Opening Remarks by Minister Desmond Lee at the Opening of the National Orchid Garden’s Tropical Montane Orchidetum

Apr 3, 2021

I am very happy to join you this morning at the Singapore Botanic Gardens, to open the National Orchid Garden’s new Tropical Montane Orchidetum. This marks the completion of our series of efforts over the last few years to rejuvenate the National Orchid Garden.

When our founding Prime Minister, the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew, first opened the National Orchid Garden in 1995, he called it the “crowning attraction” of the Botanic Gardens.

More recently, when my colleague Minister Lawrence Wong announced the start of our works to enhance the National Orchid Garden in 2017, he called it “our tribute to orchids” – a flower that is intertwined with the identity of Singapore. 

Our national flower, the Vanda Miss Joaquim, is a beautiful hybrid orchid, a vibrant and resilient flower that blooms year-round and symbolises the Singapore spirit. As a flower commonly associated with hybrids, orchids are also a symbol of our multicultural heritage. You can find orchids adorning our streetscape greenery, bringing life to our urban landscapes.

Orchids have been a significant part of the Botanic Gardens’ history, too. The Botanic Gardens have been a centre of orchid breeding as far back as the 1920s.

Enhancements to the National Orchid Garden

Over the past few years, NParks and our partners have been hard at work enhancing the Botanic Gardens. Just a few weeks back, DPM Heng Swee Keat launched new features at the Gallop Extension for the public to enjoy. It is very fitting that we have rejuvenated the National Orchid Garden too.

We have built new orchid growing facilities to expand the Garden’s in-house orchid nursery, which supports the Garden’s orchid displays and conservation work. With the nursery’s increased capacity, we can ramp up our species recovery projects for our own native orchid species, by propagating more native orchids and planting them in natural habitats.

Already, these projects have resulted in successful increases in the population numbers of numerous native orchid species, such as the rare tiger orchid, which is one of the largest orchids in the world.

We also enhanced the surroundings of Burkill Hall, the last surviving example of an Anglo-Malayan plantation-style house in Southeast Asia, which is located at the National Orchid Garden’s highest point.

And now, we have expanded and brought together the three existing display houses of the Garden, to create the Tropical Montane Orchidetum.

Previously, the Garden’s display houses were separate and distinct. By bringing them together, the new Orchidetum simulates the experience of ascending the different altitudes of a tropical montane forest. As a visitor, you can enjoy the wide range of orchids from all over the world, as well as other plants, such as gingers, rhododendrons, and magnolias.

At the start of the journey, you can travel along the new outdoor display areas, showcasing lowland forest and stream habitats, and their orchids. From there, you can visit the mid-elevation forests represented by the Yuen Peng McNeice Bromeliad Collection enclosure, and the tropical garden in the Tan Hoon Siang Mist House. Finally, you can get to see the cool, tropical upper montane habitat of the Sembcorp Cool House, which features orchid collections from five key global orchid biodiversity hotspots. 

You can move between each of these display houses through a new Secret Ravine, a trail that emulates the habitats of the deep, narrow valleys of tropical mountains. NParks took special effort to design naturalistic landscapes throughout the Orchidetum, to recreate the natural habitats of the plants within.

High-elevation montane forests are one of the most threatened ecosystems in the world. Orchids in these forests include species that are specific to their geographic regions and cannot be found anywhere else in the world.

However, many of these orchids are threatened by habitat loss and climate change. Our Orchidetum not only allows visitors to appreciate these rare orchids, but also plays an important role in the conservation of these increasingly endangered orchids. It will provide a place for researchers to study these orchids at close range and support conservation efforts for them.

Today, we have 1,500 varieties of orchid species and 3,000 varieties of orchid hybrids in the National Orchid Garden – a 50% increase from before the start of our enhancement works. The enhancements will allow NParks to further expand its capabilities in orchid breeding, conservation, and research, which would benefit both Singapore and the world.

This is a fine example of how we can punch above our weight and play a role in global biodiversity conservation efforts. This is aligned with our efforts to conserve important native plant and animal species in collaboration with the community and nature groups, as part of our City in Nature vision.

Beyond supporting our biodiversity conservation efforts, the National Orchid Garden enhancements contribute to our sustainability efforts in other ways.

We recently launched the Singapore Green Plan 2030, our national movement for sustainable development. As part of these efforts, we want to make our buildings more sustainable.

I am happy to share that the Sembcorp Cool House has incorporated sustainable design elements to become significantly more energy efficient, while providing optimised indoor growing conditions for high-elevation orchid species.

To achieve this, its cooling system was designed such that only the lower third of the Cool House requires cooling. Hot air, which naturally rises, is let out through automatic vents at the top. In addition, 60% of ambient heat is also reflected away by the Cool House’s glass panels, which significantly reduces its cooling needs. In fact, despite being four times larger now than it was before the enhancements, the Cool House’s energy needs have been reduced by about 30%!


To conclude, let me thank all the sponsors and supporters of the National Orchid Garden. What we have done to enhance the Garden, and what we are doing to make Singapore greener and more sustainable, would not be possible without the steadfast support of our industry and community partners.

In particular, I would like to acknowledge the strong support from Sembcorp Industries. Sembcorp’s contribution remains the largest single donation to the Garden City Fund to-date, and was key to the rejuvenation of the Sembcorp Cool House. Sembcorp has also been partnering us to design tours and programmes led by their staff at the National Orchid Garden.

The family of the late Lady Yuen Peng McNeice also contributed towards the enhancement of the Yuen Peng McNeice Bromeliad Collection, and the family of the late Mr Tan Hoon Siang supported the enhancements to the Tan Hoon Siang Mist House.
I would like to thank all of you for your kindness and generosity.

I look forward to continuing to work with everyone in the years ahead, as we continue to strengthen our biodiversity conservation efforts, make Singapore more sustainable, and transform Singapore into a City in Nature.

Please enjoy your morning exploring our rejuvenated National Orchid Garden, and have a very good weekend ahead. Thank you.