Orchids belong to one of the world’s largest plant families with more than 26,000 recognized naturally occurring species ranging from the microscopic Venezuelan Platystele ornate (a whole bouquet will fit on a pin head) to Borneo’s gigantic Grammatophyllum speciosum, which can weigh about half a ton.
The orchid industry in Thailand began in 1913 and was spurred along after the 33rd son of Thailand king Chulalongkorn (Rama V), His Royal Highness Prince Paripatra Sukhumbhand, Prince of Nakhon Sawan Worapinit developed an interest and presented his hybrids to the royal court.
From a fledgling industry that began first as a hobby for the royalty and then by the remainder of the general population, orchid growing today is a multi-million dollar industry for the kingdom, with more than 24,000 metric tons of cut orchid flowers being exported in 2009 and more than 1,300 known varieties in the country.
Dr. Setapong Lekawatana, director of Flower and Ornamental Plant Production Promotion Group, Bureau of Agricultural Commodities Promotion and Management, Department of Agricultural Extension, said more than $US80 million (Bt2.5 billion) worth of Thailand orchids was exported in 2009, the majority going to Japan, the United States, China, Italy, the Netherlands and Taiwan.
Thailand is the largest exporter of Dendrobium and other tropical orchids in the world, second only to the Netherlands, which exports temperate cut orchids and even during the economic slowdown of the last two years the Thai orchid industry has continued to expand.
The majority of Thailand’s orchid plantations can be found in Bangkok and nearby provinces such as Chon Buri, Nonthaburi, Saphan Buri, Samut Sakhon, Ratchaburi, Kanchanaburi, Pathum Thani, and Ayutthaya, as well as in the north of the country in Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai.
In the Bangkok and surrounding districts and provinces more than 3,500ha of farmland is used for orchid production, carried out by more than 2,000 specialist orchid nurseries.
According to Dr. Setapong some 54 percent of Thailand’s orchid production is for export, with the rest grown to supply domestic demand, and while Dendrobium, is by far the most common crop, Mokara, Oncidium, Aranthera, Aranda, Vanda Arachnis, Renanthera, Ascocenda, Phalaenopsis, Cattleya and Paphiopedilum are also being grown in increasing quantities for the cut-flower and live plant markets.
In the northern provinces of Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai the cooler winter month of January is a great period to see the amazing range of shapes, sizes and vibrant colors of hybridized and wild orchids Thailand has to offer, at a time of the year when weather conditions are considerably milder than the rest of the year.
Because of their hardy nature and dazzling range of colors, orchids are rapidly becoming one of the largest items on the international flora market and Thailand is committed to seeing it’s market share grow as it continues to introduce new and improved hybrids to meet the demand of this skyrocketing industry.