Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Artistry and orchids in China

In China the orchid enjoys a revered place with bamboo, the chrysanthemum and the plum blossom as one of The Four Gentlemen of its art.

The orchid is also said to represent the qualities of quietness, friendship, integrity and an indifference to fame. As the flower is regarded as delicate, anyone with an orchid or two on show at home is considered not only to have good taste, but also to be endowed with traits of patience and longsuffering.

A fascinating article appeared recently on the flower industry in Zhangzhou, where experts are overcoming the logistical difficulties to market their orchids around the world.

 Zhang Enci, secretary-general of Zhangzhou Orchid Association, explains how there are 213 hectares of orchid plantations in Zhangzhou, cultivating more than 1,000 species of orchid, yielding 60 million pots every year.

If you’re interested in the history of cultivation, apparently orchid-growing in Zhangzhou dates back to the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), when orchids were mostly indigenous flowers growing in the mountains. In the wild, the leaves were slimmer and blossoms were smaller, but after centuries of human intervention, they have become brighter and more colourful.

Astonishingly, there are 62 large orchid plantations in Zhangzhou, in an industry employing 12,000 people. Many of the gardens have been passed down from generation to generation. A particular area of expertise is the butterfly orchid, now becoming increasingly popular.

And here’s a staggering fact. Nine years ago, a single pot of a particular species fetched 10 million yuan ($1.6 million; 1.2 million euros). It was named Benchi lanhua (the Mercedez-Benz orchid).

Captions: Top, part of the front end panel to the 'Admonitions Scroll' attributed to Gu Kaizhi, showing a drawing of an orchid and accompanying inscription by the Qianlong Emperor (r. 1735-1796), 1746, scanned from McCausland, "First Masterpiece of Chinese Painting". Author Qianlong Emperor (1711-1799).  Above: Greater Butterfly Orchid (Platanthera_chlorantha)

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