Our famous heritage: Papilionanda (syn. Vanda) Tan Chay Yan

Papilionanda (syn. Vanda) Tan Chay Yan (Vanda dearei? x Papilionanda Josephine van Brero); at main display in Heritage Orchid section of National Orchid Garden, Singapore Botanic Gardens.  

This lovely golden pink-apricot hybrid was named by the breeder Tan Hoon Siang after his father who was a Malayan rubber king. Tan Chay Yan was the grandson of Tan Tock Seng of Fujian origin, a businessman and philanthropist who has a prominent role in the early days of Singapore establishment.
Robert Tan Hoon Siang pollinated a normal Vanda dearei with pollen from tetraploid Papilionanda Josephine van Brero in 1948. The resulting triploid seeds were sown and grown at Singapore Botanic Garden in 1949. This batch was code-named 'SBG 770', then the hybrid first flowered and registered in 1952.

Papilionanda Tan Chay Yan 'Pride of Malaya' FCC/RHS 1954. This robust yet refined plant came from SBG 770 batch was exhibited by Ms. Gracia Lewis in 25 May 1954.

In 1954, Ms. Gracia Lewis raised and entered this plant to compete at Chelsea Flower Show in England. It created such a worldwide storm when this plant was awarded the coveted First Class Certificate by the Royal Horticultural Society taking into account that this hybrid was created by an orchid hobbyist. In addition to that FCC, Papilionanda Tan Chay Yan also won a trophy for the best Vanda in 2nd World Orchid Conference, Hawaii in 1957 exhibited by Mdm. Ong Siew Hong. From such a humble beginning, eventually Singapore was planted firmly in the world orchid map by those remarkable achievements.

Singapore Botanic Garden's renowned orchidist, Professor Eric Holttum doubted the given parentage of Papilionanda Tan Chay Yan. The seed parent, Vanda dearei, has a rather thin and very short inflorescence that bears at most 4 to 5 flowers while Papilionanda Tan Chay Yan has an upright and robust long inflorescence that bears 8-10 flowers on the top of the plant. Although the amphidiploid pollen parent, Papilionanda Josephine van Brero contributes 2/3 genetic make-up of Papilionanda Tan Chay Yan, this orchid only bears the same amount of flowers as Vanda dearei in a nicely established plant. Any orchid hybrid usually has the flower count that lies in the middle of both parents, thus it is beyond doubt that other plant had served as the seed parent of Papilionanda Tan Chay Yan in my opinion.

In 1957, T.M.A. orchid nursery tried to reproduce Papilionanda Tan Chay Yan using Euanthe sanderiana, the king of strap-leaved Vanda, as the seed parent. The resulting hybrid look very similar to those displayed in the National Orchid Garden above. However, even using the best form of Hawaiian Vanda (syn. Euanthe) sanderiana in other attempts by various orchid hybridizers, the resulting hybrid could not produce the vigor and precociousness of the original crossing made by Tan Hoon Siang. Therefore, in his letter to Robert Scully in 1963, Tan Hoon Siang himself thus cannot conclude that Papilionanda Tan Chay Yan is the offspring of Papilionanda Josephine van Brero and Vanda (syn. Euanthesanderiana. Somehow the chromosome has obscurely behaved in such way to produce such unsurpassed quality in the original Papilionanda Tan Chay Yan during the pod maturing period (1948-1949). Below is the schematic diagram of its family tree.

Until there's a further chloroplast DNA determination, it is up anybody to determine whether Vanda Tan Chay Yan was either the full or half sibling of Vanda T.M.A.

Putting aside all the above lengthy discussions and disputes, the historic Papilionanda Tan Chay Yan was still considered one of the most outstanding hybrids ever produced in Singapore until nowadays. It is one of the heritage orchids, the lifeblood and legacy of OSSEA, the very part of Singaporean inheritance to celebrate and enjoy. 

In Koh Keng Hoe's nursery I found his few pots of Papilionanda Tan Chay Yan. He never said that this is his prized collection that he has been propagating by cuttings since 1950s. The flower count of this plant is less than what is described in MOR 1959 below. It seemed that his flowers are the recent remade cross by SBG using Vanda (syn. Euanthesanderiana as the pod parent. Therefore it is more appropriate for uncle Koh to call his Papilionanda Tan Chay Yan as Papilionanda TMA instead. Strangely enough this recent cross never exceed the glorious past of true Papilionanda Tan Chay Yan...

Papilionanda TMA (Vanda (syn. Euanthe) sanderiana x Papilionanda Josephine van Brero). Uncle Koh keep calling this flowers as Papilionanda Tan Chay Yan instead. 

Papilionanda Tan Chay Yan 'Wan Neo'  batch SBG 770. However, in this 1959 MOR it was boldly claimed that the disputed parent is Vanda (syn. Euanthe) sanderiana, not Vanda dearei.

Update March 2019:
On February 2017, I purchased a cutting of Pda. Tan Chay Yan 'SBG770' from Emrys Chew during OSSEA Monthly meeting auction. It bloomed again this February 2019 back home at Jakarta, it seemed to thrive well despite being watered with very saline well water (exceeding 1000 microSiemens).

Pda. Tan Chay Yan 'SBG 770' original cutting from Tan Hoon Siang's garden back in 1950s, special thanks to Emrys Chew.

1. Chew, E.M.K. Malayan Orchid Review Vol. 42. Singapore: 2008. Print.
2. Author. Malayan Orchid Review Vol. 5. Singapore: 1959. Print.
3. Photo courtesy of Peter O' Byrne from orchids.unibas.ch (accessed 2 April 2012).

4. Illustration courtesy of C. Talbot-Kelly from The Hermans Index, RHS Orchid Awards 1841-2002.