Visitors to The Sembcorp Cool House at the National Orchid Garden might feel like they have been transported into a cloud forest half the world away, with the cool air, a waterfall and orchids from across the globe.

The facility is one of the jewels in the crown of the new Tropical Montane Orchidetum, within the Singapore Botanic Gardens, which was opened by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on April 3.

It comes after extensive enhancement work at the National Orchid Garden undertaken by the National Parks Board (NParks) from 2017 and at a cost of about $35 million.

The work was expected to be completed in 2019 but was delayed due to design and technical challenges as well as the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Orchidetum is designed to simulate the experience of ascending through a tropical montane forest and features orchids and other plants.

A montane forest, also known as cloud forest, describes a terrain found in mountainous areas – an environment far removed from Singapore.

The Orchidetum contains three display houses – The Sembcorp Cool House, the Yuen Peng McNeice Bromeliad Collection and the Tan Hoon Siang Mist House – which have been expanded from their original sizes.

The Sembcorp Cool House has been designed to emulate a high-elevation montane forest, which exists at altitudes of between 1,000m and 2,000m, with a surrounding temperature of between 16 deg C and 23 deg C.

A Miltoniopsis Celle, also known as ‘Wasserfall’, on display at The Sembcorp Cool House. This award-winning orchid was created in Germany in 1958. Credit: Gin Tay/ST

It features the largest collection of high-elevation montane orchids in Asia, divided into five sections based on geographic regions.

The exhibit has also been fitted with systems that reduce energy use by about 30 per cent compared with the previous set-up. One innovation is spectrally selective glass, which allows visible light in but reflects about 60 per cent of infrared energy that would have heated up the structure.

The Cool House enhancements were partially funded by sustainable solutions provider Sembcorp Industries, which donated $10 million in 2015 through the Garden City Fund.

There has been enhancement work at the other two exhibits as well.

The Yuen Peng McNeice Bromeliad Collection enclosure has been upgraded to emulate a forest environment from the Caribbean, Central and South America at heights of between 650m and 1,000m.

The Sembcorp Cool House was designed to emulate a high elevation montane forest existing at altitudes of 1,000m to 2,000m. Credit: Gin Tay/ST

The Tan Hoon Siang Mist House, named after a descendant of pioneer philanthropist Tan Tock Seng, now showcases a selection of unique hybrids and species from the National Orchid Garden’s collection of speciality breeding stock of orchids.

The Orchidetum also has a lowland habitat trail featuring orchids from Singapore and the region and the Secret Ravine, which emulates habitats found in deep and narrow valleys of tropical mountains.

The Yuen Peng McNeice Bromeliad Collection features plants from the Caribbean as well as North and South America. Credit: Gin Tay/ST

Admission to the National Orchid Garden is free for citizens, permanent residents and others living in Singapore, including work pass holders, between April 3 and 11.

National Development Minister Desmond Lee, who also attended Saturday’s opening, noted: “The enhancements will allow NParks to further expand its capabilities in orchid breeding, conservation and research, which would benefit both Singapore and the world.

“This is a fine example of how we can punch above our weight and play a role in global biodiversity conservation efforts.”

Dr Tan Puay Yok, the group director of the Singapore Botanic Gardens, said the staff have plenty to keep them occupied. He added: “This alone will take us a while to fully plant out and, of course, we also have to observe how the plants are doing… so that will take us a while to stabilise.”

Text: Dominic Low/The Straits Times