Agnes Joaquim

Agnes Joaquim (Ashkhen Hovakimian) (b. 7 April 1854, Singapore–d. 2 July 1899, Singapore), a second-generation Singapore resident of Persian Armenian descent,1 is best known for successfully cross-breeding Vanda teres with Vanda hookeriana to create a new orchid known as Vanda Miss Joaquim (Papilionanthe Miss Joaquim).2 The orchid hybrid was named Singapore’s national flower in 1981. In 2015, the Singapore Council of Women’s Organisations inducted into its Singapore Women’s Hall of Fame.3 The award cited her as the first woman in the world to breed a hybrid orchid.4

Horticultural legacy – Vanda Miss Joaquim
Like her mother, Urelia Zachariah, Joaquim was an avid gardener and horticulturalist who won numerous prizes at flower shows for cultivating various flowers, ferns, spices, fruits and vegetables. She successfully bred an orchid in the gardens of her family home around 1890. The record of the orchid, later named Vanda Miss Joaquim after its breeder, was first published in June 1893 in the horticultural journal, The Gardeners’ Chronicle.5 Vanda Miss Joaquim made its maiden public appearance in Singapore at the annual Flower Show in April 1899, and won Joaquim the first prize for rarest orchid.

Spearheading the development of Singapore’s cut-flower industry, Vanda Miss Joaquim became a major commercial success.7 The orchid was designated Singapore’s national flower in 1981.8

There was a controversy about whether the Vanda Miss Joaquim was a product of nature or an artificial hybrid bred by Joaquim. In September 2016, the National Parks Board and the National Heritage Board amended their accounts of the discovery of the flower to credit Joaquim as the breeder of the national flower.9

Other interests
Besides her horticultural skills and interests, Joaquim was also an active member of the Armenian Church and a skilled embroiderer.10

Joaquim died of cancer on 2 July 1899, at the age of 45, about three months after she received the prize for Vanda Miss Joaquim at the Flower Show. Her tombstone can be found within the grounds of the Armenian Church on Hill Street. It was originally located at the Bukit Timah cemetery.11 Her headstone bears the inscription, “Let her own works praise her”.12

Joaquim was the eldest daughter and second child out of 11 children of Parsick Joaquim, an Armenian merchant and commercial agent. The family used to live at 30 Hill Street, but by 1861 had moved to Mount Narcis, the name of the family mansion that sat on Parsick Hill off Tanjong Pagar.13

Basil (Barsigh or Parsick) Joaquim (d. 17 May 1872, Singapore) was a merchant and commercial agent in the 1840s. He married Urelia on 17 February 1852. Believed to have originated from Madras, Parsick’s work as a commercial agent often took him to Calcutta, Batavia and Penang. A notable philanthropist, he acquired considerable property and investments, which enabled his family to tide over after his sudden death in 1872.14

Urelia (Urughlu) Zachariah (b. 1828, Singapore–d. 29 April 1905) was a gardening enthusiast who won awards at annual flower shows during the 1880s and 1890s.15

Variant names
Armenian names are anglicised in various ways. The name Joaquim is sometimes spelt Hovakimian or Joakim,16 while Agnes might be spelt Ashkhen17 or Ashghen.18

The Anglicised surname Joaquim is pronounced with a “j” sound, as in “jo”.19

List of horticultural awards won at the annual Flower Show

First prize for begonia (specimen)
Second prize for two verbenas20


Second prize for mosses21


First prize for the best six ferns
First prize for selaginellas
Second prize for the best six coleus
Second prize for the best six caladiums22


First prize for selaginellas
First prize for roses (cut flowers)
Second prize for best collection of begonias
Second prize for coleus
Second prize for dahlias (cut flowers)23


Second prize for selaginellas24


First prize for roses (specimen)
First prize for bridal bouquet (white flowers)
First prize for hand bouquet
First prize for cucumbers
First prize for radishes
First prize for mangosteens
Second prize for six selaginellas
Second prize for french beans
Second prize for custard apples
Second prize for chikus25


First prize for cucumbers
First prize for radishes
First prize for chillies
First prize for melons
First prize for pineapples
First prize for mangosteens
Second prize for French beans
Second prize for selaginellas
Second prize for hand bouquet26


First prize for chrysanthemums (cut flowers)
First prize for bridal (white flowers)
First prize for cucumbers
First prize for brinjal
First prize for French beans
First prize for melons
First prize for mangosteens
First prize for soursops
First prize for ginger roots
Second prize for durians
Second prize for ixoras (cut flowers)
Second prize for collection of flowers arranged for effect
Second prize for hand bouquet
Second prize for custard apples27


First prize for selaginellas
First prize for lilies
First prize for stephanotis
First prize for bridal wild flowers
First prize for limes
First prize for pomelow
First prize for pineapples
First prize for soursop 
Second prize for crotoas
Second prize for horas
Second prize for bouquet
Second prize for cucumber
Second prize for radishes
Second prize for melons
Second prize for oranges28


First prize for six selaginellas
First prize for phlox
First prize for pumelows29


First prize for orchids (cut flowers)
Second prize for three ixoras30


First prize for the rarest orchid, Vanda Miss Joaquim
First special prize for hibiscus31


Michael Mukunthan & Akshata Patkar

1. Nadia H. Wright, Respected Citizens: The History of Armenians in Singapore and Malaysia (Middlepark: Amassia Publishing, 2003), 54. (Call no. RSING 305.891992 WRI)
2. Hew Choy Sin, Yam Tim Wing and Joseph Arditti, Biology of Vanda Miss Joaquim (Singapore: Singapore University Press, 2002), 41. (Call no. RSING 584.4095957 HEW)
3. Melissa Lim, “11 Inducted into S’pore Women’s Hall of Fame,” Straits Times, 28 March 2015, 8. (From NewspaperSG)
4. Singapore Council of Women’s Organisations, “Singapore Women’s Hall of Fame: The Inductees of 2015,” news release, 27 March 2015.
5. Wright, Respected Citizens, 145, 147, 220; H. N. Ridley, “New or Noteworthy Plants,” Gardeners’ Chronicle 8 (June 1893), 740.
6. “The Flower Show,” Straits Times, 12 April 1899, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
7. Harold Johnson and Nadia Wright, Vanda Miss Joaquim: Singapore’s National Flower & the Legacy of Agnes & Ridley (Singapore: Suntree Media, 2008), 82. (Call no. RSING 635.9344095957 JOH)
8. S. Dhanabalan, “The Launching Ceremony of the National Flower Vanda Miss Joaquim,” speech, Ministry of Culture Conference Room, 15 April 1981, transcript, Ministry of Culture. (From National Archives of Singapore document no. SD19810415_1)
9. Melody Zaccheus, “Vanda Miss Joaquim’s Namesake Gets Official Credit as Creator,” Straits Times, 7 September 2016. (From NewspaperSG)
10. Wright, Respected Citizens, 145, 147, 220.
11. Christine Khor, “Her Tombstone Found – More Light Shed on Miss Joaquim,” New Nation, 19 July 1981, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
12. Agnes Joaquim’s Tombstone, 20 March 2003, photograph, Herwin M. Nasir Collection, National Library Board.
13. Wright, Respected Citizens, 218–9.
14. Wright, Respected Citizens, 218–9.
15. Wright, Respected Citizens, 219.
16. Wright, Respected Citizens, 218.
17. Wright, Respected Citizens, 219.
18. Teoh Eng Soon, A Joy Forever: Vanda Miss Joaquim, Singapore’s National Flower (Singapore: Times Editions, 1998), 30. (Call no. RSING 584.4095957 TEO) 
19. Hew, Yam and Arditti, Biology of Vanda Miss Joaquim, 210.
20. “The Flower Show,” Straits Times Overland Journal, 9 June 1881, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
21. “The Flower Show,” Straits Times Weekly Issue, 12 January 1884, 6. (From NewspaperSG)
22. “The Flower Show,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884-1942), 19 June 1886, 5. (From NewspaperSG)
23. “Singapore Annual Flower Show,” Straits Times Weekly Issue, 18 April 1887, 6. (From NewspaperSG)
24. “The Flower Show on Saturday Night,” Straits Times, 15 April 1889, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
25. “The Flower Show,” Straits Times Weekly Issue, 23 June 1891, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
26. “The Flower Show,” Straits Times Weekly Issue, 29 August 1893, 6. (From NewspaperSG)
27. “The Flower Show,” Straits Times, 15 June 1894, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
28. “The Flower Show,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884-1942), 5 July 1895, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
29. “The Flower Show,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884-1942), 15 May 1897, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
30. “The Flower Show,” Straits Times, 30 March 1898, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
31. “Flower Show.”

The information in this article is valid as of 2017 and correct as far as we can ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the library for further reading materials on the topic.

Joaquim, Agnes, 1854-1899--Biography
National symbols
Vanda Miss Joaquim--Singapore--History