The Orchids of Singapore
A brief history
Orchids have a special place in the history, culture, and economy of Singapore. On 15th April 1981, a hybrid orchid named Papilionanthe ‘Miss Joaquim’ (also known as the Singapore orchid, the ‘Princess Aloha’ orchid and formerly as Vanda ‘Miss Joaquim’), was chosen as the country’s national flower. In a speech at the Singapore Orchid Show 2006, the then Minister for National Development Mr Mah Bow Tan explained why: "As the flower most associated with hybrids, the orchid is also a symbol of our multicultural heritage,” he said. “It is representative of the harmony among our ethnic communities, as well as with our many foreign visitors.”
The story of orchids in Singapore can be traced back to the mid-1870s when the country’s Botanic Gardens were handed over to the British colonial government and the horticulturist Henry James Murton was appointed superintendent. Murton transformed the Gardens into a botanical study centre, founding an herbarium and a library, introducing new economic plant species such as Para rubber, Hevea brasiliensis (which became a major crop that brought great prosperity to the Southeast Asian region), and establishing Singapore’s first orchid collection. In 1928, facilitated by new in vitro techniques pioneered in the Garden’s laboratories, an orchid breeding and hybridisation programme was launched. Twenty-four years later, this programme produced a showy, peach and salmon coloured orchid called Papilionanda (Vanda) ‘Tan Chay Yan’ that went on to win a First Class Certificate at the 1954 Chelsea Flower Show. Singapore’s status as a world-class orchid producer was assured.
In the decades since, the programme has produced many striking and successful hybrids including early varieties such as Spathoglottis primrose, the international favourite Oncidesa goldiana (‘Golden Shower’ or ‘Dancing Lady’), and the chocolate-coloured Vanda. (Get up close to this dark-petalled flower and you’ll discover that it smells deliciously chocolate-like too.) Today the National Orchid Garden is home to more than 2,000 hybrids, as well as over 60,000 species, making it the largest display of tropical orchids in the world.
The chocolate Vanda orchid
The National Orchid Collection today
Research and development lie at the heart of this garden, but it is also a fascinating and beautiful place to visit. The Tan Hoon Siang Mist House, which has been upgraded to mimic a paleotropical garden at an altitude of 650 to 1000m, is home to a selection of unique, rare, or award-winning hybrids and species from the speciality breeding stock of orchids such as Phalaenopsis, Vandaceous hybrids, Dendrobiums (Chain orchids), and hybrids of the rare Lady’s Slipper orchid (Paphiopedilum).
The Tropical Montane Orchidetum simulates the experience of climbing up through a tropical montane (moist, cool upland slopes below the timberline) forest and showcases a diversity of orchids, along with other plants such as bromeliads, gingers, tropical rhododendrons, gesneriads, and magnolias.
Endangered varieties found in cool forests above 1000m thrive in the Sembcorp Cool House. Approximately 1000 orchid species and hybrids grow here, including Cymbidiums (Boat orchids), Dendrochilums, and Cyrtochilums, as well as collections of carnivorous plants, and begonias with shimmering leaves that help them thrive in areas with low light levels.
Then there’s the VIP Orchid Garden filled with extraordinary hybrids named after some of the world’s most celebrated personalities. If you have ever wondered what Paravanda ‘Nelson Mandela’, Dendrobium ‘Jackie Chan’, and Renachilus ‘Ricky Martin’ (the singer for the 1998 FIFA World Cup anthem The Cup of Life), look like, this is place to come!
Paravanda 'Nelson Mandela'
A visit to the National Orchid Collection and UNESCO listed Singapore Botanic Gardens is just one of the treats in store on our 2024 holiday to Singapore & Gaya Island Resort in Malaysian Borneo. Discover the programme here