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Once-popular orchid breeds back in vogue in Vietnam

Once-popular orchid breeds back in vogue in Vietnam

Monday, July 07, 2014, 18:05 GMT+7

A number of once-popular breeds of orchids are now back in vogue across Vietnam, particularly in the southern region.

Of some thousand tubs of orchids on display at the Da Lat Flower Festival late last year, the “hawaigame” was placed in a less prominent position.

The slender plant has smaller, less striking blooms than those of its bigger, flamboyant relatives.

However, its owner, Nguyen Quoc Thanh, was proud of the unique quality of the plant.

Dozens of years ago, such orchid breeds were popular among local orchid enthusiasts, but were soon replaced by newer and more beautiful breeds.

However, such breeds are now gaining in popularity once again.

Graceful, less demanding

Nguyen Quoc Thanh, who has run Thang Long orchid shop in Ho Chi Minh City’s suburban district of Cu Chi for 10 years, has spent the last three years collecting and breeding once-popular orchids.

His garden is now home to 12 breeds of orchids including “antenna,” “red dragon,” “black spider” and “samurai.”

Infatuated with the breeds, Thanh has traveled to different provinces to seek them out.

A customer offered VND7 million (US$324) for one of his “dendrobium” breeds, but he refused to sell it.

Vu Thanh Tung, in Cai Rang District of Can Tho City in the Mekong Delta, gave Thanh the seedlings of the breed. Its identity has remained elusive until now.

Tung, who collects these breeds out of mere passion, recalled that once he saw a white, stunning breed by chance in the orchid-packed garden of an old villa.

He asked the owner about the breed. In return, the owner gave him some of the special orchids.

Research revealed that the plant is a “caesar white,” which was hugely popular before 1975, when Vietnam was reunified following the fall of Saigon.

Thanh then began taking the plant to exhibits. It won two gold medals in Can Tho City and Ben Tre Province in 2011.

The breed has since enjoyed greater popularity and fetched high prices across the Mekong Delta.

Tung and Thanh favored these breeds partly because they flower more often and require less care compared to newer, more popular breeds.

The two men currently breed by grafting.

Tung said that tapping into the current comeback of once-popular orchid breeds in Vietnam, several Thai companies mass produce and export orchids to the Southeast Asian country.

However, he noted that surprisingly, the locally-grown plants are more gorgeous than those of the same breeds imported from Thailand, though several of them originate there.

One example is the pleasantly purplish “dazing,” which originates from Thailand and was popular around 1945.

Several Thai companies have grown the breed on a large scale and exported them to Vietnam, but their plants are not as popular as locally-grown ones for their flower color and shape.

A Thai “dazing” tub costs some VND250,000 ($12) while a tub of locally-grown orchids may fetch VND2-3 million (up to $139).

Tung noted that perhaps the breed has grown in Vietnam for a long time and thus boasts distinctive characteristics that differ from those grown in Thailand.

The enigmatic flowers

The appeal of these once-popular orchid breeds also lies in the fact that few seasoned collectors and traders know much about their origins or even their names.

Phan Chau Nhuan, owner of Thu Ngan orchid garden in Cu Chi District, used to own a tea and coffee farm.

In 1996, a group of Taiwanese traders brought a few samples of the once-popular breeds into Vietnam.

Nhuan then made a daring move, which local orchid buffs admired.

He sold his herd of 20 pigs and some other household items for $800 and bought a tub of “chialin shinshu” orchids, which were comprised of five twigs and two flowers.

In 2005, he switched from producing tea and coffee to breeding and trading orchids.

His garden now boasts roughly 10,000 tubs of orchids, mostly formerly popular ones.

He now owns 17 once-popular, rare breeds.

Nhuan called a “caesar king” flowering plant “Duong Van Minh,” the last president of the former Saigon regime.

He explained that only Minh owned the breed then. Only after 1975 did it begin to gain in popularity. 

Nhuan then pointed to another orchid breed, which he called “Tam Ly.”

He explained that the breed belonged exclusively to a Christian priest, who then left it to a man, Tam Ly, to take care of the plant.

Unable to find scientific names for the once-trendy orchid breeds, many are named for the areas where they were first discovered, and the first people who bred and looked after them, such as “King Hoc Mon,” “King Muoi Bich” and “King Cu Chi.”

As a juror at an orchid competition in 2009, Nhuan was cast under a spell by the winning orchid, which the jury failed to identify.

Nhuan spent some VND20 million ($940) to buy the plant, which had four leaves and a few flowers.

He then named the breed “Obama” as Barack Obama had just been elected the President of the United States.

Nhuan now has some thousand tubs of the “Obama” breed.

One such tub now costs some VND250,000, as his advanced technique of tissue transplant has cut costs.

However, Nhuan knew that mass production undermines the breeds’ value, so he makes sure that these techniques do not apply to several rare breeds.

According to Pham Anh Dung, member of the Cu Chi Association of Ornamental Animals and Plants and Thanh’s father-in-law, tissue transplant yields inferior offspring plants compared to those produced naturally.

Grafting is a wise yet time-consuming choice, which allows offspring plants to have the same quality as parent plants.

To promote the once-trendy orchid breeds, Dung and Thanh have taken them to exhibitions across the country, mostly on their own expense.

They hired a truck to carry their orchid tubs all the way from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi and stayed there for some 10 days on the 1000th anniversary of Thang Long- Hanoi in 2010.

Though his truckful of orchid tubs sold out, they still incurred a loss of VND28 million ($1,300). However, they were happy that they successfully promoted the breeds in the capital.

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