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Rare orchid hybrid blooms in hot and cold weathers

It’s the latest creation by the Gardens by the Bay botanists.

PHOTO: MARK CHEONG/ST

A team of botanists from Gardens by the Bay have created an orchid hybrid that can bloom in both hot and cold climates.

Singapore is well known for creating unique specimens of orchid, and its latest brainchild is truly a rare gem of sorts.

An intensive and laborious process that took five years, local botanists have figured out a way for these orchids to bloom at a temperature range between 18 deg C and 24 deg C.

This comes as a huge step forward for the local botany scene as orchids flower delicately and can only bloom at very specific temperature ranges.

Named the Dendrobium Kiat Tan, this hybrid will provide Gardens by the Bay visitors the opportunity to see these orchids bloom in both the chilled Cloud Forest and the warm pavements outside.

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How was this achieved?

The process of this particular hybridization began as early as 2012.

At the urging of Gardens by the Bay chief executive officer Dr Tan Wee Kiat, the botanists were advised to “think outside the box”.

WIth their first clue of merging highland with lowland orchids, they were tasked with creating several hybridizations, with the Dendrobium Kiat Tan being the most advanced of the lot.

The Dendrobium Kiat Tan is the product of two orchid species: the Pigeon orchid, a native flower, and the Queen Victoria’s Dendrobium, which was picked for its colour and its extended blooming period of one month (the Pigeon orchid, though beautiful in its own right, only bloomed for a day).

PHOTO: PIGEON ORCHID/WIKI COMMONS

PHOTO: QUEEN VICTORIA’S DENDROBIUM/ WIKIPEDIA

Lastly, the ‘Kiat Tan’ part of the name is affectionately titled after Dr Tan himself, who in many ways spearheaded and supported the hybridization process.

Patience in exchange for beauty

According to Lim Mei Leng, assistant director (plant introduction and health) of the team, it takes a significant amount of patience to create orchids.

Though the Dendrobium orchids mature in only two to three years, some others such as the Vanda or Aranda groups can take up to seven years to mature.

“Orchids take a very long time to grow. That’s why they say that when you start breeding them, you have to be young.”

– Assistant Director, Lim Mei Leng

And on top of entertaining time, the team had to master resilience as well. They failed more than 15 times before the final version of their ‘weather-friendly’ hybrid was ready.

Now finally flowering, the Dendrobium Kiat Tan can bloom for five to seven days outdoors, and between seven and nine days indoors.

A flower that’s uniquely Singapore

Orchids are a diverse bunch, and with the exception of Antarctica, there are more than 20,000 different species populating various part of the world.

They vary in colour, size and fragrance, and along with the Asteraceae, are one of the two biggest families of flowering plants in the world.

However, Singapore is home to some of the rarest hybrids and even have one as a national flower: the Vanda Miss Joaquim, which was named after famed gardener and orchid breeder Ashkhen Hovakimian (Agnes Joaquim).

The Vanda Miss Joaquim is another rare orchid hybrid and was chosen as Singapore’s national flower in April 1981 for its resilience, uniqueness and year-round blooming ability.

PHOTO: SINGAPORE BOTANIC GARDENS

As of today, the Gardens by the Bay botanists have already created six other highland-lowland orchid hybrids.

Amongst these six, one is already in the process of flowering while the others are in their various stages of germination.

And as for the Dendrobium Kiat Tan, visitors pining for a look might have to wait a while longer, till around 2019, as the botanists are in the process of making more clones to fill the exhibit.

Dr Tan also expressed hope that when the Dendrobium Kiat Tan finally takes center stage at Gardens by the Bay, it would become a “one-of-a-kind hybrid… and trademark” of Singapore’s iconic nature park.

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