Vanda Miss Joaquim's namesake gets official credit: A look at the national flower and 9 other famous orchid blooms

SINGAPORE - The mystery over the origins of Singapore's national flower - Vanda Miss Joaquim - was resolved recently.

For more than 30 years, it has been debated whether the orchid hybrid was a product of nature, or whether it was artificially cross-bred by the late Agnes Joaquim, an Armenian horticulturist born in Singapore.

It was reported this week that the National Parks Board and the National Heritage Board are now acknowledging the role of Miss Joaquim in cross-pollinating the Vanda hookeriana and Vanda teres to create the plant.

The numerous orchids found and bred here shed a light on stories of colonialism, statesmanship and diplomacy over the past century.

Here's a look at some famous blooms.

1. Vanda Miss Joaquim


The Vanda Miss Joaquim, Singapore's national flower. PHOTO: ST FILE

Nineteenth-century Singaporean horticulturist Agnes Joaquim, also known as Ashkhen Hovakimian, has finally received credit for cross-breeding the national flower named in her honour.

Her great-great-grand niece, Ms Linda Locke, 63, has compiled a trove of historical evidence to refute the claims of "revisionist scientists who have no proof" that Miss Joaquim merely discovered the orchid in her garden.

Miss Joaquim died of cancer in 1899, at the age of 45, just months after her namesake hybrid won first prize at a national flower show. Her tombstone lies in the graveyard of the Armenian Church at Hill Street.

The Vanda Miss Joaquim became Singapore's national flower in 1981.

2. Tiger orchid (Grammatophyllum speciosum)


The tiger orchid plant near the Curtain of Roots Walk at the Singapore Botanic Gardens. PHOTO: NPARKS

The Singapore Botanic Gardens, which the British created as a compendium of colonial flora, also houses what may be the largest and oldest orchid in the world.

A tiger orchid of about 5m in diameter has been growing in the same spot near the Curtain of Roots Walk for longer than living memory.

It was planted there in 1861 by Lawrence Niven, who was hired as the Gardens' manager the previous year.

Native to Singapore, tiger orchids were believed to have become extinct from habitat loss. They were re-introduced in 1999 using Malaysian samples.

3. Aranthera Anne Black


The Aranthera Anne Black. PHOTO: TOH ORCHIDS

The custom of presenting state visitors and dignitaries with namesake orchids has been around for more than half a century.

Lady Anne Black was the first such honoree, in 1956. She was the wife of Sir Robert Brown Black, who became the colonial governor of Singapore in 1955.

Sir Robert had earlier worked in the civil service in British-occupied Malaya from 1930 to 1939. The couple married in Kuala Lumpur.

During her time in colonial Singapore, Lady Black was an honorary member of the Rotary Club's women's auxiliary wing, president of the Tan Tock Seng Hospital diversional therapy unit, and president of the British Red Cross Society.

She also made multiple visits to the St Andrew's Mission Hospital in Tanjong Pagar.

Lady Black said that she was concerned about "the poorer class of people" in Singapore and told wealthy women at the Singapore Chinese Ladies' Association to spend their free time volunteering because "they need you just as your children need you".

Lady Black died in 1986. She had two daughters, Kathryn and Barbara.

4. Vanda Tan Chay Yan


The Vanda Tan Chay Yan (left) was one of the orchid hybrids featured in the 2006 Heritage Orchid of Singapore Coin Set. PHOTO: ST FILE

The Vanda Tan Chay Yan has been lauded as the orchid that launched the home-grown orchid industry in the 1950s.

In 1981, a journalist even proposed it as an alternative national flower.

The peachy hybrid was crossed by businessman and lawyer Tan Hoon Siang, who was a great-grandson of philanthropist Tan Tock Seng. He named it after his father.

The Vanda Tan Chay Yan first bloomed in 1952 and won best Vanda at the 1957 Second World Orchid Conference in Hawaii.

5. Aranda Lee Kuan Yew and Vanda Kwa Geok Choo


Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong looks at the Aranda Lee Kuan Yew in 2015. PHOTO: ST FILE

The National Parks Board unveiled the Aranda Lee Kuan Yew last March in honour of the country's founding prime minister.

The late Mr Lee was remembered for his active role in promoting greenery in public spaces from early in his political career. He launched the first nationwide tree planting campaign in 1963.


The Aranda Lee Kuan Yew orchid. PHOTO: ST FILE

The Aranda Lee Kuan Yew hybrid, with its bright greenish yellow blooms, shares lineages and physical appearance with the Vanda Kwa Geok Choo.


The Vanda Kwa Geok Choo. PHOTO: NPARKS

The Vanda Kwa Geok Choo was named in 1995 for Mr Lee's wife who died in 2010.

6. Paravanda Nelson Mandela


National Parks Board chief executive officer Tan Wee Kiat (left) placing a plaque to mark the Paravanda Nelson Mandela orchid, a hybrid named after Mr Mandela (right). PHOTO: ST FILE

The Paravanda Nelson Mandela was named in honour of the anti-apartheid leader when he visited Singapore as president in March 1997. Mr Mandela also had a tree dedicated to him - a Giant Cola, native to western Africa.

Mr Mandela remarked that the presence of an African tree in Singapore spoke to the globalisation that was a theme on his tour of South-east Asia.

The orchid won second place at the 18th World Orchid Conference in France. It has a bright greenish-yellow hue, tinged red - resembling the colours of the South African flag.

7. Dendrobium Barack and Michelle Obama


 The Dendrobium Barack and Michelle Obama. PHOTO: MCI

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong unveiled the Dendrobium Barack and Michelle Obama at a White House state dinner in August this year.

He said that it marked the 50th year of diplomatic relations between the United States and Singapore.

The orchid, which bears yellow blooms with purple lips, is a cross between the Hawaiian Dendrobium Pink Lips and Singapore's Dendrobium Sunplaza Park.

8. Papilionanda Aung San Suu Kyi


Ms Aung San Suu Kyi placing a tag on an orchid named Papilionanda Aung San Suu Kyi at the National Orchid Garden on Dec 1, 2016. ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi had an orchid named after her while she was on a three-day visit to Singapore in 2016.

The Papilionanda Aung San Suu Kyi, a hybrid of the Papilionanda Josephine van Brero and the Vanda Varut Fuchsia, has bluish purple petals with purple spots and a reddish purple lip.

The hybrid named after the Nobel Peace Prize winner is described as "robust and free flowering".

9. Vanda William Catherine


Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, and his wife Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, with the Vanda William Catherine at the National Orchid Garden on Sept 11, 2012. PHOTO: ST FILE

The Vanda William Catherine was presented to William, the Duke of Cambridge and his wife, Catherine Middleton, in 2012.


The Vanda William Catherine. PHOTO: ST FILE

The couple, who were in Singapore for Queen Elizabeth's Diamond Jubilee, also looked at blooms of the Dendrobium Memoria Princess Diana.


Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, and his wife Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, look at the Dendrobium Memoria Princess Diana at the Singapore Botanic Gardens on Sept 11, 2012. PHOTO: ST FILE

The orchid was posthumously named for Prince William's late mother Lady Diana Spencer. Princess Diana was to have visited Singapore in 1997, but died in a car crash in Paris before her trip.


The Dendrobium Memoria Princess Diana orchid. PHOTO: ST FILE

Prince William's grandmother, the Queen, had the Dendrobium Queen Elizabeth II named after her when she visited the Singapore Botanic Gardens in 1972.

10. Doritaenopsis Sir Elton John


Sir Elton John (left) was honoured with an orchid hybrid (extreme right) when he visited the World Orchid Conference World Orchid Show in 2011. PHOTO: ST FILE

The celebrated pop star Elton John's contributions to music were recognised with an orchid hybrid when he visited the 20th World Orchid Conference World Orchid Show in 2011. The British singer was here to perform at the Singapore Indoor Stadium.


The Doritaenopsis Sir Elton John. PHOTO: ST FILE

The National Parks Board described the Doritaenopsis Sir Elton John's blooms as "brilliant", with a "striking magenta pattern" and "arresting golden forked lip".