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OrchidOrchidAMONG THE WHIRL of New Year impressions, the image that must come to mind of thousands visitors enjoying our cool season, is the profusion of blossoms in Chiangmai. The flowering trees on the roadside and the profusion of orchids which color the gardens greet one and all. Coming from either tropical countries or the somber gray of Europe, it's not surprising that visitors fall in love with Thailand's national flower the orchid and chosen to enliven his garden and patio with an explosion of rainbow colors in all sizes.

Orchids are at their best during the cooler months of Chiangmai's winter although, especially with hybrids, they splash into color also in August. In the wild, orchids drape themselves from tree branches and let their roots dangle so they may draw moisture from the air. They are not pararsites feeding off the tree as some people may think. Also, they are full of little surprises for example, some medicines are derived from orchids and the pollen can be an ingredient of expensive face creams. The flavoring, vanilla, also comes from the beautiful orchid.

OrchidOrchidIn Thailand, there are some than 1,000 species which range from the quite rare to relatively common. White blooms are among the rarest because of their scarcity in the wild; when we see a spectacular spray of white blossoms, it is thanks to the painstaking research and work of the orchid horticulturist. The more usual spectrum of hues is from pottery red to purple but there are also, bright oranges and yellows. Many ladies on Thai Airways flights, or at a Chiangmai khantoke dinner will have been presented with a blossom in mauve or lilac.

When you are buying an orchid plant (rather than just a spray of cut blooms), only do so when it is in blossom so that you will know the color and form to expect. For hobbyist orchid growers, it is suggested that the Dendrobium species are easiest for first timers. They invariably bloom from January to March but, indeed, given proper care, conditions and fertilizer, will burst forth three times a year. Possible variety choices, from the Dendrobium species, include "Madame Pompadour", "Wai-King" and "Diamond Head Beauty". They are all hardy varieties which come in a range of colors.

OrchidOrchidBreeding the Thai orchid is a different story altogether and requires the knowledge and skill of an expert. Orchids are canny and, in some species, will only permit the pollination process to be completed by a particular insect species. Orchids do not like bees and will produce a drug to prevent bees from taking the pollen. On the other hand, wasps are welcomed but not always! This is where the expert horticulturist comes to the fore by removing the vagaries of insect pollination he, or she, can control the cross pollination so, combined with a hefty measure of luck, a beautiful new orchid will spring into flower.

The skills of many have combined to bring these beautiful, tropical plants in a host of colors. Visitors may like to visit one of the several flower markets indicated on the color maps in this issue. Thailand's national blossom is abundantly available to make a wonderful, living, long-lasting gift . Express the mystery of nature to your garden enthuisast friends "Say it with Orchids"!

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