Calla flowers are, without a doubt, a definite sensation! And the flowers from Dutch breeder Kapiteyn, more than uphold this adage. The Kapiteyn brand of Captain Callas comes in different colors and varieties, and since 1926, the breeder's processes have been all about validating its expertise in creating a beautiful product and delivering it to different markets worldwide.
This notion is endorsed by different growers and retailers, and among them is Shurui Marco Zhang, the owner of Kunming Calla Horticulture Co., Ltd (KCH), a company based in Kunming, China. In essence, KCH is the region’s agent for Kapiteyn, and also the region’s main supplier of the famous Captain Calla.
Marco Zhang’s KCH and the Kapiteyn Connection
Zhang comes from Yunnan, which is the biggest flower-producing province in China. The southeast region’s high elevation and low latitude, perfect climate conditions which are very suitable for growing many flowers, and a host of many factors have contributed to it being the Chinese flower epicenter.
In 2008, Zhang studied and later graduated from Van Hall Larenstein in Wageningen, Netherlands with a major in International Horticulture and Marketing. After his graduation in 2010, he started working at Kapiteyn and that was the very first moment that he got acquainted with callas
“At Kapiteyn, I got to know about callas, and I was amazed by the flowers’ unique beauty, elegance, and versatility as ornamental plants.
In 2012, Zhang says he went back to China and started promoting Captain Calla varieties to Chinese growers. In 2013, KCH was established and soon after, became the exclusive partner of Kapiteyn in China, seeking to comprehensively promote the Captain Calla varieties in the country and the region.
In the beginning, Zhang says, callas were rare plants among Chinese consumers, and there was only one local grower of the flowers. This grower had limited varieties and quantities. And due to the perceivably high prices of the tubers and high cultivating risks, it was really difficult to promote these flowers to the local growers at the start
“We then decided to start our own small production with two purposes. First, we needed to first know how to grow callas successfully ourselves, so that we can introduce and teach the growers the cultivating tips.
Secondly, we had to test all the varieties from Kapiteyn and invite growers, and wholesalers to visit our facilities and see for themselves the varieties when they are flowering. They could then select which ones are good for the Chinese markets. With these two purposes, we started KCH in 2023.”
KCH eventually grew and for now, only focuses on the growers in China. Zhang explains that his company only selects growers with good knowledge backgrounds, ideal greenhouse facilities, and the right climatic conditions within their respective regions to ensure that they embark on their calla-growing journeys on the correct path and the right trajectory.
“According to what I know, 99% of the finished harvested calla plants (both pot and cut) are sold inside China. Only a very limited quantity is exported to the neighboring countries like Vietnam and Thailand.”
Flower Culture in China and the Captain Calla Nexus
The flower industry in China has experienced significant changes in consumer behavior especially post the COVID-19 pandemic. Traditionally, flowers were primarily purchased for festivals and celebrations. But nowadays, there has been a noticeable shift towards buying flowers on regular days to infuse romance into daily life.
Within the Chinese flower industry, prospering involves customizing the flower inventory to suit various cities, festival periods, and market segments, and gifting flowers has become popular, while the trend of using them as integral decorations for events and hotels has also grown significantly.
Flowers also play a significant role in traditional weddings, where great care is taken in selecting the blooms with cultural significance. For instance, white flowers, often associated with death, are avoided during celebratory events.
The main location for flower production in China is Yunnan province, and the floral industry in Kunming, Yunnan’s capital, has evolved into one of the world’s top flower-producing regions. Zhang’s KCH is, for that reason, one of the players driving the growth of the Chinese flower industry, through the supply the exquisite calla varieties from Kapiteyn.
Kapiteyn’s Captain Callas for the Chinese New Year
The Chinese New Year is a festival that celebrates the beginning of a new year on the traditional lunisolar Chinese calendar. In Chinese, the festival is commonly referred to as the Spring Festival.
The annual 15-day festival in China and Chinese communities around the world including Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, the Philippines, and of course Mainland China, begins with the new moon that occurs sometime between January 21 and February 20, according to Western calendars.
With the growth of the flower industry in China and the people’s growing interest in flowers, blooms are becoming a definite inevitability in the festivities. And callas are among those unique flowers to be used in the celebrations.
For the Chinese market and New Year festivals, according to Zhang, in the past years, Calla Captain Solo and Calla Captain Cheerio have been the two top sellers for pot callas among the company’s growers.
Customers, he says, order in total 40% of Calla Captain Solo and 30% of Calla Captain Cheerio for the Chinese New Year festivals, because it is a tradition in China that every family should have some flowers at home then. During the Chinese New Year, these flowers in particularly strong yellow (gold) and red colors are preferred; to wish that the coming year be prosperous and full of vitality.
And through KCH, Kapiteyn has made significant inroads in the country, ensuring that these flowers are easily acquirable and readily available and accessible for its Oriental clientele. Within the past decade, Zhang says, Kapiteyn has made a lot of significant improvements and makeovers in the calla flower industry.
The company has overcome the difficulties and challenges of quality loss during long storage and introduced a lot of stronger varieties including Calla Captain Solo, Calla Captain Cheerio, Calla Captain Hollywood, Calla Captain Miro, and others.
“The most important thing to note, however, is that Kapiteyn has really strict tuber quality inspection standards to make sure that the growers receive high-quality tubers. That’s the first guarantee of successful cultivation.”
Zhang’s Experience With Callas in China
Calla, he says, is definitely not an easy crop to grow. It requires passion, knowledge, and patience. In China, Zhang continues, many growers want to get immediate profits by investing minimum efforts or knowledge. And this doesn’t work for callas.
You can read about how Kapiteyn supports its calla growers.
“That’s why we are also strict when selecting our growers (customers). We talk to them and visit them before selling them the tubers. After selling, numerous other continuous services are also important.”
Zhang cites his first customer, Kunming Trifecta, as a case in which he was stationed at the grower’s greenhouse for almost half a year, just to make sure everything was done correctly. Yet now, Kunming Trifecta is KCH’s biggest customer and also the biggest pot calla grower in China.
Even so, Zhang believes that the growth of callas in China and the region is in the offing, and in due course, callas will be a major flower in the Oriental region.
Photos courtesy of Shurui 'Marco' Zhang.