Orchids outnumber and outmatch the opposition
On April 15, 1981, a grex called the Vanda Miss Joaquim (pronounced “Joe-ah-kim”) was selected as Singapore’s national flower from over 40 types of flowers, 30 of which were orchids! “Grex” is a botanical term used to describe orchid hybrids.
What’s interesting about the Vanda Miss Joaquim is that its proper scientific name should actually be Papilionanthe Miss Joaquim. Because according to research cited by the National Parks Board of Singapore, the parents of the Vanda Miss Joaquim should actually belong to the genus Papilionanthe, not Vanda. Although the change has been reflected, it is still commonly called “Vanda Miss Joaquim” today.
The odds stacked against orchids
The Vanda Miss Joaquim is one of as many as 630 registered orchid hybrids in Singapore. While the Vanda Miss Joaquim itself is named after Agnes Joaquim, the Singaporean-Armenian woman who successfully crossed the hybrid’s parents, many of the hybrids are named after celebrities and dignitaries. Some examples include Dendrobium Jackie Chan, Sealara Nelson Mandela, Renachilus Ricky Martin (you may know him as the singer for the 1998 FIFA World Cup anthem The Cup of Life). This practice of naming orchids after celebrities and dignitaries is aptly called “orchid diplomacy”.
Aside from orchid hybrids, Singapore has 226 native orchid species. However, 152 are declared nationally extinct, 64 are considered critically endangered, 3 are vulnerable and only as few as 5 are common. In response, an Orchid Conservation Programme was started in 1995 in order to monitor them, find ways to conserve their genetic material, breed them, and reintroduce them into the proper habitats.
According to the Singapore Botanic Gardens, 33 native orchid species have been reintroduced throughout Singapore.
But why go through such great lengths and invest so much effort in orchids? What makes orchids so special to Singapore?
The orchid origin story in Singapore
Orchids are an important part of Singapore’s natural heritage and are very closely linked to the history, culture, and commerce of Singapore and the region. The Singapore Botanic Gardens is a central setting and plays a central role in the orchid origin story.
To go deeper into this part of history, we need to go back in time. The Singapore Botanic Gardens was founded in 1859 by an Agri-Horticultural society. In 1874, the Botanic Gardens were handed over to the British colonial government. When the horticulturist Henry James Murton became the Botanic Gardens’ first superintendent from 1875 to 1880, he transformed the Botanic Gardens’ into a place of botanical study. Notable deeds credited to him include the founding of the herbarium and the library, the introduction and trialling of new economic plant species, and the establishment of the first orchid collection. Murton’s deeds signaled the transformation of the Singapore Botanic Gardens into the UNESCO World Heritage Site that it is today.
Given how intertwined orchids are into various aspects of Singapore, it is no surprise then that orchids are incorporated into Singaporean designs and lifestyle products. A memorable (pun intended!) example would be Singapore Memories, a brand which uses native orchids with a fragrant scent in the collection of perfumes they sell. At the time of writing, they are continuing to research orchids and using their knowledge about the medicinal properties of some orchids to launch their skin care in the future.
Learn more about Singapore Memories: https://singapore-memories.com
In light of this knowledge, it would therefore be impossible and unthinkable to divorce orchids from Singapore’s natural heritage. The investment put into orchid breeding, conservation, and reintroduction also becomes justified and understandable.
Arunasalam, S., 2017. Vanda Miss Joaquim. [Online] Available at: https://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/infopedia/articles/SIP_752_2005-01-10.html [Accessed 26 January 2022].
National Heritage Board, 2022. National Flower. [Online] Available at: https://www.nhb.gov.sg/what-we-do/our-work/community- engagement/education/resources/national-symbols/national-flower [Accessed 26 January 2022].
National Heritage Board, 2022. Orchid Cultivation. [Online] Available at: https://www.roots.gov.sg/ich-landing/ich/orchid-cultivation [Accessed 26 January 2022].
National Parks Board of Singapore, 2018. Vanda Miss Joaquim - Our National Flower. [Online] Available at: https://www.nparks.gov.sg/activities/family-time-with- nature/recommended-activities/vanda-ms-joaquim [Accessed 26 January 2022].
Singapore Botanic Gardens, 2021. Orchid Breeding and Reintroductions. [Online] Available at: https://www.nparks.gov.sg/sbg/research/orchid-breeding-and- reintroductions [Accessed 26 January 2022].
Singapore Memories, 2022. About Us - Research I History I Creativity. [Online] Available at: https://singapore-memories.com/pages/our-story [Accessed 27 January 2022].