 1966.[5] They offered Vacherot and Lecoufle’s meristem service to other orchid business soon afterwards, thereby changing the orchid nursery business model. Fordyce continued the practice of providing classes on orchid culture, writing articles and mentoring local orchid societies. “I sincerely believe the orchid hobby should be pleasurable to those who follow it and that people active in orchid circles are as important as the orchids themselves.” At Fordyce Orchids the hybrids Ctt. Madge Fordyce, Ctt. Sue Fordyce, C. Emberglow, Rth. Mellow Madge, C. Pixie Pearls, C. Fire Wagon, C. Imperial Torch and C. Bauble (a C. Falcon ‘Westonbirt’ hybrid) were originated.

Rod McLellan Co.[5]

In the 1970s Rod McLellan Co. ‘Acres of Orchids’[9] in South San Francisco, California reorganized to take advantage of tissue culture in order to mass-produce and mass-market orchids to the general public and price them at the supermarket level.[5] Rod McLellan convinced Fordyce to sell Fordyce Orchids and become manager of the orchid department (Watsonville, Ca.) and orchid sales department (South San Francisco, Ca.) Bob Jones, president of Rod McLellan Co., allowed Fordyce to bring many Fordyce Orchids hybrids with him and fold the hybrids mentioned above into their breeding program. McLellan’s was the first company to dedicate a sales room stocked with orchids in bloom that was open every day of the year.[5] It continued the policy of public classes, as well as employing and training graduates from local colleges and universities, like Tom Perlite of Golden Gate Orchids and Mary Nisbett of California Orchids among many others.

Fordyce Orchids, Livermore, California

In 1980 the Fordyces decided to reopen Fordyce Orchids as a family-operated small business with family members occupying pivotal roles. Located at The Orchid Ranch in Livermore, California. Fordyce, tired of the pressure of managing large orchid nurseries, chose to create a business where he could focus on cattleya breeding. "He loved hybridizing and getting something new and different each time. It was just a real passion for him." Madge Fordyce said "I had other interests along with it, but he had just a one-track mind for orchids.[2] Fordyce Orchids downsized to 8750 sq ft of greenhouse space and sold a variety of greenhouse plants and supplies in addition to orchids. Fordyce said "My hybridizing efforts blossomed there as I could finally take the time to plan hybridization as it should be done."[3]

They continued their outreach classes, as well as writing for various orchid publications and mentoring new orchid hobbyists and societies. Ortho Books of San Ramon Ca. thanks the nurseries at The Orchid Ranch for providing assistance in their book ‘All About Growing Orchids’[10]. Daughter Sue Fordyce managed Fordyce Orchids for 15 years. She and Fordyce traveled extensively throughout the US and Canada speaking on orchid culture and cattleya breeding. Sue Fordyce designed artistic orchid displays for orchid shows and exhibitions world wide, including the global World Orchid Conferences, the Pacific Orchid Exposition and the Santa Barbara International Orchid Exposition.

Notable hybrids developed at this time include C. Circle of Life which Fordyce said was arguably the best hybrid he ever made.[3] The first pod of which only produced 50 or 60 seedings in a genus where hundreds if not thousands can be expected. Using Laelia anceps especially the ‘Feathered Flame’ clone he produced many ‘gaudy-lady’ cattleya hybrids, known for highly colored, splashed-petals, as well as L. anceps hybrids with wide overlapping petals. Frank and Madge Fordyce retired in 2006. In preparation for their retirement the Fordyces sold about 40,000 plants in 2005-2006. A greenhouse was built at Sue Fordyce's home and the stud plants and some cattleya seedlings were moved there. Frank continued to tend his plants and to collaborate on hybrids with Sue for the next 5 years until his death in 2011. He said "In the pattern set by Ernest Hetherington, she keeps asking those devil's advocate questions that keep a hybridizer on his toes. Two heads are better than one when it comes to pitting attributes and flaws that decide a potential hybrid's destiny."[3] Sue Fordyce brought her experience to Alden Lane Nursery in Livermore, Ca. where she continued holding classes and held orchid shows and sales. The economic downturn of 2007— 2008 and the rise of competition from orchid imports caused the partners at The Orchid Ranch decide to close. The property was sold for residential development soon thereafter.


Ned Nash [11] provides an overview of the Southern California orchid nursery business, covering the tremendous expansion in the post-war economic boom, as well as its later contraction in the face of overseas competition. He follows the industry through its personality-driven breeder/owner phase, where the knowledge and ability of the business owner and select few employees were the attraction to the business, through the hobbyist phase where personal collections became nursery businesses, and the rise of multinational corporations.[11] Fordyce wrote many articles that openly discuss the challenges of operating both large and small nursery businesses in this period, as well as the shift from a personality-driven business model to one of corporate mass-marketing.[5] Fordyce remained steadfastly clear-eyed and optimistic in his appraisal of where the industry came from and where it was going[12]. He knowledgeably discusses the effect scientific advances like meristeming and genetics had on the industry as well as the industry’s driving need to create new and different products.[13] [14][15][16] These articles track the changes in the orchid business, the orchid buyer and the hobby, from its beginnings as an indicator of high social status to the present day’s popular garden center plants. [12] Fordyce was able to fill the need for smaller and cooler growing cattleyas when an energy crisis hit the USA in the mid 1970s.[17] He created highly colored cattleyas (splash-petal)[15] in multiple colors (red, white, yellow) that were popular products, highly awarded, and influential in future breeding lines[16]. He designed orchids for the influential and lucrative south Florida marketplace[16]. Fordyce was an international speaker, author, provided classes, participated in national and local orchid societies and was a mentor to other nurserymen and women. Throughout his career he never lost sight of his customers. “I sincerely believe the orchid hobby should be pleasurable to those who follow it and that people active in orchid circles are as important as the orchids themselves.”File:Lc. Preface 'Colorific'.jpg|thumb|Lc. Preface 'Colorific'

Influential Hybrids

Ctt. Hazel Boyd (Cattleya California Apricot × Ctt. Jewel Box)

Hazel Boyd 'Yellow Orb'Rudy Pabst, of the Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer company, had given a piece of Ctt. Jewel Box ‘Beverly’ AM/AOS to John Germaske. When Germaske started work at Rod McLellan’s he gave a division of ‘Beverly’ to them. Initially Germaske was employed in the cymbidium department, Fordyce moved him to phalaenopsis and cattleya production, which was Germaske’s field of expertise. When Jewel Box ‘Beverly’ bloomed Germaske asked Fordyce if it could be used in breeding. Fordyce agreed and they searched the greenhouses for another possible parent. Fordyce believed the clone Slc. California Apricot ‘Orange Circle’ HCC/AOS was the best form of the hybrid he’d seen. Germaske agreed and the cross was made. John Germaske asked it be named for his friend Hazel Boyd. Globally Ctt. Hazel Boyd has received 61 flower awards from four national award systems, Germany (DOG), the USA (AOS), Australia (AOC) and New Zealand (NZOS). Ctt. Hazel Boyd has gone on to produce 322 registered hybrids in five generations of progeny, one of the most influential hybrids parents in orchid production. Generation 1 had 14% awarded offspring, generation 2 had 18%, generations 3 had 35%, generation 4 had 18% and generation 5 is unawarded so far. Data from OrchidWiz

Cattleya Circle of Life (C. Culminant ‘La Tuilerie’ x C. coccinea’' ‘Neon Light’)

Arguably the best hybrid Fordyce ever made. The first pod of which only produced 50 or 60 seedings in a genus where hundreds if not thousands can be expected. “Seldom does any hybridizer experience such uniformity when using a purple crossed with a red. While we knew our C. coccinea was tetraploid we were unsure about the purple C. Culminant until Phillipe LeCoufle assured me that it, too, was tetraploid.”[3] The hybrid has garnered 18 AOS awards: 12 AMs and 6 HCCs. Progeny used in breeding include Rlc. Golden Circle, Rth. Martha Clarke, and Rlc. Lebenkreis. Over three generations of progeny, generation 1 had 44% awarded, generation 2 with 33% awarded, and generation 3 with 12.5% awarded. Data from OrchidWiz

Ctt. Madge Fordyce (C. Doris (1904) x Ctt. Jewel Box)

Notable for leading the effort in compact cattleya breeding in the 1970s and beyond. Compact cattleyas were very colorful, and manageably sized as compared to standard cattleyas. Additionally, with the high energy costs associated with the 1970s, commercial and hobby greenhouses didn’t need to provide the higher nightly temperatures required for standard cattleyas to bloom. Ctt. Madge Fordyce received 5 AOS awards and has 196 progeny over 4 generations, including Ctt. Barefoot Mailman and Ctt. Dixie Jewels. Generation 1 had 19% of its progeny awarded, generation 2 with 4%, generation 3 1% and generation 4 unawarded so far. Data from OrchidWiz

Other Hybrids

C. Zip (C. tenebrosa x C. milleri)
Rlc. Rubescence (Rlc. Oconee x C Seagull's Apricot)
Rth. Fordyce Fantasy (Rlc. Horizon Flight x Gur. aurantiaca)
Rlc. Picotee Passion (Rlc. Horizon Flight x L. anceps),
Lc. Preface (C. Hawaiian Fantasy x L. anceps)
Lc. Higher Ground (L. anceps x Lc. Clar Hancock),

Stud Plants

C. Seagulls Apricot (C. California Apricot x C. coccinea),
Bc. Deesse 'Rainier' (Rlc. Ferrières × C. Lamartine)
Ctt. Jewel Box ‘Beverly’ and ‘Sheherazade’ (Gur. aurantiaca x C. Anzac (1921))
C. California Apricot ‘Orange Circle’ HCC/AOS (Lc. Pacific Sun x C. coccinea) - breeds as 4N
C. Culminant ‘La Tuilerie’ AM/AOS (C. Ile France x C. Gaillard), 4N
C. coccinea ‘Neon Light’ FCC/AOS (4N) and ‘Full Circle’ (4N)
L. anceps h.f. roeblingiana ‘Feathered Flame’ CHM/AOS
C. Colorama 'The Clown' (C. Arctic Snow × C. Peggy Huffman)
Rlc. Horizon Flight ‘Happy Landing’ JC/AOS (C. intermedia var. aquinii x Rlc. Buttercup)

National Awards

Orchid Digest Corporation Silver Medal for Lifetime Achievement
Award of Distinction, AD/AOS Cymbidium Coquette, (Cymbidium Jean Brummitt × Cymbidium Alexanderi) 1964
Award of Distinction, AD/OD Cymbidium Pinafore ‘Comet’, (Cymbidium floribundum × Cymbidium Pauwelsii) 1965
AOS Masatoshi Miyamoto Award 1992 C. coccinea ‘Neon Light’ FCC/AOS
Award of Quality, AQ/AOS for Ctt. Hazel Boyd in 1985.
91 flower awards:
AOS awards:
55 HCCs
23 AMs
2 FCCs
4 Certificates of Cultural Merit CCM/AOS.
Cymbidium Society of America awards:
5 Bronze Medals
1 Silver Medal

Orchid Society Involvements

Past trustee of the American Orchid Society (AOS)
Member AOS Conservation Committee
The Orchid Digest Corporation
Past president of 12 orchid societies
Cymbidium Society of America
Palomar Orchid Society
Orchid Growers Association of San Diego County
San Francisco Orchid Society
Orchid Society of California
Diablo View Orchid Society


American Orchid Society Bulletin

Fordyce, Frank (1962) Miniature Cymbidiums, American Orchid Society Bulletin (31)11 893-896.
—(1962) What To Do In California, American Orchid Society Bulletin (31) pp. 9, 95, 187, 266, 362, 454, 548, 632, 724, 804, 982.
—(1963) A Novel Greenhouse in California, American Orchid Society Bulletin (32) 697.
—(1976) Pygmy Paphs, American Orchid Society Bulletin (45)7 576-585.
—(1979) The Changing Face of Orchid Plant Merchandizing, American Orchid Society Bulletin (48)12 1234-1236.
—(1979) Sophrolaeliocattleya Hazel Boyd - An Experiment in Red, American Orchid Society Bulletin (48)8 772-775.
—(1980) Splash-Petal Cattleyas - Colorful Clowns of the Orchid World, American Orchid Society Bulletin (49)11 1233-1239.
—(1980) Limited Editions in Orchids?, American Orchid Society Bulletin (49)5 489-490.
—(1982) Guidelines for Purchasing Orchid Plants Via Mail Order, American Orchid Society Bulletin (51)3 278-281.
—(1983) Cattleya Small Talk, American Orchid Society Bulletin (52)3 216-230.
—(1984) Progress Depends Upon Curiosity, American Orchid Society Bulletin (53)12 1299-1302.
—(1985) Communicating With Your Cattleyas, American Orchid Society Bulletin (54)10 1220-1225.
—(1985) Tips for Growing Miniature Cattleyas, American Orchid Society Bulletin (54)11 1337-1341.
—(1990) Hybridizer’s Notebook: American Orchid Society Bulletin

  1. The Importance of Observation (59)8 794-796.
  2. The Importance of Research (59)9 892-896.
  3. Adventures with Sophronitis (59)10 1009-1013.
  4. Breeding Tips and Predictions (59)11 1116-1121.

—(1993) Past, Present, Future - In Memoriam: William John Tonkin, Jr, American Orchid Society Bulletin (62)7 736.
—(2009) A Hybridizer’s History My Passion, Progress and Perseverance, Orchids the Bulletin of the American Orchid Society (78)10 592-603.

The Orchid Digest magazine

Fordyce, Frank and Adam, Bob (1966) Orchidizing: The All-American Orchid, Leaf Fall - What does it Mean, PH - What Is It? The Orchid Digest (30)10 316.

Fordyce, Frank (1967) Orchidizing: Polyethylene that Reflects Light and Heat, The Orchid Digest (31)1.
—(1967) The Well-Traveled Road to Red Cattleyas, The Orchid Digest’' (31)10 292-294.
—(1968) Do Cymbidiums Require a Shock to Bloom?, The Orchid Digest’' (32)8 244.
—(1968) Why Aren’t More Cymbidium Seedlings Being Introduced?, The Orchid Digest’' (32)9 280
—(1968) Is Air Movement Required in Greenhouses?, The Orchid Digest’' (32)9 275.
—(1968) Laeliocattleyas ... Flamboyant Peacocks of the Cattleya Alliance, The Orchid Digest (32)10, 294-297.
—(1968) Brassocattleyas ... From a Hybridizer's Viewpoint, The Orchid Digest (32)3 70-73.
—(1968) Orchidizing: What Should a Hobbyist Look for in the Purchase of Seedlings, The Orchid Digest (32)6 172.
—(1969) Orchidizing: Will Plastic Pots Replace Clay?, The Orchid Digest (33)1 26.
—(1969) Are Orchid Societies Fulfilling Their Role in Providing Well Rounded Programs?, The Orchid Digest (33)4 132.
—(1969) Should I Specialize in One Genus?, The Orchid Digest (33)5 160.
—(1969) Should the Hobbyist be Concerned about Virus?, The Orchid Digest (33)6 182.
—(1970) Giant Steps for a Tiny Cymbidium, The Orchid Digest (34)3 74-75.
—(1982) Think Small ... and Discover the Might of Miniature Cattleyas, The Orchid Digest (46)1 16-17 and (46)3 84-87.
—(1993) An Historical Orientation and Commentary on Orchid Potting Media, The Orchid Digest, (57)3 113-4.
—(1993) Profiles: One of America's Best Known Orchidists — A Few Autobiographical Reminiscences, part 1, The Orchid Digest (57)3 141-143.
—(1993) Frank Fordyce Autobiography, part 2, The Orchid Digest (57)4 172-175.
—(2005) A Look at Laelia anceps and Its Modern Hybrids, The Orchid Digest (69)1 17-20.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Staff. "Frank Fordyce: Orchid Pioneer Passes On". The Independent. Retrieved 2021-07-31.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Benca, Jeanine (2011-09-09). "Pleasanton Orchid King Dies at 87". The Mercury News. Bay Area News Group. Retrieved 2021-07-31.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 Fordyce, Frank (2009). "A Hybridizer's History My Passion, Progress and Perseverance". Orchids the Bulletin of the American Orchid Society. 78 (10): 592-603.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 Fordyce, Frank (1993). "Profiles: One of America's Best Known Orchidists — A Few Autobiographical Reminiscences, part 1". The Orchid Digest. 57 (3): 141-143.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 5.6 5.7 5.8 5.9 Fordyce, Frank (1993). "Frank Fordyce Autobiography, part 2". The Orchid Digest. 57 (4): 172-175.
  6. Schuessler, Anna (May 26, 2018). "'I had to quickly learn' 'Rosie the Riveter' worker remembers wartime effort". The Daily Journal. Retrieved 2021-08-05.
  7. Warren, Charles S. (May 5, 1923). "Intimate Biographies of Bay District Personalities, Walter Armacost". Santa Monica Outlook.
  8. "Micropropagation".
  9. Larsen, Elaine (1997-03-07). "A blooming success story". SFGATE. Retrieved 2021-08-05.
  10. All About Growing Orchids. Ortho Books. 1988. p. 2. ISBN 0-89721-151-0.
  11. 11.0 11.1 Nash, Ned (2009). "Ernest Hetherington Reflecting on the Career and Accomplishments of a Living Legend". Orchids, Bulletin of the American Orchid Society. 78 (10): 587-591.
  12. 12.0 12.1 Fordyce, Frank (1980). "Limited Editions In Orchids?". American Orchid Society Bulletin. 49 (5): 489-490.
  13. Fordyce, Frank (1979). "The Changing face of Orchid plant Merchandizing". American Orchid Society Bulletin. 48 (12): 1234-1236.
  14. Fordyce, Frank (1976). "Pygmy Paphs". American Orchid Society Bulletin. 45: 576–585.
  15. 15.0 15.1 Fordyce, Frank (1980). "Splash-Petal Cattleyas - Colorful Clowns of the Orchid World". American Orchid Society Bulletin. 49 (11): 1233-1239.
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 Fordyce, Frank (1983). "Cattleya Small Talk". American Orchid Society Bulletin. 52 (3): 216-230.
  17. Fordyce, Frank (1982). "Think Small... and discover the might of miniature Cattleyas". The Orchid Digest. 46 (3): 85-88.

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