Manicured gardens with beautiful flora abound in sunny Singapore and are one of the little things you truly appreciate while living in this crowded island city. Among them are the purple bougainvillaeas that line the highway as you drive out of Changi Airport and the fragrant frangipani that you will find peppered throughout the island.
One pretty flower, however, stands out among them all—the Vanda Miss Joaquim, which in April 1981, was chosen from a selection of 40 other flowers to become the country’s national flower in April 1981. The flower is strong and resilient and has bold and vibrant hues, qualities that were felt to perfectly represent the spirit of Singapore.
If you have just moved to Singapore and want to see this gorgeous flower in living colour, you can find them at the National Orchid Garden, which is situated within the Singapore Botanic Gardens.
But before you head over, here are some cool trivia facts you may like to know about Singapore’s national flower:
It Is the Only Hybrid National Flower
Singapore is the only country in the world to have a national flower that is a hybrid. It was successfully cultivated by Miss Agnes Joaquim, a Singaporean resident and horticulturalist who crossbred two commonly found species of tropical orchids on the island, the Vanda hookeriana and the Vanda teres. The Vanda Miss Joaquim is also the first hybrid plant ever to be registered in Singapore, and that was all the way back in 1893!
It’s Technically the Wrong Name
Apparently, the Vanda Miss Joaquim is mistakenly named. It seems that both the Vanda hookeriana and the Vanda teres are not actually part of the genus Vanda, but actually belong in the genus Papilionanthe. Indeed, the scientific names of these two flowers have since been corrected and are officially known as Papilionanthe hookeriana and Papilionanthe teres.
While the national flower’s scientific name has likewise, been revised to become the Papilionanthe Miss Joaquim, it is still affectionately known by the island’s human residents as the Vanda Miss Joaquim.
Here are some other names by which the Papilionanthe Miss Joaquim is commonly called: Vanda Joaquim, Vanda Agnes Joaquim, Princess Aloha Orchid and the Zhuojin Wandailan.
Controversy Over Its Origin
As with many notable things in life, this iconic orchid is not without some controversy. For decades, a furious debate over the flower’s origin was had; was the country’s national flower an artificial hybrid or a natural one?
Up until about 1981, the orchid was generally accepted to be an artificial hybrid that was successfully bred by Miss Joaquim, although stories about how Miss Joaquim had actually found the natural hybrid while walking in her garden would come up at times throughout the years.
In 1982 a book entitled “Biology of Vanda Miss Joaquim” shared the latter story about Singapore’s national flower and described the plant as a natural hybrid, which sparked a rather vigorous debate that went on for some time.
In 2016, armed with research, the great-grandniece of Agnes Joaquim, Linda Locke, was able to convince the relevant government agencies that the orchid was indeed cultivated by her Joaquim; in September that same year, the National Heritage Board and the National Parks Board finally made it official, and recognised Vanda Miss Joaquim as an artificial orchid.
Things We’ve Named After It
Not only have there been several roads named after the national flower (e.g., Vanda Crescent, Vanda Link and Vanda Drive), they also have a Vanda Miss Joaquim Pavilion that is located on Yan Kit Road in Tanjong Pagar.
Because it is situated close to Chinatown, it comes as no surprise that this tiny park in the middle of the city has a distinct Chinese theme, beginning with the quaint arched entrance and ending with plots of bamboo plants as part of the landscape. (It may possibly also have the distinct honour of being one of Singapore’s littlest parks.)
Here is where you can enjoy a brief respite from the heat, noise and smells of the city as you sit under the park’s red pavilion and enjoy the gentle breeze, exchanging the sounds of car horns for the whisper of rustling leaves. Just for a moment.
It Serves as a Beautiful Icon
The Vanda Miss Joaquim is frequently used to represent the island city today.
For instance, it is the flower of choice for garlands and bouquets that are made especially to welcome foreign dignitaries. In 1988 Singapore Airlines fashioned their signature fragrance with the extract from this fragrant orchid; they call it Singapore Bliss. In 2009, Miss Singapore represented with a giant Vanda Miss Joaquim motif bravely attached to the back of her gown for the Miss Universe pageant.
The flower also appears on the Singapore currency and has been co-opted several times for use on local stamps. For tourists who are looking to bring home a souvenir that reminds them of their time in Singapore, there is no shortage of merchandises that include this lovely flower as part of the design.
Find out more about some common flowers found here in Singapore.