For centuries specially selected clones of the Japanese native orchid, Neofinetia falcata, have been grown in Japan, known as fuukiran. At first these were collected from the wild, but in recent times growers have been making more and more forms through selective breeding. This is a secretive process since a newly accepted form can fetch a hefty price on the market. The accepting, registering, and ranking of fuukiran is carefully controlled by the Japanese Fuukiran Society. The various registered forms are ranked, very similar to the ranking system in sumo wrestling, no kidding!
The natural variation within this species is truly remarkable. Variation includes differences in 1. flower color, size, and shape; 2. leaf size, shape, color, patterning, texture, and the attachment of them to the stem; 3. flowering season; and 4. even the color of the growing root tips! It really is crazy how into minor differences collectors are. To the outsider most fuukiran would have a very similar appearance except for obvious differences, but in time you begin to see and appreciate more and more the subtle variations. Please read the post on the various types in each category. Note that while I do use some of the Japanese terminology to classify plant types and their attributes, I do not do this in painful detail since much of it is beyond interest of most growers, and frankly such complexity is a bit much in my opinion.
Luckily, growing most of these is pretty easy with the exception of some of the very pale leaved forms such as Manazuru and Youmeiden, since their leaves contain so little chlorophyll. Others are difficult to flower well since the buds tend to blast easily if they are watered from above during development. Both Seikai and Unkai suffer from this problem. Luckily though, the vast majority of them are very forgiving in culture if some basic rules are followed. Please see the cultivation post for further information about growing these lovely plants.
Finally, a brief comment about the legitimacy of named cultivars. There has been much discussion about the quality of plants on the market, especially those originating outside of Japan (but not limited to those I might add). The perceived value of them has been much on the minds of growers world wide as well. As said before, the accepted forms of fuukiran have been “vetted” through a very strict system overseen by the Japanese Fuukiran Society, so with certainty, such forms are the real thing. As for plants originating outside Japan, there has been much debate about their authenticity and the cultivation techniques to propagate them. Additionally, the seemingly inflated prices that virtually all accepted forms demand on the world market has been called into question, particularly by people outside the traditional hobbyist circle. To date thousands of forms have been recognized, but many have fallen into obscurity.
Without a doubt, fuukiran cultivation is a part of Japanese society going back hundreds of years and so is a bona fide aspect of Japanese culture. In olden times a common man cold not even gaze upon a plant with serious consequences (even death), hence a mystique grew around these plants in that they were strictly in the realm of the upper classes and those who held power (the Samurai and their leaders). Under such conditions their value was beyond common terms; they were considered works of art with no monetary value. In more recent times, particularly in the years following WWII, these once sacred plants found their way into the hobbyist world and necessarily they began to be sold. In the beginning the prices they commanded reflected their history, which is to say,they were valued like unique pieces of art. In time many became propagated on a mass basis and prices dropped markedly, but still remained high in comparison to more common plants. In any event, there is much to say about this, and many stories to tell. In time I’ll post more thoughts on these issues, including a list some of the more commonly available and accepted varieties.