published November 15, 2011

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Report from Singapore

A new hybrid orchid, Renanthera 20th WOC Singapore, was unveiled
at the conference. It was chosen for its hardiness and free-flowering
nature. A limited stock for the new hybrid is on sale exclusively at
the WOC. Photo and caption courtesy of Cathy Callegari PR, Inc.

The 20th World Orchid Conference opened Saturday evening, November 12, with brief formalities from Kiat Tan, PhD, chair of the 20th WOC Organizing Committee, several other dignitaries and announcement of the major judging prizes by Dr. Khoo Chong Yee, chair of the Judging Committee.

The Grand Champion Display went to a 50 m2 display from the Chiawathana Orchid Garden Co. of Thailand for a display with many large blocks of color derived from huge clumps of Tolumnia Jairak Rainbow (Tsiku Vanessa × Catherine Wilson), blue vandas, white dendrobiums, yellow oncidiums and red ascocendas around a waterfall. The Reserve Champion display award went to a 100 m2 display from the Orchid Society of Papua New Guinea. The most striking element of this exhibit was a bird sculpted from renantheras and dendrobiums.


The show is being held in the Marina Bay Sands Convention Center and features displays that come from places as far apart as South Africa, the tentative host for the 21st WOC in 2014, to Ecuador, which (along with a number of other hopefuls) has applied to host the 22nd WOC in 2017. It is hard to think of two more different places, with fynbos habitat (shrubland or heathland) in South Africa to the high Andes in Ecuador. Both are on my list and their displays here at this WOC are pretty cool.

If the shops of orchids and orchid paraphernalia at the WOC orchid show are not enough for the orchid centric shopper, then the three stories and seeming miles of shops in the building hosting the show should satisfy even the most courageous shopper. This is by far the biggest convention center cum shopping mall I have ever seen. Just one of the food courts must have 25 different stalls of foods from all the different peoples that reside in Singapore. There is also a skating rink, made not of ice but of some slippery plastic, on which kids can slither around, fall and pretend to skate without getting either wet or cold. And the whole thing is under a glass roof so that the rain that fell most of Saturday was of no concern.

The conference program started Sunday morning with a presentation by Mark Chase, PhD, director of the Jodrell Laboratory at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and a member of the Orchid Committee of the Royal Horticultural Society, United Kingdom. He described the DNA data that have both illuminated much of the evolutionary history of the Orchidaceae and infuriated a number of classical taxonomists. It was interesting to say the least.

A winding path and flowering Lycaste specimen at SBG.

Monday morning looked like good weather so I decided to take in the Singapore Botanical Garden (SBG) and its national orchid collection. Spectacular on all fronts. The SBG was started in 1859 and had its first orchid house in 1875. I am not certain when Henry Ridley became director of the SBG, but his importance is that in 1893 he grew the first rubber trees in southeast Asia. Rubber is native to the Amazon basin. The Amazon basin was controlled by Spain and Portugal and thus they had a monopoly on rubber. I don’t know who first smuggled rubber seeds out of the Amazon but it was no accident that they ended up at Kew Gardens outside London. After some years of failure seedlings finally sprouted and a few survived long enough to be sent to Singapore. There Ridley managed to get them to grow well and the Amazonian rubber monopoly was broken as a result. Also in 1893 Vanda Miss Joaquim was discovered in the garden of Miss Agnes Joaquim. Depending on who you believe, this hybrid was either intentional or accidental, but the evidence seems to favor that it was an intentional cross by Miss Joaquim herself. It has never gone out of favor and became the national flower of Singapore. Horticultururalists at the gardens have been busy making more hybrids ever since and they are on magnificent display in the national orchid garden. A few pictures below, left to right, a bank of oncidiums, a clump of lycastes, and yellow vandas with red renantheras. There were special houses with cool Andean species such as Masdevallia tovarensis, and a mist house with cymbidiums. There were large palm gardens, a ginger and heliconia area, and just lots and lots of plants. Plumerias were large enough to be mounts for orchids and other epiphytes. There were actually way more than lots and lots of plants.

Peter Tobias, PhD, is president of the Orchid Conservation Alliance. (email