WOW! This is the most common reaction heard as visitors make their way through the Borneo Orchid Society of Sabah's (BOSS) annual exhibition.
The event usually held in May is a showcase of the state's diverse native orchid species, with their myriad of shapes, colours and sizes.
There are about 1,500 species of orchids in Borneo and two-thirds are from Sabah. And of 1,000 native Sabah species, 86% are in Kinabalu Park.
Despite this diversity, Sabah ironically remains a net importer of cut orchid flowers with florists and hotels displaying blooms that were likely to have originated from the peninsula.
The Sabah Development Corridor (SDC) master plan calls for the acceleration of the state's agriculture sector through an emphasis on high-value and high-potential products such as aquaculture, non-timber products and horticulture, which includes orchid cultivation.
State Agriculture Minister Datuk Abdul Rahim Ismail said there was a lot of potential for orchid cultivation in Sabah.
"Sabah has the ingredients to ensure that an orchid cultivation industry is viable.
"We have the resources, including the diverse species, and we have the land and climate. If we can cultivate strawberries in the Kundasang highlands, I don't see why we cannot grow orchids on a commercial scale," he added.
Agreeing with Rahim, BOSS president Datuk C.L. Chan said the potential for orchid cultivation had yet to be fully realised in Sabah, where there were an estimated 20 small-scale growers producing only about RM50,000 worth of cut flowers annually.
The society's deputy president, Albert Yong, said it would be a tough act for Sabah to match major orchid flower producers like Thailand, which has the advantage in terms of a 30-year established industry.
He said the Thai orchid industry has reached a point where there were different specialised segments from the laboratories producing cloned materials from mother plants, nurseries cultivating orchid seedlings, who sell them to growers producing cut flowers.
"There are also businesses specialising in nothing but providing raw materials such as coconut husks to growers and central purchasers buying the flowers from the small farmers. There are also numerous direct air links between Bangkok and key markets such as Europe," Yong said.
He said Taiwan had taken a different tact by focusing on producing orchid hybrids, largely of the phalaenolpsis variety that were marketed with the flowers still attached to the plants as these would last for weeks.
Yong said a 500ha orchid park in Taiwan produced about 90% of the phalaenopsis being exported to Europe, the United States and Japan, where they are sold for as little as US$10 (RM32).
"Once the flowers wither, the buyers would just throw away the entire plant because it's so cheap for them," he added.
Sabah orchid growers have for a long time had a nagging suspicion that the original phalaenopsis plant that spawned Taiwan's orchid industry was sourced from the state as the species was indigenous to the state.
Chan and Yong said it was time for Sabah to develop its own orchid industry but it should focus on a niche sector.
"We could go into developing hybrids of our local species and these could be marketed at premium prices to orchid collectors worldwide," said Yong.
For this to happen, Sabah still has a long way to go. Even now, Yong said he did not know of any orchid growers in the state who were carrying out cross cultivation of primary species indigenous to Sabah.
In this regard, he said among the government's assistance needed for Sabah's orchid industry to bloom was research and development support and various other incentives.