A Japanese delegation made a flying visit to meet a key gentian grower in Western Southland this month.
Clifden flower grower John Moffatt said the purpose of his Japanese visitors' trip was to find out how his new varieties of gentians were performing.
The group included the mayor of Japanese city Hathimatai, Masanhiko Tamura, and Ashiro City Flower Research Centre manger Takashi Hikage, as well as Southland District Mayor Frana Cardno.
Hathimatai was formed in 2005 with the merger of three towns including Ashiro, which is famous in Japan for its gentian flowers and has about 300 farmers growing them, Mr Moffatt said.
"About five years ago we joined forces with them to share genetic material and formed a company called Rhindo (which means gentian in Japanese) International."
The company has four shareholders, the city of Hachimantai, the Ashiro Growers co-op, Plant and Food Research and Mr Moffatt.
"Rhindo owns the varieties of gentians that we have jointly bred with genetic material coming from both countries. We bred quite a lot of varieties and they perform differently in the different climates," Mr Moffatt said.
Ashiro has a research centre, which breeds and protects their own varieties of gentians, grown mainly for the Japanese market but also exported to Europe. "Our cool night climate results in very strong colour in the flowers, which is preferred by the world markets."
The gentian was an important flower in Japanese culture and the traditional flower to take to honour the graves of ancestors.
"We exchange plants in tissue culture and pollen therefore the actual breeding is done in three different places.
"However, the plants have to go into quarantine for three years before they can be field trialled here," Mr Moffatt said.
Mr Moffatt grows about 25,000 gentians plants at his farm. About 70 per cent produce blue flowers while the rest produce a mixture of pink and white flowers.
- The Southland Times