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THE pounds 10,000 ORCHID; Jim's blooming rare plant is given a 24-hour guard.

IT DOESN'T look anything special. Just another common moth orchid with a spike of modest, two-inch flowers.

But the 24-hour guard and the price tag suggest the exact opposite. This humble little orchid is worth a staggering pounds 10,000.

What makes this plant so special is its colour. It is the only truly red moth orchid in the world.

It is also the product of 15 years' painstaking cross-breeding work by horticultural expert Jim Durrant .

"You only get a breakthrough like this every 15 years," says Jim.

"Sometimes you can arrive at something significant by accident.

"If you cross a pink orchid with another pink one, you don't necessarily produce pink again. And even though it is easy to produce a red rose, it is especially difficult to produce a red orchid.

"We exchanged pollens and seeds with nurseries in the Far East to get this cross.

"We first started with a chestnut-coloured orchid - the reddest we could find.

"Then, after repeated selective breeding over many years, we arrived at this true red."

Jim admits to being "mildly chuffed" that his prize orchid is being lauded as one of the highlights of the Chelsea Flower Show, which opens in a fortnight.

Camera crews from as far afield as Brazil and America have descended McBean's Nursery in the tiny village of Cooksbridge in East Sussex for a glimpse of this unique specimen.

The orchid has been presented with an Award Of Merit by the Royal Horticultural Society for being the best red Phalaenopsis - to give it its scientific name - in the world.

It used to have more flowers but two have been rather unceremoniously picked so that an artist can paint it, capturing it in every detail.

"The Royal Horticultural Society do a painting to fix the standard," says Jim proudly.

Horticulture at this level is competitive and it is a real possibility that a rival would contemplate stealing the original. For this reason, Jim is not prepared to let the orchid out of his sight over the next three months.

He even takes it into the bedroom when he goes to sleep.

"It comes with me wherever I go. It's worth so much because by cloning this one plant, we can get another 10,000 identical plants off it and sell them for pounds 20 each - though the cost of producing them all is a fortune.

"The more common Phalaenopsis go for just pounds 12.50. I'd sell 1,000 of these red ones overnight. No problem."

So did he turn cartwheels and scream "Eureka! I've done it!" when the buds burst open in flaming red?

"No," he says simply. "I just thought: 'That's nice. I'll keep an eye on that.'

"To produce a red orchid isn't my only ambition in the world.

"Now I am looking to produce a good green."
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Copyright 1999 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Maung, Carole Aye
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:May 13, 1999
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