Our History

The Orchid Society of South East Asia was founded in Singapore in 1928 as the Malayan Orchid Society, by John Laycock (a lawyer and politician, founder of the Progressive Party in 1947, and member of the colonial period Legislative Assembly), with Eric Holttum (Director, Singapore Botanic Gardens), and Emil Galistan (a civil servant). Its  name changed to the Orchid Society of SE Asia (OSSEA) in the mid sixties when Singapore separated from Malaysia, the name being intended to include Singapore, Brunei and Malaysia. It is a non-profit organization that exists to stimulate the science and practice of orchid culture and to encourage the conservation of orchid species. It does this by supporting and promoting the Singapore Orchid Show, publishing books and an annual journal, the Malayan Orchid Review (started 1931), and through its regular monthly meetings for members.

The Society was founded as a result of the enthusiasm of local orchid growers for the possibilities of breeding using the then new technique of sterile cultivation of seeds in vitro, which Holttum introduced in 1928. As a result of the early collaboration between Holttum and local growers like Laycock and Galistan, OSSEA has been associated since its inception with the Singapore Botanic Gardens, especially through collaboration in shows and in the development of new lines of hybridising. Since 1928 local breeders from OSSEA and the Gardens have a substantial record of successful hybrids, reaching a total of over 2000 registered grex names by the turn of the 21st century. Today a new Singapore hybrid is registered, on average, every week or so.    

The first hybrid that put the Society on the map was Papilionanda (Vanda) Tan Chay Yan, named for the first person persuaded by Henry Ridley to grow rubber in Malaya. This plant which received a First Class Certificate from the Royal Horticultural Society at the Chelsea Flower Show in 1954. This plant, originally registered as a vanda, was created by Tan Hoon Siang, son of Tan Chay Yan, and the former president of the society who was instrumental in resuscitating the society in the years following World War II.

This, together with the successful holding of the 4th World Orchid Conference in Singapore in 1963, laid a foundation of renewed interest in hybridization. Many of the crosses have become household names, with established breeding lines, and with the development of numerous plants suitable for the cut flower  local and export markets, and today, increasingly also for the pot-plant and landscape business. The Society staged a successful display at the annual RHS Chelsea Show in 1960 with cut flowers specially flown from Singapore for the occasion.

Forty-eight years after the 4th WOC, in 2011 Singapore hosted the 20th WOC, being the only Asian city to have hosted the WOC twice.

With Papilionanthe (Vanda) Miss Joaquim, as Singapore’s oldest hybrid orchid (1893) and its national flower (since 1981), and with increasing importance given to the propagation of local species and hybrids along our major roads and parks, interest in Singapore’s natural orchid heritage has been revived anew. With fewer large private gardens now existing for growing bedded plants,  interest in Singapore has focused on breeding miniature orchids adapted to high-rise apartments, where 90% of the population now live. However, interest in larger bedded and potted orchids flourishes in Malaysia where landed properties are the norm outside towns and cities. Today orchid appreciation, conservation and cultivation continue to gather apace, and OSSEA aims to promote and sustain this interest within Singapore and abroad.