Taiwan Revisited Chris & Jean Barker

Chris and Jean have previously talked to us about Taiwan, the countryside, culture, and more importantly the Taiwan international Orchid Show.  This, their latest visit was in March 2009, and also involved mounting a display on behalf of the OSGB. The display nearly didn‟t go ahead as Chris was delayed in Hong Kong due to having less than 6 months remaining on his passport. Fortunately the diplomatic services in HK were able to issue a new one, and after a day‟s delay they were able to continue – “let that be a warning to you” is a valuable bit of advice.

The TIOS is one of (probably) 3 world class annual orchid shows, with highly artistic displays and is well funded. It can afford to be with over 300,000 visitors and sales orders over US$100M. The show is in a dedicated orchid display area in 3 of several huge greenhouses – which are still being built. Many of the large number of Taiwanese growers have a permanent presence here. With the perfect tropical climate, orchids will grow in abundance with little cost to the growers. Consequently there are always enough plants for huge displays, and often it is more the nature of the display than the flowers themselves that wins awards. Plants are however are in profusion, with over 1000 Paphs on the Taiwan paph. Society display alone.

The TOGA display was over 20‟ high and very long – it has over 300 commercial members. TOBS (Taiwan Orchid Breeders Society) have another huge display. They aren‟t the serious commercial producers, but mainly enthusiastic amateurs who make hybrid crosses by the thousand, hoping that just a few of their plants will be selected by the commercial nurseries for mericlones. Although they aren‟t well known in the UK, I-Hsin won the best exhibit with mainly Phals, with most of these usually becoming available (through the Netherlands) at UK nurseries a couple of years later. I- Hsin Black Jack, Tinny Honey, and I-Hsin Waltz were shown.

Everything in the show is on a large scale – even the judges, where there are over 200 for 53 classes. Judging seems to work by a process of elimination until the best is selected. Eventually 1 GC and 4 reserves are agreed. Some politics does come into play, and if a cane or tie is just in the wrong place then the plant can be discounted – as happened to an enormous, and old, Phal. amabilis. Plants for judging are not on the displays, but in a separate hall where they are normally put into ceramic jars or similar. The AOS come to the show to do their own award judging, including plants from displays, and then charge the winners for the privilege. It appears that their operation is somewhat regarded as intrusive by many of the exhibitors who neither want their plants removed or wish to pay for something they aren‟t interested in. Consequently there are a lot of “no AOS judging” signs around.

Within the plants themselves, there are huge Dendrobiums massed in flower. Cattleyas are trained together resulting in their petals nearly being squashed. Phals are around in plenty, with the harlequin types the current trend – such as happy Tree and Harek Galaxy. Although much of Taiwan is warm/very warm, the mountains are cooler, so Cymbidiums are also in abundance, as are Dendrochilums. The GC was paph. Michael Koopowitz, with V. Bitz‟s Heartthrob and Staurochilus Ionasma amongst the reserves.

As you would expect with CITES, no plants were transported for the OSGB display, but funding was available to purchase some plants, as well as some borrowing from local nurseries. The planned display was soon seen to be „not in keeping‟ with the desired effect – which is the arrangement of plants. An arch of posters displaying scenes of the UK had to be relocated, leaving somewhat of a gap of pale green backcloth.

Most large flower shows have additional activities, and the TIOS has associated tourism and nursery trips. During the show, it was the Matzu festival. This is a celebration of the “goddess of the sea” and was surrounded by colour and noise. The well publicised Chimea museum was a bit of a disappointment (for the English) as it contained only European art. A rather unusual tourist attraction is the Gigu salt mountain which is a high point on a flat coast. Coaches bring tourists by the thousand just for the long distance views. The mountain has grown over the years from the extraction of sea salt from the local coastal marches. This practice has now been stopped, and as a result the Black faced Spoonbill numbers are now recovering.

The nursery trips are even more interesting, more for the scale of production than anything else. I-Hsin is a more old-fashioned style of nursery with hand watering the norm. They produce over 100,000 flasks for export each month. Yu Pin is a younger company and has embraced technology to the maximum. 30 huge greenhouses contain the plants. Ventilation and shading are automatic, and spring into action even for just a passing cloud. The benches contain around 400 mature plants, and can be moved around to a shower watering area. Each bench is microchipped, and can be plugged into a movable computer for updates etc. There is a huge repotting area where usually extra sphagnum moss is added as the pot size grows. This all works on a conveyor belt system. Norman‟s Orchids (Norman Fang is US based, and also in Hawaii) grow for export only. It is highly automated, yet there isn‟t a flower in sight. Taisuco is another old company, now with low tech facilities. They are still amongst the largest operation with greenhouses covering acres. They grow at a minimum of 27C to avoid spikes forming, and now reckon to get from flask to flower in about 12 months only. They export 3,000,000 flowering sized plants annually. Gosh!

After an odd question a hearty round of applause was given. JG