WILD BEAUTYWe meet one of Vietnam’s most determined orchid enthusiasts
In olden times, wealthy folk liked to brew good tea and sit around with their buddies waiting for their orchids to bloom at night. Raising orchids was considered the height of elegance.
Each species of orchid boasts its own exquisite colors and graceful shapes. Varieties such as Dendrobium Anosmum, Aerides and Cypripedioideae fascinate us with their breathtaking perfume. Most urbanites see orchids in flower markets, bonsai gardens or nurseries. Very few people are able to venture into the highland forests and see orchids in their native habitats. However Vietnam is home to some orchid fanatics who devote a great deal of time and energy to orchid-hunting. Mr. Chu Xuan Canh is one of the best-known orchid-enthusiasts in the country.
Working in the non-governmental sector, Mr. Canh travels to many far flung regions. His travels take him into areas rich in wild orchids. In contrast to orchids sold in the cities, which are grown in mass, wild orchids are hard to find. They grow high on old trees, hidden by thick foliage, or cling to steep cliffs. Once found, the rewards are great. Wild orchids are stunningly beautiful and healthy, in contrast to many cultivated orchids. Vietnam’s orchid species are densely concentrated across the Northwest and the Central Highlands through the Truong Son Mountains. Each location is home to different species that are divided into 168 families and 1,179 species. There are species that bloom once a year and species that bloom year round. However, most orchids bloom in the springtime, dotting the woods in flamboyant colors. This is the prime time for Mr. Canh to explore distant mountains.
In the regions he visits, Mr. Canh asks the locals to keep an eye out for wild orchids. Traveling by bus, car, motorbike and finally on foot, he roams far and wide in search of exotic blooms. He endures daunting treks, gruelling climbs and unexpected encounters with danger. He can still vividly recount his encounters with snakes and sun bears and being torn by thorny bushes. In 2010, while gripping a cliff to take photos, the ground crumbled and he fell. While he was lucky to escape injury, his camera was smashed to pieces. In the flower fan community, he rose to fame thanks to the number of floral species he has photographed and his documentary photos of orchids. He is known for his adventurous expeditions and further admired because a newly discovered orchid species was named after him. The “Canh orchid”, scientific name Paphiopedilum canhii, was discovered in late 2009 and officially revealed to the public in May 2010. Paphiopedilum canhii was discovered in Dien Bien, bringing the total Paphiopedium orchid species up to 27. Not every orchid suitor has such an accolade.
Mr. Canh has created his own orchid garden. Having erected a scaffold and installed a simple mist-watering system, he seeded and grew his own orchids, tending them like his own children. At its peak his garden had more than 500 orchid species and was a favorite meeting place for other orchid enthusiasts. For orchid lovers, each blooming orchid is a source of joy. As well as enjoying the blooms’ beauty, Mr. Canh to his friends are helping to preserve the nation’s biodiversity, thus enriching our lives with natural colors.