Critical remarks on the trade with Cypripediums

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Abgeschickt von Holger Perner am 28 Maerz, 2002 um 07:18:24

Of particular interest for me was to read the discussion that followed the posting by Matti Niissalo on his purchase of a Chinese Cypripedium traded as Cyp. calceolus. Peter Corkhill’s remarks on the trade with Chinese Cypripediums and also with flowering sized wild species of Cypripediums (on other pages of this forum) are excellent and I can deeply confirm his comments. Thank you, Peter, for your clear words!

However, Michael asked me to add some of my own observations on the market for wild Cypripedium species. Well, now after work I am sitting in my warm room in still cold Huanglong reserve, a Cypripedium paradise in northern Sichuan and also a nature paradise. We have over 30 Giant Pandas living out here as well as snub-nosed golden monkeys, bears and much more, not to mention one of the biggest travertine formations (i.e. tufa deposits) of the world. Between the over 3000 ponds and several waterfalls in Huanglong valley we have 4 Cypripedium species (Cyp. flavum, tibeticum, bardolphianum and smithii) growing. These produce many thousands of slipper flowers in mid June! Additionally I found a further 4 species in other parts of the 550 square km wide reserve (Cyp. henryi, fargesii, plectrochilum and froschii - sorry Peter, it seems to be a species, not a hybrid, as there is no yunnanense far and wide in this part of China). I expect more species to find in the next season.

As a grower (since 1984) I learned soon, that the dealers of wild species tell you everything but the truth. In other words, most lie “that the rafters bow" as we say in Germany. Most of them trade Cypripediums as a side-line and are often not even professional horticulturists. They have sources abroad, that deliver the Cypripediums to low prices (usually around 10 % of the price you have to pay when finally buying the plants). Sometimes they even have just paid “5 minutes of fear" for the orchids (i.e. the time they needed to dig it up and hide it in their bags), which is often the case with European Cyp. calceolus and to some extend with North American species. Costs for the necessary trips are easily brought back from the sales of the divisions of plants, each piece for say 30 to 50 Euro.

In a study on the trade with Chinese orchid species (as a subcontractor of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew) I learned some details of this particular trade. All my observations are not to be understood as juristical evidence but they are facts, however. Every year (during the late 90s, and most likely still today) tens of thousands of Cypripediums are smuggled out of mainland China via Shanghai, Hongkong and Beijing. Main importers are Taiwan, Japan and western Europe. Smaller shipments also go to the United States. NO ANY ARTIFICIAL PRODUCTION, NOT EVEN CULTIVATION OF MATURE PLANTS TO SELL DIVISIONS, DOES EXIST IN CHINA SO FAR. Plants are offered via e-mail and on color-photo-copied lists, sometimes under their correct scientific names, sometimes with fancy names or just with numbers. The customer abroad orders the plants he/she desires and the dealer in Beijing, Shanghai or Hongkong informs his/her supplier in the province, who knows were the plants grow. Then the supplier, or more usually, farmers who are the diggers for the supplier, rip the plants out in the wild. The pants are subsequently send to the dealer, who packs them and send them abroad. The packages are labeled as anything but orchids “for reasons of convenience, as the CITES documents for these nursery-raised plants took too long for being prepared in time" as a customer abroad might be informed, if he/she is bold enough to ask.

It is depressing, if you talk to such suppliers of these dealers. There is a farmer in Sichuan, who makes 80 000 Yuan (about 11 000 Euro) a year with delivering orchids collected in the wild (partly by himself, partly by other farmers who got paid a few cents per kilogram) to the dealers, mainly a particular “nursery", who provided him with a camera to take photos of the flowering plants for posting them on their lists. His income is about 40 times higher than the income of his neighbors, who are not in the orchid business. Because I know, what kind of plants he collects, I know from where the plants originally are, when I read in the forum that somebody is expecting a Cyp. fargesii or bardolphianum. Some rare species like Cyp. cf. wumengense make even this farmer a headache, not because he is concerned of conservation, but because he cannot find enough to come up to the demand: “When I offered this plant last year to the dealers, nobody ordered, this year they ordered 600, but not even half that much grow here in the mountains...", he told me a few years ago. Most of the Cyp. palangshanense on the market and Cyp. flavum “Wolong" (a nature reserve!) are also proceeded through his hands. But he is not the only one who collects here. He once showed me the deep scar on his chest. He got it from the knife of a competitor, another farmer who claimed a particular mountain, rich in cypripediums, his own. With a well established network of suppliers all over the country, a dealer in one of the big cities can make a lot of money each year and does not bother him/herself with cultivating or even propagating Cypripediums or other orchids. By the way, the same applies for most of the Indian Cypripediums (himalaicum, cordigerum), if not for all of them, but here I don’t know it from first hand experience.

At the end of this sad tale, IT REMAINS TO BE DECLARED THAT CURRENTLY MOST, IF NOT ALL, FLOWERING SIZED CHINESE CYPRIPEDIUMS IN THE ORCHID TRADE ARE ILLEGALLY COLLECTED FROM THE WILD. Fortunately, here in the Huanglong reserve we have a keen eye on our plants, and even if a few tourists might take a few plants in an uncontrolled moment, the commercial dealers have no chance in the Huanglong valley.

Michael provided a list of sources for artificially propagated plants in a reply on the posting mentioned above. I can only recommend everybody to buy artificially propagated plants from these sources. Certainly there are more reliable addresses, which only deal with artificially produced plants, but as many of the black sheep (which form a big herd, indeed) trade with mixed offers of artificially produced seedlings and wild collected specimens (which are of course never offered as such), it is not easy to decide for the Cypripedium lover who’s good and who’s bad. It will take a few more years, until the market will be dominated by such excellent producers like for example “Vermont Lady Slipper Company" for flowering sized (truly artificial!) seedlings of wild species and Michael’s “Frosch Exclusive Perennials” for well established to nearly flowering sized hybrids! When this time has come, the black sheep will just form a minority, though never going to extinct they will no longer play the dominant role on the market with Cypripedium species.

That’s all for now from still cold and snowy northern Sichuan. I hope, the next time I send a posting to the forum, it will be of a less depressing item!

Holger Perner


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