As a keen orchid grower and photographer, I’m often asked by gardening friends about where the best tropical orchid gardens are located in the world. These are friends who travel to other tropical countries and enjoy visiting orchid gardens whilst they are away.
Surprisingly, with one notable exception, the best tropical orchid collections are not located in the tropics at all. They are located inside glasshouses of famous botanical gardens like Kew Gardens in London and the Smithsonian Gardens in Washington DC, and other botanical gardens in major cities in sub-tropical and temperate regions of the world.
The one exception – the National Orchid Garden in the Singapore Botanic Gardens – is not only the best collection of tropical orchids in the tropics, it’s the largest collection of orchids anywhere in the world. There are over 60,000 orchid plants under cultivation I n the National Orchid Garden which includes about 1,000 different species and 2,000 hybrids. No other collection in the world comes close to that number.
What’s on display depends on what’s in flower, but for most of the year there are likely to be anything between 400 and 600 different species or hybrids on display. Most of the orchids are growing outside in Singapore’s humid equatorial climate, but there are also shadehouses for sun-sensitive plants and a large coolhouse for orchids from tropical mountain regions.
A big bonus for travellers to Singapore who may be interested in seeing orchids is that Singapore is not only home to the largest collection of tropical orchids, but two of the world’s largest conservatories, both of which contain a large number of orchids. They aren’t located in the botanic gardens but in the Gardens by the Bay parklands which are on the other side of the city. For flower and plant lovers, a half-day visit to each location makes for a wonderful day close to nature in this city state.
The number of orchids in each of the conservatories is greater than exist in many of the botanic gardens of other cities in the tropical world. The Cloud Forest conservatory contains orchids from higher and cooler tropical elevations, whilst the Flower Dome conservatory contains orchids from drier and cooler climates.
Both the Singapore Botanic Gardens and the Gardens by the Bay offer much more to visitors than just the orchid collections. Together they comprise over 180 hectares of the best maintained gardens and parkland anywhere in the tropics. There are restaurants, cafes and clean toilet facilities as well to ensure that visitors have a good experience.
The Singapore Botanic Gardens are the only botanic gardens in the tropics to have been awarded a UNESCO World Heritage Listing (the gardens are over 160 years old) and one of only three botanic gardens in the world to be recognised in this way.
Other tropical orchid gardens
There are no other botanic gardens with orchid collections in the tropical world that come close to what exists in Singapore. The only gardens in the tropics that are larger than Singapore’s are the Nong Nooch Tropical Botanical Garden in Chonburi Province in Thailand, but the gardens are only 30 years old and the orchid collection is not that large given the size of the gardens.
The Bogor Botanical Gardens in Indonesia are similar in size to the Singapore Botanic Gardens but the orchid collection there is small. For orchid enthusiasts there are several small botanic gardens in the mountains of Central Java where rare native Indonesian orchids are being grown, but for those looking for lots of orchids in flower, the best Indonesia has to offer is the Bali Orchid Garden. However, the garden is not large, and it changed hands in April 2019 and was renamed the Duta Orchid Garden. Since then it has had mixed reviews.
Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia has a well-maintained orchid garden but again it is not large. Other cities in the tropics that have small orchid gardens or orchidariums that are worth a short visit include Bangkok in Thailand, Kaohsiung in Taiwan, Cairns in Australia, Hilo in Hawaii, Quito and Guayaquil in Ecuador and Rio de Janeiro in Brazil.
For orchid enthusiasts there are two other orchid gardens in Central America that will be of interest. One is the Monteverde Orchid Garden in Costa Rica (which has a significant collection of miniature orchids) and Finca Dracula in Panama which is home to the world’s largest collection of Dracula orchids. Finca Dracula also has one of the world’s best collections of Central and South American cloud forest orchids.
Finca Dracula is located at Cerro Punta, 2,200 metres up in the mountains of Tierras Altas de Chiriqui of northern Panama, so it is not that easy to reach. It’s only open during the dry season, so it’s important to make reservations in advance. It’s a long way to go to visit an orchid garden, but it’s part of one of the best private botanical gardens in Central America and can be combined with visits to other nature attractions in Chiriqui Province. There are several eco-lodges nearby.