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Orchids: Ornate, opulent, overwhelming!
By Tan Weiyun

As the world’s largest family of flowering plants, with more than 26,000 identified species in 880 genera, the orchid reigns in the world of plants.

“Just like we humans are at the top of the animal food chain, the orchid is the most advanced and evolved of the plant world,” said Huang Weichang, vice president and head of orchid research and development at the Shanghai Chenshan Botanic Garden. “Isn’t that an amazing link between people and a flower?”

The number of orchid species in the world is more than double the number of bird species and about four times the number of mammal species. The orchid family comprises between 6 percent and 11 percent of all seed plants.

“Orchids display biodiversity and the most splendid side of nature,” Huang said. “That’s what inspires us to hold the orchid exhibition.”

The flower fete is not only a window through which citizens can admire stunning species from around the world, but it is also a gathering place for international orchid researchers and growers to meet and exchange information.

Orchid exhibitions are common in China, but most of them focus on the business side of growing the flower, ignoring scientific developments and environmental responsibility for protecting the plant.

Rescuing team

The orchid team at Chenshan Garden, composed of eight researchers, was established about three years ago. Its aim is to introduce and domesticate non-indigenous orchid species and even develop new varieties. Last year, the team successfully developed two new species, both certified by the Royal Horticultural Society in London.

Chen Longhui, a Taiwan orchid expert and a team consultant at the garden’s orchid center, has been working in Shanghai for more than two years and with orchids for more than half a century.

“The orchid is a bit like my wife, whom I cannot live without,” he said with a chuckle. “Sometimes, it’s even more important than my real wife.”

Chen has helped renovate the garden’s orchid greenhouses and collected different orchid species from Africa, Europe, Australia, the Mediterranean, Asia and North America. The Taiwanese also developed a new method to grow orchids on tree trunks.

He is passionate about sharing his experience with anyone willing to listen and has held numerous orchid lectures across the mainland.

One of the main duties of the garden’s orchid team is a project it calls “ecological poverty alleviation.”

Orchids in China

China has more than 1,400 orchid species, most growing in rural, mountainous areas of Yunnan and Guizhou provinces and the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. In many cases, cash-strapped farmers in those impoverished areas have uprooted native orchids to sell to the flower trade.

The orchid team has traveled to the areas for the flower protection project, teaching farmers how to grow and preserve orchid species, especially wild ones on the verge of extinction. In many cases, the knowledge has brought new incomes for farmers.

“We tell the farmers they are the guardians of a treasure and they can be the beneficiaries,” Huang said.

In last year’s Chenshan International Orchid Festival, top prize for a golden slipper orchid went to Deng Keyun, who was a coal miner in Guizhou before he was introduced to orchids.

During the past decade, Deng has been working with a local orchid protection center credited with rescuing more than 100 orchid species hidden deep in the mountains.

Deng said more than 100 million yuan (US$16.31 million) has been spent to date on orchid protection.

“The wild orchids are still in danger and need our help,” said Deng, who is now seeking closer cooperation with the Chenshan Botanic Garden and will be taking part in this year’s festival.

?How to get there:

Take Metro Line 9 and disembark at the Dongjing Station. Take Songjiang Bus No.19 to the No.1 Gate of the botanic garden.

Or you can rent a free bike at the Metro station and cycle along the Linyinxin Road for about
three kilometers to the garden.

During the orchid festival, there will be free shuttle bus service linking the Metro station and the botanic garden on weekends and holidays.

The bus interval is about 20 minutes.

Recommended garden routes:

Tour starting from the No.1 Gate: Orchid greenhouses - East Lake - Chunjing Garden - the Children’s Botanic Garden - the North American plants zone - the “mining pit” - the rocks and medicinal herbs

Tour starting from the No.2 Gate: Chunjing Garden of sakura and magnolia - the Children’s Botanic Garden - the North American plants zone - the “mining pit” - the rocks and medicinal herbs - the orchid greenhouses

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