Vanda Miss Joaquim

Singapore Infopedia


Papilionanthe Miss Joaquim, commonly referred to as Vanda Miss Joaquim, is the first recorded orchid hybrid from Singapore, created in the early 1890s.1 On 15 April 1981, the Agnes variety of the Vanda Miss Joaquim was launched as Singapore’s national flower. The plant was named after Agnes Joaquim, who is officially recognised as the breeder of the orchid hybrid. The first record of Vanda Miss Joaquim appeared in an 1893 issue of The Gardeners’ Chronicle journal, when it was registered as a new plant by Henry Nicholas Ridley, then director of the Singapore Botanic Gardens.

Vanda Miss Joaquim was first recorded in an 1893 issue of The Gardeners’ Chronicle, a horticultural journal.2 In a section titled “New or Noteworthy Plants” dated 24 June 1893, Ridley registered Vanda Miss Joaquim as a newly created orchid hybrid.3

He wrote: “A few years ago Miss Joaquim, a lady residing in Singapore, well-known for her success as a horticulturist, succeeded in crossing Vanda Hookeriana, Rchb.f., and V. teres, two plants cultivated in almost every garden in Singapore. Unfortunately, no record was kept as to which was used as the male.”4

There are also records of herbarium and specimen sheets from April 1893 indicating that Vanda Miss Joaquim is an artificial hybrid.5

Vanda Miss Joaquim was successfully flowered in Europe, and displayed publicly for the first time at the Royal Horticultural Show in London in June 1897. The Royal Horticultural Society awarded the First Class Certificate to Trevor Lawrence, the owner of Vanda Miss Joaquim, which had been grown by his gardener W. H. White from a cutting sent by Ridley.6 In 1898, the orchid also garnered the Cultural Commendation Certificate for Lawrence.7 

The flower debuted in Singapore at the annual Flower Show in April 1899, where Joaquim won the first prize for  “rarest orchid”.8

The origin of Vanda Miss Joaquim – whether it was a product of nature or an artificial hybrid bred by Joaquim – was a source of controversy. Nadia H. Wright published a number of articles and a book that refuted the account of Vanda Miss Joaquim being a natural hybrid. Wright highlighted Joaquim’s personal achievements as a horticulturist and the strength of Ridley’s account as he was an experienced botanist and “a foremost expert on orchids”.9 A debate ensued between Wright and the authors of the book, Biology of Vanda Miss Joaquim. The latter insisted that the orchid hybrid had been the result of chance pollination because, in their view, Joaquim was not equipped with the requisite knowledge of orchid crossing and seed germination. They dismissed Ridley’s account as “likely to be more allegorical than factual”.10

Official recognition
In March 2016, Linda Locke, a great-grandniece of Joaquim’s, began approaching local public agencies with research proving that the Vanda Miss Joaquim had been bred by her forebear, with the aim of correcting the existing account. On 7 September 2016, the National Parks Board and the National Heritage Board officially recognised Joaquim as the breeder of Vanda Miss Joaquim.11

In 2011, the exact parentage of the Vanda Miss Joaquim came to light when scientists used DNA barcoding and inference techniques to determine that Vanda teres var. andersonii (Papilionanthe teres var. andersonii) was the pod parent and Vanda hookeriana (Papilionanthe hookeriana) was the pollen parent.12

Scientific research has also revealed that Vanda Miss Joaquim’s parent orchids belong to the Papilionanthe genus. Hence, the scientific name for Vanda Miss Joaquim has been changed to Papilionanthe Miss Joaquim, although the flower is still commonly called Vanda Miss Joaquim.13

Popularisation and international demand
Miss Joaquim spearheaded Singapore’s cut-flower industry.14 In 1936, during a lecture on “practical orchids” delivered to the Singapore Gardening Society, Laycock noted Vanda Miss Joaquim’s value as a flowering and profitable garden orchid.15 The success of the orchid inspired Holttum to embark on a major hybridisation programme in 1928, using the Knudson method of growing seedlings in sterile culture.16 Singapore is now among the most significant centres in the world for orchid hybrid breeding.17 

Besides Singapore, Vanda Miss Joaquim also gained popularity in Hawaii, United States, where the flower became a successful export.18 In 1920, Isaac Burkill, director of the Singapore Botanic Gardens, gave 28 cuttings of Vanda Miss Joaquim to Lester William Bryan from the Hawaiian Sugar Planters Association when the latter was in Singapore.19 Bryan propagated the cuttings back in Hawaii, where the orchid variety was used to make flower garlands known locally as leis. This flower from Singapore proved to be popular there.20 It has been said that many soldiers of World War II who passed through Hawaii mailed thousands of blooms back home to their loved ones.21 Besides Hawaii, Vanda Miss Joaquim has also been propagated in other American states such as Florida, as well as countries in Southeast Asia.22

As air freight to Europe became more accessible in the 1930s, the international sale of Vanda Miss Joaquim also boomed, with crates of the flowers shipped to places like Greece and Denmark.23 The flower was said to have “remarkable keeping qualities” and enjoyed “phenomenal publicity in Europe, England, Australia and Netherlands India”.24 In 1938, a crate of the orchids was flown from Singapore to Amsterdam, Netherlands, for Dutch Queen Wilhelmina’s 40th Jubilee.25

After World War II (1941–45), however, with more new orchid varieties, there was a marked decline in the commercial production of orchids. In Singapore, its popularity as a garden plant waned further as landed properties with gardens increasingly gave way to high-rise apartments.26

There was a boost to the popularity of Vanda Miss Joaquim in Singapore after it was designated the national flower in 1981, with many media reports on growing and caring for the hybrid, and calls to increase its visibility in public spaces.27

In Singapore, Vanda Miss Joaquim can be found at the National Orchid Garden located within the Singapore Botanic Gardens,28  and at Joaquim’s tombstone at the Armenian Church along Hill Street.29

Vanda Miss Joaquim grows in dense clumps of branching stems,30 and thrives best in high humidity and full sunlight. Requiring support, it starts to bloom only when the plant’s top exceeds its support by 40 to 50 cm. The flowers are coloured violet rose with an orange centre.31 There are many varieties of Vanda Miss Joaquim. By the end of the 20th century, there were more than 440 hybrids that originated from Vanda Miss Joaquim.32

A free-flowering plant,33 it used to be commonly found in Malayan gardens.34 Although considered expensive in the past, these days the hybrid can be bought cheaply.35

National flower
On 15 April 1981, “Vanda Miss Joaquim var. Agnes” was officially launched as Singapore’s national flower36 – a selection made by a committee consisting of officials from the Ministry of Culture, Parks and Recreation Department, Singapore Tourist Promotion Board, Singapore Institute of Standards and Industrial Research, and the Orchid Society of Southeast Asia.37 The hybrid was picked from among 40 flowers, 30 of which were orchids.38 Among the several varieties of Vanda Miss Joaquim, the Agnes variety was chosen for its vibrant colour, “resilience and year-round blooming quality”.39

The announcement of the national flower ushered in the inaugural National Flower Week. Held from 20 to 27 July 1981, the event saw a series of tie-ups and activities celebrating the new national flower.40

Singapore is the only country to have a hybrid as its national flower.41

Uses and iconic representations
The flowers of Vanda Miss Joaquim can be made into garlands, bouquets, corsages and serve as decoration.42 In 1988, a fragrance named Singapore Bliss, which used Vanda Miss Joaquim as the main extract, became the signature scent of Singapore Airlines.43

The motif of Vanda Miss Joaquim has been used for a myriad of purposes. It has graced various symbols such as the emblem of the Singapore Progressive Party formed in 1947 and the Malayan Orchid Society’s crest introduced in 1957.44 In addition, Vanda Miss Joaquim has lent its face to merchandise such as accessories,45 apparel, postcards and souvenirs.46 During the 1990s, the government-led search for a “national dress” rested on an orchid theme, following which design competitions were held and Vanda Miss Joaquim was featured as a print on apparel.47 Politicians and government officials were seen during public functions wearing shirts with orchid prints.48

The national flower appears on Singapore’s currency notes and coins, such as the notes of the Ship series and the five-dollar bill in the Portrait series. Various stamp series have also adopted the national flower as part of the design.49

For the 2009 Miss Universe pageant, Miss Singapore wore a dark pink gown with an outsize Vanda Miss Joaquim affixed to her back.50

Places and roads have been named after the national flower. These include the Vanda Miss Joaquim Park in Tanjong Pagar as well as Vanda Road, Vanda Crescent and Vanda Drive in Bukit Timah.51 The Vanda Miss Joaquim Pavilion in Tanjong Pagar marks the site of Joaquim’s former residence on Narcis Street (now expunged;52 also referred to as Mount Narcis53) where the orchid was first bred.54

Variant names55
Princess Aloha Orchid.
Vanda Joaquim.
Wah-Kim orchid.
Vanda Agnes Joaquim.
Zhuojin wandailan (卓锦万黛兰), meaning “orchid of everlasting excellence” in Mandarin.56

Sitragandi Arunasalam, Ong Eng Chuan & Fiona Lim

1. “Papilionanthe Miss Joaquim (Previously Known as Vanda Miss Joaquim),” Singapore Botanic Gardens, accessed 14 September 2016.
2. Harold Johnson and Nadia Wright, Vanda Miss Joaquim: Singapore’s National Flower & the Legacy of Agnes & Ridley (Singapore: Suntree Media, 2008), 59–61. (Call no. RSING 635.9344095957 JOH)
3. Johnson and Wright, Singapore’s National Flower, 71.
4. H. N. Ridley, “New or Noteworthy Plants,” Gardeners’ Chronicle, 8 (24 June 1893): 740.
5. Johnson and Wright, Singapore’s National Flower, 60.
6. Nadia H. Wright, Respected Citizens: The History of Armenians in Singapore and Malaysia (Australia: Amassia Publishing, 2003), 146 (Call no. RSING 305.891992 WRI); Hew Choy Sin, Yam Tim Wing and Joseph Arditti, Biology of Vanda Miss Joaquim (Singapore: Singapore University Press, 2002), 47. (Call no. RSING 584.4095957 HEW)
7. Johnson and Wright, Singapore’s National Flower, 79.
8. “The Flower Show,” Straits Times, 12 April 1899, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
9. Johnson and Wright, Singapore’s National Flower, 79, 82; Nadia H. Wright, “The Origins of Vanda Miss Joaquim,” Malayan Orchid Review 34 (2000) (Call no. RSING 584.15 MOR); Nadia H. Wright, “A Re-Examination of the Origins of Vanda Miss Joaquim,” Orchid Review 112 (1259) (September–October 2004), 292–8.
10. Hew, Yam and Arditti, Biology of Vanda Miss Joaquim, 223; Hew Choy Sin, Yam Tim Wing and Joseph Arditti, “The Origin of Vanda Miss Joaquim,” Malayan Orchid Review 38 (2004), 86–95 (Call no. RSING 584.15 MOR); Nadia H. Wright, “A Reply to Hew, Yam and Arditti;s Criticism of “The Origins of Vanda Miss Joaquim’” Malayan Orchid Review 34 (2000), 86–95 (Call no. RSING 584.15 MOR)
11. Melody Zaccheus, “Vanda Miss Joaquim’s Namesake Get Official Credit,” Straits Times, 7 September 2016. (From Factiva via NLB’s eResources website) 
12. Gillian Su-Wen Khew and Tet Fatt Chia, “Parentage Determination of Vanda Miss Joaquim (Orchidaceae) Through Two Chloroplast Genes rbcL and matK,”  AoB Plants plr018 (2011), 2, 8, 11.
13. “Papilionanthe Miss Joaquim (Previously known as Vanda Miss Joaquim),” Singapore Botanic Gardens, accessed 14 September 2016.
14. A. G. Alphonso, “Singapore’s National Flower (Vanda Miss Joaquim), Malayan Orchid Review 15 (1981), 12. (Call no. RSING 584.15 MOR)
15. “Hints on Orchid Growing in Singapore,” Straits Times, 23 November 1936, 17. (From NewspaperSG)
16. Rachel Barnes, “Profile of a Botanist,” Straits Times, 3 July 1982, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
17. Kwan Chooi Tow, “Orchid Industry Set to Benefit from Agrotechnology Boost,” Straits Times, 30 December 1990, 13. (From NewspaperSG)
18. Bharathi Mohan, “Origin of a S’pore Beauty,” New Nation, 19 April 1981, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
19. Hew, Yam and Arditti, Biology of Vanda Miss Joaquim, 64.
20. B. C. Yeoh, “Miss Joaquim’s Orchid,” Malayan Orchid Review 7, no. 2 (1963), 38. (Call no. RCLOS 584.15 MOR)
21. Teoh Eng Soon, A Joy Forever: Vanda Miss Joaquim, Singapore’s National Flower (Singapore: Times Editions, 1998), 16. (Call no. RSING 584.4095957 TEO)
22. Hew, Yam and Arditti, Biology of Vanda Miss Joaquim, 60–65; Johnson and Wright, Singapore’s National Flower, 79, 82.
23. “Singapore Orchids Becoming World Famous,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 5 August 1938, 9. (From NewspaperSG)
24. Crux Australis, “Behind The News,” Straits Times, 13 November 1938, 13. (From NewspaperSG)
25. Johnson and Wright, Singapore’s National Flower, 62.
26. Wright, Respected Citizens, 146.
27. “How to Grow Your Own Vanda Miss Joaquims,” Straits Times, 20 July 1981, 8; “Nurseries Take Second Look at Miss Joachim [sic],” New Nation, 11 May 1981, 2; Gan Yung Chyan, “Plant National Flower in Housing Estates,” Straits Times, 10 November 1998, 35; “Call to Grow National Flower in CCs and Schools,” Straits Times, 12 May 1981, 10. (From NewspaperSG)
28. Hew, Yam and Arditti, Biology of Vanda Miss Joaquim, 62.
29. Christine Khor, “Her Tombstone Found – More Light Shed on Miss Joaquim,” New Nation, 19 July 1981, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
30. Alphonso, “Singapore’s National Flower,”12.
31. Teoh, Joy Forever, 25, 31, 57.
32. Wright, Respected Citizens, 146.
33. Yam Tim Wing, Orchids of the Singapore Botanic Gardens (Singapore: National Parks Board, Singapore Botanic Gardens, 2007), 16 (Call no. RSING 584.4095957 YAM); Alphonso, “Singapore’s National Flower,”12.
34. “Orchid Growing as a Hobby,” Straits Times, 25 March 1931, 14. (From NewspaperSG)
35. “Vanda Miss Joaquim the Popular Choice,” Straits Times, 16 April 1981, 12; Chong Wing Hong, “National Flower Is an Elusive Lady,” Straits Times, 11 May 1981, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
36. “Vanda Miss Joaquim – Our National Flower,” National Parks Board, accessed 2 September 2016
37. S. Dhanabalan, “The Launching Ceremony of the National Flower Vanda Miss Joaquim,” speech, Ministry of Culture Conference Room, 15 April 1981, transcript, Ministry of Culture. (From National Archives of Singapore document no. SD19810415_1)
38. Teoh, Joy Forever, 12.
39. Ministry of Information and the Arts, Singapore, The National Symbols Kit (Singapore: Ministry of Information and the Arts, 1999) (Call no. RCLOS 320.54095957027 NAT); “Our National Flower.”
40. “Week of Flowers,” New Nation, 17 July 1981, 11 (From NewspaperSG); “A Flower of Her Own,” (1982). Goodwood Journal 2nd Qtr (1982): 12. (Call no. RSING 052 GHCGJ)
41. A. R. Vakikappen, “Orchid Diplomacy,” AsiaOne, 11 November 2011. (From Factiva via NLB’s eResources website) 
42. Johnson and Wright, Singapore’s National Flower, 82.
43. “And Now a Whiff of the Singapore Girl,” Straits Times, 11 May 1988, 17. (From NewspaperSG)
44. Johnson and Wright, Singapore’s National Flower, 85; John Laycock, Vanda Joaquim: Emblem in Malayan Politics,” Straits Times, 24 March 1948, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
45. “Tiny Miss Joaquims Plated in Gold,” Straits Times, 17 July 1981, 9. (From NewspaperSG.
46. “Interest in National Flower of Singapore Withers,” Straits Times, 4 August 1991, 19. (From NewspaperSG)
47. Sally Khow, “Blooming Business Called the Singapore Dress,” Straits Times, 20 June 1993, 10; Cat Ong, “Vanda’s Not Joking,” Straits Times, 11 July 1999, 6. (From NewspaperSG)
48. “Dressing Up with Orchids,” Straits Times, 27 April 1990, 22; “President and PM Sport Shirts with Orchid Motifs,” Straits Times, 30 January 1990, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
49. Johnson and Wright, Singapore’s National Flower, 85–87, 89–90.
50. Tan Yi Hui, “Miss S’pore Blooms,” Straits Times, 1 August 2009, 100. (From NewspaperSG)
51. Singapore Land Authority, OneMap, n.d.
52. Victor R. Savage and Brenda S. A. Yeoh, Singapore Street Names: A Study of Toponymics (Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, 2013), 267. (Call no. RSING 915.9570014 SAV-[TRA])
53. Johnson and Wright, Singapore’s National Flower, 15.
54. Vanda Miss Joaquim: The Pavilion (Singapore: Tanjong Pagar Plaza Residents’ Committee, 2002). (Call no. RSING 635.9344095957 VAN)
55. Teoh, Joy Forever, 11.
56. Hew, Yam and Arditti, Biology of Vanda Miss Joaquim, 56.

Further resources
A Gardens Calendar,” Straits Times, 10 January 1936, 10. (From NewspaperSG)

 “How Rubber Came to Malaya,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1932), 26 May 1932, 7. (From NewspaperSG)

Lim Li Hsien, “Mini Orchid Makes Big Impression,” Straits Times, 27 August 1994, 25. (From NewspaperSG)

Magdalene Lum, “The Many Guises of Vanda Miss Joaquim,” New Nation, 20 September 1981, 25–26. (From NewspaperSG)

Miss Joaquim’s Nephew Coming for Flower Week,” Straits Times, 19 July 1981, 6. (From NewspaperSG)

New Orchids for Malaya,” Straits Times, 4 August 1931, 12. (From NewspaperSG)

On the Margin,” Straits Times, 5 April 1951, 6. (From NewspaperSG)

Singapore Orchids Go to Europe,” Straits Times, 22 May 1938, 10. (From NewspaperSG)

Singaporeana,” Straits Times, 31 March 1951, 6. (From NewspaperSG)

The information in this article is valid as of 2017 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic. 

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