In The Orchid Thief, Susan Orleans mentions the ghost orchid that fascinated flower poacher John Laroche. This character can be called one of the most famous flower collectors of our time, and his first predecessor has been known since the 15th century B.C., the ruler of Egypt, Hatshepsut. She sent botanists to Somalia to bring back incense trees.
Only a few people are not aware of the peak of the collector’s interest in flowers. We are talking, of course, about the 1630s, when tulip mania took place in Holland, when whole estates were given away in exchange for rare bulbs. After a while, the first futures market in history came to an end.
By 1700, flower production in greenhouses was officially established in Holland, which still supplies our cities with flowers to this day. While roses and lilies form the basis of the assortment of flower stores, there are still a huge number of rare exotic plants in the world that would be a sure delight to the orchid thief.
Gloriosa: $6-10 per flower
Known as the “flame lily,” gloriosa is as beautiful as it is poisonous. The high cost of the spectacular and delicate flowers comes from their difficult availability.
Tulip Semper Augustus: 10,000 guilders per bulb
This variety was bred in Holland in the 17th century and was particularly prized for its rare pattern of bright, fiery veins on the snow-white petals. Just before the tulip market bubble burst, a single Semper Augustus bulb cost 10,000 guilders (that’s about $5,700 in today’s money). In those days, you could buy a huge house in a fashionable canal in Amsterdam for that amount, or provide the whole family with clothes and food for half a century to come.
Saffron crocus: $1200-$1500 per 500 g
The stamens of Crocus sativus are the source of saffron, commonly known as the world’s most expensive spice sold by weight. The bright orange-gold stamens of pretty lilac flowers are hand-picked and dried to produce saffron. It takes more than 80 thousand flowers to process 500 grams of the spice, which explains its exorbitant price.
Orchid Rothschild: $5,000 per plant
Paphiopedilum rothschildianum, popularly known as Kinabalu gold, was discovered in 1987, after which it was close to extinction due to increased interest from smugglers. The population was eventually rebuilt through seedling cultivation, but the flower is still hard to come by. In the natural environment, the species is found only in Kinabalu National Park in Malaysia, and it takes many years for the first solitary flower to appear on the plant.
Shenzhen Nongke Orchid: $202,000 per plant
Collectors of orchids, who have traveled all over the world, would never find this relatively simple-looking flower. It was bred under laboratory conditions during the agricultural research of Shenzhen Nongke Group Corporation. The plant evolved for 8 years and was purchased in 2005 by an anonymous bidder for 1.68 million Yuan (about $202,000), making it the most expensive flower ever purchased.
Juliet Rose: $5 million
Although you can buy this amazingly delicate flower at a lower price, it is called a £3 million rose, which is how much it cost the famous rose breeder David Austin the idea of breeding a hybrid with peach-colored peony-like flowers. It took 15 years to do the work. In 2006 at the Chelsea Flower Show the variety caused a storm of admiration and became the most expensive achievement of breeding.
Epiphyllum flower: price not defined
There are few things in the world that can compete with the poetry and ephemerality of the epiphyllum, which grows in Sri Lanka and blooms only once a year. The petals open only at night, and by morning there is no trace of this splendor.