Orchid Story & Origins
The name orchid is derived from the Greek word “orkhis”. This exotic flower was named by an ancient Greek botanist named Theophrastos who thought that the fleshy underground tubers resembled the male anatomy.
There are many types of orchids, with over 20,000 species in the world. One of the most popular orchids is the moth orchid, which got its name from the fact that their flowers were first mistaken as moths when they were first discovered by Swedish naturalist, Peter Osbeck.
Due to their namesake, orchids are associated with fertility, virility, and sexuality. These associations, coupled with their exotic appearance, have given them a long history of being associated with love, fertility and elegance throughout various cultures and time periods.
One of the major orchid genera is Paphiopedilum. The name is derived from the word “Paphos” which is the name of the temple where the Greek goddess of love, Aphrodite, was worshiped.
In Ancient Greece, it was believed that parents could choose the sex of their child by eating the orchid’s tubers. If the father ate thick, fleshier tubers, the child would turn out to be a male. If the mother ate smaller, thinner tubers, the child would turn out to be a female.
Aztecs commonly mixed vanilla, a type of orchid, with chocolate to create an elixir that brought on power and strength.
During the Victorian age, orchids were only found in the tropics and were extremely rare. Therefore, Victorians would collect exotic orchids as a sign of luxury and refined taste. When given as a gift, the more rare the orchid, the deeper your love and passion was for the receiver.
In China, orchids are regarded as emblems of integrity, elegance and friendship.
Orchid Symbolism & Colors
Although orchids have a reputation for being symbols of fertility and elegance, different colored orchids have a diverse range of symbolisms.
White orchids symbolize innocence and purity, as well as elegance and reverence.
Pink orchids symbolize femininity, grace, and joy.
Yellow orchids symbolize friendship and new beginnings. They make great gifts for a friend to celebrate an accomplishment.
Purple orchids symbolize royalty and admiration, and are traditionally given as a sign of respect.
Orange orchids symbolize pride, enthusiasm, and boldness.
Orchid Cultural Significance
Confucius admired the orchid and wrote many poems regarding the exotic flower and compared them to the character of noble scholars. Orchids were the topic of many of his philosophical and literary works, and formed the basis of his moral teachings.
“The orchids grow in the woods and they let out their fragrance even if there is no one around to appreciate it. Likewise, men of noble character will not let poverty deter their will to be guided by high principles and morals.” –Confucius
The pink orchid is the traditional flower of a couple’s 14th and 25th wedding anniversary.
Orchids rely on symbiotic relationships with fungi to survive, which makes them highly adaptable to a wide variety of ecosystems.
Orchids have origins in every continent with the exception of Antarctica.
The world’s smallest orchid grows to be only 2 mm wide, and its flowers are only a single-cell thick.
The slipper orchid has a unique method of pollination. It lures the pollinator, an insect, into its slippery pouch. The only escape for the victim is to crawl through a very narrow crevice within the plant, forcing it to rub against the attached pollen. When the insect falls victim to another slipper orchid, cross-pollination occurs through the same process.
Orchids are known for their fragrance and are widely used in perfumes and aromatherapy. Vanilla extract, a commonly used flavor enhancer in sweets and baked goods, is actually derived from the Vanilla orchid plant.
The orchid has medicinal applications as well. In China, the orchid has been cultivated for thousands of years, and is used as a natural remedy for coughs, diseases of the kidney, lung, stomach and eye.
Orchids are also believed to be powerful aphrodisiacs, and many cultures including Greece and China eat the bulbs for this purpose.
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