By Erika Webb
If you want to baffle Paula Hausermann, just ask her how many plants fill the 17,000-square-foot Power Plant greenhouse at E.F.G. Orchids in DeLand.
"A hundred thousand? Tens of thousands?" she said.
Looking across a vast sea of green leaves and colorful blooms, it seemed impossible to say for sure.
As the rapidly growing retail side E.F.G.'s business nears its two-year anniversary, new classes are being offered. Valentine's Day and Mother's Day are looming. Ms. Hausermann and her husband, George Hausermann Jr., don't have time to count plants.
Turn right at the sign on Marsh Road, then veer right again at the emu and the donkey.
Step through the door into tranquility.
E.F.G. is the oldest orchid grower in Florida. Its extensive hybridizing program has produced crosses known worldwide.
Founded in Chicago in 1939 by Mr. Hausermann's grandfather and great-grandfather, the company's primary focus was to furnish the wholesale market with cut orchid blooms and gardenias.
Corsages were E.F.G.'s mainstay.
"That was when women wore corsages to church every week," Ms. Hausermann said. "But corsages are kind of outdated now."
In the 1960s, George Jr.'s father and uncles joined the business, with the common goal of producing new orchid varieties and increasing cut flower sales.
In 1990, the fourth generation, including George Jr. and his siblings, got involved as E.F.G. broached the retail market.
Ms. Hausermann said Mr. Hausermann was working as a paramedic when his father asked him to join the family business to do sales.
Mr. Hausermann didn't hesitate.
"Paramedics tend to get burned out," Ms. Hausermann said. He worked a lot of hours, and we knew we wanted to have kids."
By 1999 rising costs in Chicago prompted the Hausermanns to move to Florida and open Power Plant where they grow, sell and ship thousands of plants each year.
"We shipped a lot of wholesale to Florida (from Chicago) and thought we could do Orchid Society and garden shows," Ms. Hausermann said. "George has always had a love (for plants). When he came into it, he went full-force."
But in 2006, Ms. Hausermann was diagnosed with breast cancer. She underwent a double mastectomy and extensive chemotherapy.
"I was bedridden for about two years. It was really hard on both of us," she said. "We thought I was dying."
By 2009, Ms. Hausermann was recovering, but more adjusting was necessary.
"The shows had been declining ... we had to do something else," she said. "It's been one change after another, I'll tell you that. But you have to adapt."
They started a truck route through Jacksonville and St. Augustine to service other garden centers and florists.
"That's when we began to acquire all of these different plants," Ms. Hausermann said.
In the spring of 2011, E.F.G. opened its doors to the public.
"We always had some rare plants from George doing garden shows. He has a good eye for different stuff," Ms. Hausermann said.
One of those rarities, the lycopodium, is an ancient fern classified among the oldest forms of plant life on the planet.
The rare voodoo lily, lipstick plant, black or white bat plants, ant plants and numerous others comprise E.F.G.'s large selection of divergent varieties.
There's even a carnivore section, featuring Venus fly trap and pitcher plants.
"That's something else we've done very well with," Ms. Hausermann said.
She said employee Char McKenzie has a "wealth of knowledge about plants" and is "wonderful with customers."
Epiphytes, known as "air plants," include most orchids, many bromeliads, begonias and the ant plant to name a few.
Mr. Hausermann creatively mounts epiphytes on different types of wood he's gotten from all over the country.
"Mounting is our niche," Ms. Hausermann said. "George can be in here and be creative. He likes to get goofy with the designs. Give him a staple gun and he goes crazy. Put a drink in him and he goes a little goofier."
A wooden starburst with an orchid in the center hangs overhead. Its cascading roots are as exquisite as the plant itself.
Mr. Hausermann's hybridizing efforts have "yielded dramatic new crosses," according to the Complete Guide to Orchids. The terrestrial Phaiocalanthe Kryptonite took eight years to execute. His "pioneer work breeding Phaius" was lauded by the American Orchid Society.
"We're very diversified now," Ms. Hausermann said. "We do all kinds of things, from common to rare."
With terrariums making a comeback, Ms. Hausermann decided to start classes. The next terrarium class will be from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday, March 16. The cost is $35 and includes container, plants and instruction.
Fairy classes include a ceramic dish, terrarium kit, plants, stones and choice of fairy. The next class will be from 10 a.m. to noon May 18. The cost is $50.
Ms. Hausermann said class dates were chosen with Valentine's and Mother's Day in mind. And E.F.G. has money plants for St. Patrick's Day.
Orchid prices range from $5 up into hundreds of dollars, she said, depending upon the variety.
"All of our prices are really reasonable," she said. "Our plants are very well-tended. We don't use the automatic watering system for any with buds or blooms. We hand water all of those."
She said E.F.G. surpasses the big box stores in quality, selection and price. There is always a large selection of clearance orchids ranging from $5 to $12.
Plans already are underway for Orchtoberfest in October, featuring an orchid sale, German food, plant vendors, hay ride, jump house and "zoo."
To reserve a spot in one of the classes, call E.F.G. at (386) 738-8600 or e-mail: email@example.com. Visit the greenhouse at 4265 Marsh Road, DeLand, or the website at efgorchids.com.