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Orchid Love of Kerala State

The orchids are flowers of exquisite beauty and variety of patterns belong to one of the largest family, the Orchidaceae .There are about 30,000 species in nearly 750 genera and more than 77,400 natural and man - made hybrids.

The orchids are worldwide in distribution with greater concentration in tropical and subtropical regions of high humidity. In India, they form 9% of our flora; nearly 1,300 species in 140 genera dwell in the country with Himalayas as their main habitat and others scattered in eastern and western ghats. In general, the terrestrial orchids are more common in North-Western India and the epiphytic ones in North-Eastern India; the orchids in Western Ghats are usually with small flowers.

The orchids represent the first floricultural crop successfully mass propagated through Tissue Culture technique and the commercial application of micro propagation is being increasingly realized in this group of great ornamentals. Half of more than 200 commercial Tissue Culture laboratories, throughout the world, micropropagate orchids and have helped in revolutionizing orchid industry in several countries.

The orchids are marketed both as potted plants and as cut-flowers. In the past few years, the orchid trade has increased both in volume and value throughout the world.

Many developing countries including Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Philippines, Sri Lanka, and Indonesia have established their own orchid Industries. A large export market is available if the products are right and marketed properly.

Despite the fact that India has diversified climate, low cost of labor, and progressive farming technology, the orchid industry is not even in an infant stage both in terms of micro propagation and commercial cultivation. This has been mainly due to non-availability of suitable planting material for large scale cultivation, lack of technology for commercial multiplication, lack of post-harvest handling technology for cut-flower export, and lack of incentives, appropriate Government policies for exporters, and commercial approach in cultivation.

Fortunately, the country has all the potentials for development of a successful orchid industry on scientific basis; it has varied and suitable climate and almost all the important commercial varieties of orchids including those of Cattleya, Cymbidium, Dendrobium, Phalaenopsis, Paphiopedilum, and Vanda can be grown for cut-flower production . Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh, and Himachal Pradesh are orchid rich areas in the country. In South India, Kerala with high humidity and low temperature accompanied by good rainfall, has the congenial climate for commercial orchid cultivation. There is also a tremendous potential for growing these plants, on commercial scale, along the coastal region in Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, and Karnataka, besides in the Western Ghats.

At present, the internal demand for cut-flower and ornamental plants in mainly met through production at coastal areas of Kerala mainly Cochin &Trivandrum. However, with the development of efficient low cost Shade houses and post harvest technology, the ornamental plants for cut-flowers can be grown in a number of other parts of India as well.

The success story of Kerala's cottage industry need to be viewed with excitement at this juncture. The AV Thomas&co started their tissue lab a few years back and started exploring the potential of Orchids. They made available imported hybrids mainly Dendrobium Hybrids- SONIA #17, Emma white, Rinappa#3, New wanee, and other hybrids from Thailand to House wives who took it up as a part time activity and started the backyard culture of orchid growing in kerala. People started using 50-75% shade nets of 200 sq.m to 1000 sq.m in their homes and farms. Along with came the appetite for consumption of cut flowers which got picked up for Rs.3-5/= per flower and spikes having 8 flowers and more getting sold for Rs 20-30/= per spike. Whoever invested on the planting materials saw their investment getting paid back in a years time. Within a year or two more systemized farms of 4000-8000 sq.m came about. Today Bina Nursery, Orchids India, Kairali orchids, Star Orchids, Jeeva Orchids, Madaparambil Orchids ,Hafi Orchids, Classic orchids etc to name a few from Cochin-Trivandrum belt are growing commercial cultivars and also begun exporting flowers.

In growing the arachnis and Renenthopsis hybrids the Trivandrum belt took the lead and today a large diversified Hybrid population is available . BFC, Kultana, Orchimex from Thailand, Genting from Malaysia have been the main source for Orchid hybrid supplies. In the Bombay belt cultivation has been taken up by De Orchids, Val Orchids, Nath Biotechnologies. Natural Synergies from Madras has put up a dendrobium farm aimed at exports. The growing need of the Florists in major metros and five star hotels has kept the price of the flowers higher than the export realisation leading to a shortfall of supplies. All the growers seem to be very happy with the product with some growers complaining for the need of a canalized marketing for distribution of flowers and uniform price alternative. There is the need for proper post harvest infrastructure in Kerala and proper collection and distribution of the Flowers. The growers are also not much aware of the genetic potential of the crop they have chosen and rather to rely heavily on the planting material supplier for the production aspects.

In Singapore and Thailand , the orchids are grown in the shade houses, in an area totalling more than 275 hectares . In Thailand, the orchid cut-flower Industry has been the major foreign-exchange earner; The increase in flower production in Netherlands, Central America, Mexico, Israel has been very significant in the past decade. Currently, however, there is a definite levelling off in these countries. Even the traditional producers such as U.S.A., Germany, France, U.K. etc., have now become the largest importers of these products. .

In future columns we will give more information on grower habits, preferences, production methods and cultivation aspects.


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