​Interest in mutant orchids withers away

By Trang Vy, Minh Phuong   October 23, 2022 | 09:25 pm PT
Nguyen Van Hoa, 45, has several mutant orchids that were worth a few billion dong just two years ago but unsellable now.

Once "equivalent to a family’s entire savings," they are still kept in a secure iron cage equipped with a camera at Hoa’s home in Hanoi.

"Two years ago a Phan Tri mutant orchid fetched VND700–800 million ($28,700-32,850) while a pot with a few bulbs could reach billions. Now no one buys them for even a few million."

He owns a 1,000-square-meter flower garden in Dong La Commune in Hoai Duc District, dubbed the "orchid paradise of the north."

He says the same thing has happened to five white petals Phu Tho, five white petals Di Linh, Mat Nai and many other mutant orchids, which were once "more expensive than gold."

A family grows mutant orchids on the terrace in Dong La Commune in Hanois Hoai Duc District. Photo by VnExpress/Minh Phuong

A family grows mutant orchids on the terrace in Dong La Commune in Hanoi's Hoai Duc District. Photo by VnExpress/Minh Phuong

Hoang Lien, 40, another orchid farm owner in Dong La, says a keiki, a product of asexual propagation by a mature orchid, used to fetch up to several hundred million dong, but has since fallen to a fraction of that.

"My phone used to ring nonstop from morning to night with people inquiring about acquiring a rare keiki in my garden. My orchid garden was once worth billions of dong, but nowadays no one is interested in mutant orchids, and so I just keep them alive and treat them like houseplants."

Lien said the Covid-19 pandemic in the last two years had made it impossible for plant enthusiasts who wanted to trade mutant orchids to get together and talk about them.

Everyone tightened their spending after the outbreak, and the sudden trend faded, leaving traders shocked to see the value of their flowers drop every day.

Nguyen Nhu Cuong, director of the Department of Crop Production, says the price of the mutant orchid is now fair and will no longer go down.

"In the past ... prices were inflated beyond what it was actually worth. This caused chaos in the market, but authorities stepped in to bring the price back to normal."

The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development helps people who have an interest in orchids set up legal associations that will provide accurate estimates of their value and even act as an intermediary and set prices for orchids so that hype does not cause prices to go up.

Quoc Dat, 45, of Me Linh District in Hanoi borrowed money to sell mutant orchids hoping to get rich quickly.

He was in the family business of growing roses and other ornamental flowers when he decided to make a big investment three years ago after seeing mutant orchids sell for billions.

Though he did not have much experience, he kept spending billions of dong on the same five white petals Phu Tho and a few other varieties including in some bigger ones that he hoped to sell by the centimeter.

Orchid prices plummeted in 2021, with some species going from being worth hundreds of millions of dong to just a few hundred thousand.

"Previously I had to put up a robust fence, install a security camera and have a guard dog to defend my mutant orchid garden," Dat says.

Sometimes he is wistful about how much better off he would have been if he had sold his orchids sooner and made a little bit of money.

Many long-time orchid growers, not just merchants, were also trying to cash in on the fad.

Nguyen Van Hoa, who started growing orchids 12 years ago, says everything was going well until 2017 when a craze for so-called mutant orchids began.

"I was surprised. I did not understand how a pot of mutant orchids can cost as much as a house."

However, soon people like him who grew and sell wild orchids started paying attention to the word "mutant."

A mutant orchid garden in the northern Hoa Binh Province. Photo by VnExpress/Tat Dinh

A mutant orchid garden in the northern Hoa Binh Province. Photo by VnExpress/Tat Dinh

"It was like a game of fire relay between merchants. Whoever got stuck with the plant at the end burned their hands," he said.

Even worse, he saw people pay a heavy price for selling fake mutant orchids.

Ta Duy Binh, chairman of the Dong La Orchid Garden Association, says many people lost money on the mutant orchids, most of them traders and middlemen who did not know much about orchids.

He thinks collecting orchids, whether wild or a mutant, will go back to being a hobby for people who love and appreciate beauty.

Cuong of the cultivation department warns orchid growers, sellers and collectors to be on the lookout for scams that use mutant orchids to raise prices.

When the mutant orchid fever died down, the price of common wild orchids went down too.

Lien, who lost plenty of money, decided around a year ago that she wanted to return to conventional orchids, but says there has been a 50% decline in demand.

"I've never seen the orchid market look so gloomy."

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