Orchid Fact File
Orchids (or ‘Orchis’ in Latin, which unfortunately was another name for testicles in Ancient Greece), are one of the most beautiful and fragrant flowers in the world. The orchid has always been a prized flower from the date it was discovered in 600BC to the modern day.
It has been used for many different purposes over the years, and has been cultivated and bred by growers all over the world – so much so that the recorded amount of Orchid species is now over 35,000, making the Orchidaceae the largest flower family in existence. Orchids vary in size, form and colour, ranging from white to black and all the shades in between. They bloom brilliantly throughout the year but most commonly from Spring until Autumn.
Orchids are quite a specific flower – they require great care, which is why most tend to perish in the hands of an inexperienced grower. Orchids can survive all the way from the cold conditions of Alaska and the Arctic Circle to the hot conditions of Asia and the tropics, as a result of their low need for nutrients. The easiest orchid to look after is the ‘cymbidium’.
Orchids were first recorded by the Chinese in 600BC as ‘Lan’, meaning ’superior man’, ‘elegant woman’ and also strength, virility and beauty. The flower was often referred to in love poems, songs and names. Orchids were also used in ceremonial traditions to ward off evil and to tune the emotion of the animal spirit.
It has been believed that the tubers (bulbs) of an orchid would help the conception of a child once ingested. Even the sex of the child was determined by who ate them; if the father ate the tubers then a boy would be born, and likewise if the mother ate them then the child would be a girl. The orchid flower itself was thought to hold many medicinal purposes – ‘cymbidium’ was used for rheumatism, neuralgia and venereal diseases, while ‘gomesa crispa’ was used for stomach upsets, diarrhoea, fevers, boils, abscesses and even sick elephants! Over time, physicians began to use orchid extracts in many medicines to help the sick.
As well as medicine, orchids have also been widely used for pigmenting and perfumery. The most common use which has withstood the test of time is flavouring – the ‘planifolia’ is used to create a vanilla flavour in foods and perfumes.
Other types of orchid are the anguloa, cattleya, laelia, dendrobium, phalaenopsis, paphiopedilum, oncidium, vanda, epidendrum, brassia, bulbophyllum, catasetum, sophronitis, miltonia and phaius. The beauty of these flowers has meant they have remained popular all the way from the early Greek ages to the 21st century.