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An Orchid Adventure of a Lifetime

By Lee Alyanakian and Greg Griffis, on March 22, 2019
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Ni hao! Earlier this month, we boarded three flights, flew for 24 hours, and arrived in Taipei, Taiwan on a two-week orchid adventure to attend the Taiwan International Orchid Show, explore new orchid breeding and cultural techniques, and see firsthand new and innovative orchid display trends in an area known most notably for its spectacular Phalaenopsis, among other beautiful orchids. The show’s key aesthetic was its massive number of Phalaenopsis displayed so beautifully and so densely that they seemed to go on forever.

Approximately 200,000 orchids, primarily Phalaenopsis (commonly known as moth orchids) were displayed in huge masses in the Exhibition Display Hall. Photo by Greg Griffis.Approximately 200,000 orchids, primarily Phalaenopsis (commonly known as moth orchids) were displayed in huge masses in the Exhibition Display Hall. Photo by Greg Griffis.

Having just completed its 15th year, the Taiwan International Orchid Show is one of the top three orchid shows in the world, attracting more than 200,000 people each year. Operating as an opportunity for business networking and as a marketplace for local orchids and agricultural produce, the show took place from March 3 through March 11 in the Houbi district within the Taiwan Orchid Plantation, which spans more than 432 acres. The theme of this year’s show followed the history of Tainan, the oldest city in Taiwan, and its 400 years of culture and art.

We saw an amazing display of Phalaenopsis and Oncidium atop 20-foot bamboo and arranged to resemble fireworks. Photo by Greg Griffis.We saw an amazing display of Phalaenopsis and Oncidium atop 20-foot bamboo and arranged to resemble fireworks. Photo by Greg Griffis.

Large cascading Phalaenopsis, like the ones we displayed in the Fern Passage during this year’s Orchid Extravaganza, are not as commonly grown but we saw them in the nearby growing houses and business trade show area. Photo by Lee Alyanakian. Large cascading Phalaenopsis, like the ones we displayed in the Fern Passage during this year’s Orchid Extravaganza, are not as commonly grown but we saw them in the nearby growing houses and business trade show area. Photo by Lee Alyanakian.

It was the first visit to Taiwan for both of us. We arrived already knowing breeding lines of a lot of the orchids we saw and having seen many of them on display at Longwood and in the United States, but to see the beginning of their journey there in Taiwan, as well as meet the people who grew them, was incredibly exciting. Taiwan features perfect conditions for growing Phalaenopsis, and, as a result, Taiwan is the global epicenter for Phalaenopsis breeding and production.

In addition to the show’s large displays, we viewed exhibits of more than 1,000 gorgeous individual species of all types of orchids, entered for judging by Taiwanese companies and growers. These amazing orchids are so well-grown and well-flowered with meticulous presentation. It was such a thrill to see to see these champion plants.

One of the award-winning Phalaenopsis took more than a decade to grow. Photo by Greg Griffis.One of the award-winning Phalaenopsis took more than a decade to grow. Photo by Greg Griffis.

This award-winning Rhynchostylis gigantea measured six feet tall. Photo by Greg Griffis.This award-winning Rhynchostylis gigantea measured six feet tall. Photo by Greg Griffis.

Aside from seeing the show itself, we also had the opportunity to visit many different orchid nurseries during our trip to Taiwan. For one, we took a tour of the multiple growing and breeding facilities at one of the largest breeders and exporters of Phalaenopsis, located in Taichung. In this warmer, lower-elevation location, the orchids grow very quickly with little supplemental heating or cooling needed. Except for the breeding house, there were no colorful flowers to be seen; green plants are shipped around the world and to the US East Coast to continue their growth.

Rows and rows of Phalaenopsis that have not yet bloomed provide a beautiful symmetry in one of the mass production greenhouses in Taichung. Photo by Greg Griffis.Rows and rows of Phalaenopsis that have not yet bloomed provide a beautiful symmetry in one of the mass production greenhouses in Taichung. Photo by Greg Griffis.

We visited additional growing houses in the higher, cooler mountain area of Sun Moon Lake. These greenhouses are bursting with beautiful flowering Phalaenopsis for sale within Taiwan.

A variety of beautiful orchids grown for sale within Taiwan. Photo by Greg Griffis.A variety of beautiful orchids grown for sale within Taiwan. Photo by Greg Griffis.

In this same area we visited one of the few mass breeders and producers of complex Paphiopedilum (slipper orchids) in Taiwan; these orchids may look familiar, as they made up some of the beautiful Paphiopedilum found in the Oval Basin during this year’s Orchid Extravaganza display.

A sea of Paphiopedilum greeted us; it was easy to see why this breeder has won many awards for her exceptional plants. Photo by Greg Griffis.A sea of Paphiopedilum greeted us; it was easy to see why this breeder has won many awards for her exceptional plants. Photo by Greg Griffis.

The blooms on these luminous Lycaste were exceptionally large. Photo by Lee Alyanakian. The blooms on these luminous Lycaste were exceptionally large. Photo by Lee Alyanakian.

An old, large Lycaste nursery was also nearby, run by a husband and wife team. The area’s mild climate provides excellent cultural conditions to grow these cooler-growing, deciduous orchids under shade cloth.

We also visited another family-owned business in the Sun Moon Lake area known for their mass production and distribution of Oncidium.

Close view of × Zelenkocidium Calico Gem. Photo by Lee Alyanakian. Close view of × Zelenkocidium Calico Gem. Photo by Lee Alyanakian.

Among our travels, we discovered three miles of small retail nurseries in Tianwei, selling everything from orchids to succulents to fruit trees to bonsai. Traveling one hour south brought us through many agricultural fields to Kaoshiung, home to breeders of Phalaenopsis species and Tolumnia primarily sold in Taiwan.

Two weeks went by quickly and before you knew it, we were back home and among our own amazing orchids at Longwood, but with new design ideas and new inspiration for future displays here at home … as well as a lot of gratitude for our time in Taiwan.

We traveled by a beautiful tea field, with symmetry that reminded us of the Phalaenopsis greenhouses, while on our way to Kaoshiung. Photo by Lee Alyanakian.We traveled by a beautiful tea field, with symmetry that reminded us of the Phalaenopsis greenhouses, while on our way to Kaoshiung. Photo by Lee Alyanakian.

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