Orchids: History of the Fascinating, Beautiful Plant

Updated on June 11, 2020
Kenna McHugh profile image

Kenna writes about the care of plants (indoors, outdoor gardens). She wrote an orchid care booklet—a companion piece for workshops.

Advance Nutrients
Advance Nutrients

The world of orchids—with its beauty, dramatic shapes, and colors—has fascinated plant enthusiasts for centuries. These magnificent flowers first appeared nearly 200 million years ago and have since spread from the equator to the Arctic Circle and from the Himalayas to Australia. Researchers dated orchids from the Jurassic period to the Mesozoic era (195–136 million years ago) and the Cenozoic period (64 million years ago).

Crazy - Frankenstein.com
Crazy - Frankenstein.com

Confucius Kept Orchids

The orchid forms one of the largest families in the plant kingdom, with over 25,000 species worldwide. With modern scientific cultivation, over 100,000 varieties of orchid and the number is increasing.

The first recorded mention of orchids is in Inquiry into Plants dated around 300 B.C. by Theophrastus, a student of Aristotle. Dioscorides, a Greek medical botanist, and physician, first identified them clearly as “orchids” in the 1st century, whose De Materia Medica was a standard reference until the Middle Ages.

In Asia, the great philosopher and statesman Confucius kept orchids in his rooms and wrote a poem praising their fragrance.

Orchids, an Aphrodisiac?

Orchidaceae, it is called in English, was known to the Greeks as Orchis 2000 years ago.

Orchis refers to the Orchis Morio, which is still in that region. The name means “testicle” for rather obvious reasons when you look at the root. During the Roman period (A.D. 476), the orchid roots were eaten or steep as an aphrodisiac.

In the 19th Century and the coming of the industrial age, it became easier to transplant orchids from the tropics to civilization. Advances in glass manufacturing facilitated the construction of greenhouses. Thus fueled the enthusiasm of propagating orchids under controlled conditions where the wealthy, cultured society competed to collect rare and beautiful specimens.


Do you cultivate orchids in your home?

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Time with Thea
Time with Thea

Attend a Workshop

Today, orchids have become one of the most popular hobbies internationally. People from all walks of life can afford to enjoy the brilliant colors, exotic shapes, and aromas while taking in their exquisite grace, unique forms, and varieties for each season.

Most nurseries not only carry a vast number of varieties to satisfy the desires of their customers, but they also educate their customers as well by sponsoring workshops.

Orchid Growers

Orchid growers need an ideal agricultural area to grow their orchids. The warm tropical climate provides the premier conditions that produce the best and most beautiful orchids. Orchids have become one of the most popular hobbies internationally.

People of all lifestyles can afford to enjoy the brilliant colors, exotic shapes, and aromas while taking in their exquisite grace, unique forms, and varieties for each season. Some growers even grow rare orchid species.

Orchid growers' overall goal might even be to label orchids accurately because there is an enormous amount of different species of orchids. The growers make sure that the orchids they sell are disease-free. Most orchid growers might understand the need to have a rigid standard of quality control to ensure the most beautiful and long-lasting blooms. As always, growers may ensure that the orchids are healthy and vigorous.


Orchids Are Endangered

At the start of the 18th-century, orchid collecting became established in many parts of the world because of their attractive, unusual flowers and intoxicating fragrances. A handful of botanists and wealthy amateurs cultivated orchids as curiosities.

Cultivating orchids became somewhat mainstream in 1818 when a man by the name of William Cattleya bloomed the first Cattleya. The odd thing about the event as he unpacked plants he shipped home (not orchids), he noticed these strange plants used as packing material. He potted some of them up, and months later, one of the Cattleyas bloomed. The orchid world has never been the same. It is still feeling the impact of that single plant.

Entire forests completely stripped of millions of orchids. An English botanist wrote in 1878, "Not satisfied with taking 300 or 500 specimens of a fine orchid. They must scour the whole country and leave nothing for miles. This is no longer collecting; this is wanton robbery."

Today, many orchids are on the endangered lists, and almost all collecting of orchids is banned. Species only cultivated from seed in orchid hothouses.

Home Design
Home Design

Orchids Keep Blooming

Attending a workshop will dispel the myth that orchids are hard to grow. Most orchids are easy to grow. Once you take your orchid home, get to know your orchid, and appreciate its unique quality, you are hooked and want more.

Another added benefit and something to think about as a gift is the orchid lasts quite a while compared to cut flowers and other blooming plants. Whoever owns an orchid finds joy and excitement when the orchid blooms again after the first bloom is gone. That is the greatest gift of nature anyone can receive.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2016 Kenna McHugh


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    • Kenna McHugh profile imageAUTHOR

      Kenna McHugh 

      22 months ago from Northern California

      Thank you for visiting our articles on Orchids. Let me know how your new orchid does and if you have any questions about growing your orchid do ask. I'd love to help because orchids are so beautiful.

    • profile image


      22 months ago

      I have read a few of your articles on indoor plant care. They inspire me to grow more plants in my house. I have never thought of growing an orchid. After reading the history of orchids, and a few other how to grow orchid plants from other authors, I have decided to try growing my own orchid. I am going to start with Phalaenopsis Orchid. Thank you again.

    • Kenna McHugh profile imageAUTHOR

      Kenna McHugh 

      2 years ago from Northern California

      I love orchids, too. They are amazing plants, so beautiful and their blooms last so long.

    • Stacie L profile image

      Stacie L 

      2 years ago

      I love orchids and can verify that they are not as delicate as they seem. Some friends have owned the same plants for twenty years.

      I learned some interesting facts on their history after reading your hub.


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