In the shade of the Vesuvius volcano, you'll find the most beautiful phalaenopsis you can imagine. The rich soil, no doubt, is helping Orchidee Colonna in producing these wonderful plants for over 30 years already. But there is more to it than just being in the right spot.
Speaking to production manager Gianluca Colonna, it's impossible to miss the pride of this nursery's heritage as a family business. The constant commitment, professionalism, the ability to interpret the market, and the continuous improvement of cultivation techniques have led Orchidee Colonna to become an important point of reference in the world of orchids. With a bit of help from the volcano and of their breeder Floricultura.
Orchid Pioneers in Europe
Please tell us something about the history of Orchidee Colonna. About running the business as a family. About your specializations.
"Orchidee Colonna was founded at the beginning of the 70s by Salvatore Colonna, the pioneer of orchids in Europe. It started with passion and grew little by little. The passion is still there, and the business has grown up. Back then, it was the time of the paphiopedilum and the cattleya, very rare species at the time. After this came the cymbidium, then the oncidium, the vanda, and so on. We were born as a cut flower company, and during that period we were always able to follow the market by growing orchids. Nowadays we are specialized in growing phalaenopsis, and we produce these on 1.5 hectares as both cut flowers and pot plants."
What is so beautiful about being a phalaenopsis grower?
"Growing itself we already found a very beautiful job, but growing phalaenopsis is what really makes our job exciting. It takes more than one year to grow, and every day is different from the previous one. It is a big challenge. And, of course, the beauty of the flower. There is no other flower with so many varieties and color combinations."
Growing on the Vesuvius Volcano
The greenhouses of Orchidee Colonna are located on the foot of the Vesuvius volcano. Dangerous as this sounds, the volcano has not erupted since March 1944. During that last eruption, there were no casualties, just material damage to some US Air Force planes that were stationed there. The big one that we all learn from in our history class is of course the deadly eruption in the year 79 AD when the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum were destroyed. Still, being close to a volcano has its benefits, as we learn from Gianluca.
"Sure we benefit from being at the foot of Vesuvius. The reason why we did chose this location is a combination of positive circumstances for growing orchids. It's the perfect light due to the latitude, and the climate conditions - not too hot during summer, not too cold in the wintertime."
Orchidee Colonna has its own laboratory. Can you tell us something about the activities and results you make here?
"The laboratory was a really successful tool we did use. By the late 1980s, we were able to mericlone in our very small lab. Mericloning is the vegetative culture of a plant through the tissue culture of apical meristems. Plants produced through this process are relatively identical. This way we got some species that in the past were very difficult to have."
Social and Human Commitment
Your founder, Salvatore Colonna was awarded for having distinguished himself as an entrepreneur and for his social and human commitment. Please tell us something about the social and human commitment by Orchidee Colonna.
"We always believe that the growth of the company should be together with social and human responsibility. One example: 8 years ago we invested in a biomass heating system because we believe that protection of our environment by burning biomass goes together with saving money, today we can say that we did reach both our goals. Last year we invested in a photovoltaic installation that employs solar modules to generate electrical power for our company."
It's a family business, from the left Cristian (research manager), Enrico (sales manager), and Gianluca (production manager)
Selling Phalaenopsis in Italy
How do you sell your Phalaenopsis?
"We are specialized on the Italian market. Italian consumers are different, they have different preferences and tastes in terms of colors and shape. For instance, in general Italians like strong and bright colors, and prefer a bigger size.
We sell the phalaenopsis in various ways. The first is on the two flower markets in the Naples area. On these markets, all the players of the floral distribution chain are allowed to buy: florists, wholesalers, distributors, and so on. Second, we are able to serve any buyer around Italy through specialized couriers."
How are sales developing in your market?
"Over the last years, all the forecasts went wrong… But despite the bad times we all had, I strongly believe that with the support of the breeders and growers, the phalaenopsis will remain very popular; the beauty effect of the phalaenopsis has no comparison."
We see that you grow phalaenopsis from breeder Floricultura. What are your reasons to grow plants from this particular breeder?
"To put it simple: Floricultura is orchids and orchids are Floricultura, at least in Europe. We have been doing business with this breeder since the early 1970s. For many years there were no others to offer what Floricultura could.
The main reason to choose Floricultura is still the same as back then: reliability. Another reason for our long-term collaboration with Floriculturais the trust that we get from Floricultura when it comes to the varieties and the quality. This way we can grow and show the beauty of Orchidee Colonna.
Their technical department has a lot of expertise, and they are ready to help and support the grower and customer in many aspects. Growing plants is unpredictable every day.
By this, I mean that the varieties selected and developed by Floricultura are known to be reliable and easy to grow, easy to maintain, and very resistant. On our side, we make sure that the plants are healthy, of high quality, and beautiful. It is the combination of this that makes us choose this breeder, giving us no bad surprises and uniformity in our products.
Among the wide assortment of Floricultura, we have found varieties that satisfy our customers' needs. Their Elastica series and Lingua series are two segments where we see our numbers growing, meaning that the taste of the customer is changing as well."
How do you see the future of your nursery?
"The big effort done by Floricultura in developing a genetic assortment will be very important for our development as a nursery. The customers and the market develop fast, so all of us together will have to be able to understand better what are the trends and in which direction should we go in order to understand and serve our customers better. Together with our breeder, we can make it a wonderful future."