Dutch keep seized orchids

Orchids bound for last year’s Chelsea Flower Show that were confiscated by Dutch customs are being housed permanently in a botanical garden in Holland.

Dutch prosecutors have ruled that the rare flowers, which were seized in May because the proper importation paperwork had not been filed, be kept at a botanical centre.

Henk Vonk from the National Service for Implementation of Regulations of Confiscated Goods in Holland said his department had received a decision from the Public Prosecutor of Justice to donate the eight seized orchids to a botanical garden.

‘They are in good condition and one is flowering,’ he said.

The Ghost Orchids and Wild Banana Orchids were impounded by Dutch customs officials in mid-May because of tight European regulations restricting the trade of rare and endangered species of plants. While an export licence from the Cayman authorities had been secured, the plants did not have an import licence – a requirement that had been introduced just weeks beforehand.

The news that the flowers were surviving, and even flourishing, was met with relief by Kirkland Nixon, president of Cayman’s Orchid Society.

‘At least they’re in safe hands. I don’t think they will exploit them or try to commercialise them,’ he said.

The eight orchids are estimated to be worth a total of $80,000.

He was also pleased to hear that one of the plants was flowering, and wished the Dutch luck in trying to propagate the seeds of the Ghost Orchids, something the Orchid Society here has been unable to do.

‘We’ve been trying to propagate these endangered orchids from seeds for years… We’ve gotten them to bloom and to pollinate, but for some reason, this plant is sterile. I don’t know why.

‘Maybe the Dutch will have more luck than we did,’ Mr. Nixon said.

The orchids were collected in February 2006 from land off Newport Avenue, which was cleared for low-cost housing, and had been growing at the Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park for two years before beginning their interrupted journey to the Chelsea Flower Show in England last year.

It would have been the first time the British public would have had a chance to view the Ghost Orchids on English soil.

The Botanic Park had not intended to bring the orchids back to Cayman following the flower show. It had planned to donate the orchids to Kew Gardens, and auction them to raise money for the Blue Iguana Recovery Fund to a winner who could visit the flowers there.

Instead, when the flowers got stuck in Holland, the sponsorship of two orchids growing in the park in Cayman were auctioned, with the winner receiving a holiday to the Cayman Islands to visit the Botanic Park and see their sponsored orchids.

There is little likelihood of a repeat of last year’s debacle with the plants, according to the Botanic Park’s general manager, Andrew Guthrie, as no plants are being sent from Cayman to the 2009 Chelsea Flower Show.

‘This year the exhibit is completely different. We’re not shipping plants or anything else from Cayman. Everything is being sourced in England or Europe.

‘Shipping plants from Cayman to Europe or from Miami to Europe is a monumental nightmare and we don’t want to do that again,’ Mr. Guthrie said.

As well as losing the rare orchids to Dutch Customs, the Cayman exhibit last year ran into further trouble when British Airways lost a catboat it had shipped from Cayman three times. The boat was eventually located just in time for the show.

Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park is home to 10 of the 26 orchid species recorded in the Cayman Islands, and three of these are found nowhere else on earth.

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