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Rare hybrid orchid created

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A rare gem has emerged from the hundreds of new orchid specimens Singapore is famed for creating.

A botanist team at Gardens by the Bay has created their first hybrid that can bloom in both warmer and cooler climates.

The effort to breed the purple blossom - a labour of love that took five years - finally bore fruit last month.

Orchids grow in specific temperature ranges and cannot thrive outside of these. But visitors to Gardens by the Bay will be able to see Dendrobium Kiat Tan - with its ability to flower between 18 to 24 deg C - both inside the chilled Cloud Forest and the warm pavements outside.

The hybrid is the result of a challenge issued by Gardens by the Bay chief executive officer Tan Wee Kiat, who in 2012 urged the research and horticulture team to "think out of the box and attempt crossing highland with lowland orchids", said Ms Lim Mei Leng, assistant director (plant introduction and health) of the team.

The effort began then, so when the Gardens officially launched its orchid hybridisation programme in 2015, this was the most advanced of several hybrids the botanists were working on.

Dendrobium Kiat Tan is derived from the Pigeon orchid, and the Dendrobium victoriae-reginae, known colloquially as the Queen Victoria's Dendrobium, a native of the Philippine highland, with its cooler temperatures.

The Pigeon orchid, which has the scientific name of Dendrobium crumenatum, was chosen because it is a native flower, and the Dendrobium victoriae-reginae for its colour and the fact that it blooms for up to a month, compared with the Pigeon orchid's blooming period of one day.

There are more than 20,000 species of orchids, and they are found on all continents except for Antarctica. There are about 1,200 species of orchids under the Dendrobium group.

Ms Lim quipped that it was good that Dendrobium orchids mature in "only" two to three years, compared with some hybrids from the Vanda or Aranda groups, which can take up to seven years to mature and flower.

"Orchids take a very long time to grow. That's why they say that when you start breeding them, you have to be young," she said.

The team failed many times, making about 15 hybridisation attempts before it got Dendrobium Kiat Tan to flower. Now, after blooming, it lasts between five and seven days outdoors, and between seven and nine days indoors.

Ms Lim said it was named after Dr Tan because of the support that he gave to the team. "We thought it would be a good way to honour him," she said.

However, visitors will have to wait until 2019 before seeing Dendrobium Kiat Tan at Gardens by the Bay, as the team still needs to clone enough flowers for display.

Ms Lim said the goal of the hybridisation programme is to create interesting and unique orchids for Gardens visitors to enjoy.

Besides this particular bloom, she said the hybridisation programme has crossed six more highland-lowland orchid hybrids.

They are waiting for one of these hybrids to produce its first flower, while the rest are in various stages of germination.

Commenting on the flower named after him, Dr Tan said: "I'm proud of our research and horticulture team, who have put in a lot of hard work to breed this unique orchid, showcasing their experience and ingenuity."

He added: "In time to come, our hope is that such one-of-a-kind hybrids will become a trademark of Gardens by the Bay."

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