The Armenian Heritage of Singapore’s National Symbol

The Armenian Heritage

On April 19, Singaporeans celebrate the holiday of Singapore’s national flower, the Vanda ‘Miss Joaquim’, also known as the Singapore orchid. It is one of the most favorite local holidays. On this day, it is customary to present each other with Singapore orchids and wish well-being in one’s own family for the entire upcoming year.

But what does this Singaporean holiday have to do with Armenians?

The “mother” of the orchid that today is the national flower of Singapore was Agnes Joaquim (Ashkhen Hovakimian), English and Singaporean scientist and horticulturist of Armenian descent. Agnes bred the renowned Singapore orchid named Vanda ‘Miss Joaquim’ in her honor. Soon, this orchid became the symbol of Singapore.

Agnes Joaquim was born on April 7, 1854, in Singapore into the family of Parsick Joaquim (Barsegh Hovakimian) and Urelia Zechariah. There were 11 children in the family. Agnes was the eldest daughter and the second oldest child in the family.

Agnes’ father Barsegh was a commercial and trade agent in Singapore, as well as a renowned philanthropist. He had considerable property and investments that would pass on to his family after his sudden death in 1872.

Agnes’ mother Urelia was engaged in horticulture. The maternal grandfather of Agnes was one of the first members of the Singapore Chamber of Commerce, as well as the leader of the local Armenian commune.

Agnes, just like her mother, was passionate about horticulture and was an active member of the Armenian commune of Singapore. She bred her orchids in the garden of her family estate in Tanjong Pagar. Annually participating in flower exhibitions, Agnes has collected an impressive collection of awards. Between 1893 and 1895, Agnes won 27 first places and 15 second places.  

Agnes became famous in 1899 after introducing the orchid she had bred at the annual flower exhibition in Singapore. Later, this orchid would be named Vanda ‘Miss Joaquim’ in her honor.

Agnes Joaquim passed away in 1899. She was buried in the courtyard of the Armenian Saint Gregory the Illuminator Church in Singapore.

In 1947, her orchid was selected as the symbol of the Progressive Party of Singapore. In 1981, it was chosen to be the national symbol of Singapore. The Singapore orchid was chosen to represent the uniqueness and hybrid culture of Singapore for its resilience and blooming quality all year-round. Vanda ‘Miss Joaquim’ is portrayed on Singapore postal stamps, coins, as well as on several commemorative Singaporean banknotes.

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