17 February 2012
Singapore honours celebrities, dignitaries with orchids
Cuddly pandas are China's ambassadors of soft power and other countries use money or culture to enhance bilateral ties, but Singapore prefers to say it with flowers - orchids, to be exact.
The tropical city-state cultivates special orchid varieties and names them after a motley mix of foreign leaders and celebrities as part of its diplomatic repertoire.
What is striking in the VIP and Celebrity Orchids sections of the National Orchid Garden - part of the 63-hectare (156 acre) Singapore Botanic Gardens - are the famous names rather than the variety of blossoms.
There's the pastel-white Dendrobium Memoria Princess Diana named after the tragic British royal and the star-shaped Paravanda Nelson Mandela in honour of the South African freedom icon. More recently, the bright pink Ascocenda Yingluck Shinawatra was presented to the Thai prime minister.
'All Heads of State and Heads of Government making State/Official visits to Singapore are provided with the opportunity to have an unique orchid named after them,' a foreign ministry spokesman told AFP.
'The practice of naming orchids after visiting VVIPs (Very Very Important Persons) has been in place for a few decades,' he added.
Orchid-naming took root in 1957 during British colonial rule when an orchid variety was named after Anne Black, the wife of London's high commissioner to Singapore at the time.
The practice has escalated in tandem with Singapore's rising status within Asia, said Botanic Gardens director Nigel Taylor.
'Every country wants to offer visiting dignitaries something and nowadays there seem to be many more state visits to Singapore than perhaps there were in former times,' the former curator of England's famed Kew Gardens said.
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