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Orchids: History of the Fascinating, Beautiful Plant

Kenna loves helping others take care of plants, both indoors and out. She wrote an orchid care booklet—a companion piece for workshops.

Advance Nutrients

Advance Nutrients

With its beauty, dramatic shapes, and colors, the world of orchids 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 -

Crazy -

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 orchids are 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, Confucius's great philosopher and statesman kept orchids in his rooms and wrote poems praising their fragrance.

Orchids, an Aphrodisiac?

Orchidaceae, 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 obvious reasons when looking at the root. During the Roman period (A.D. 476), the orchid roots were eaten or steeped 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. This fueled the enthusiasm for propagating orchids under controlled conditions where the wealthy, cultured society competed to collect rare and beautiful specimens.



Victorian Era Orchids

During the Victorian era, orchids were quite popular. Some believed orchids were pets or even humans, capable of strange behavior.

Around 1898, H. G. Wells wrote The Strange Orchid, indicating the Victorian fascination with orchids. The story portrays a relationship between an orchid grower and a new specimen. With a bit of tongue in cheek and under Wells’ dystopic finesse, the plant expresses malicious intent and aggressive behavior — “tentacle-like aerial rootlets.”

The rootlets grow long and strong enough to choke the orchid grower within its parasitic grasp. The grower escapes for his life, and the orchid perishes.

Time with Thea

Time with Thea

Likewise, throughout the 19th century, the frequency of seeing orchids increased in British daily life. Victorians appreciated the tropical flowers’ sensitivity to responding to elements in their surroundings, such as humans. Orchid houses emerged as the new rage, with enthusiasts dedicating their lives to caring for and feeding these beauties.

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 carry wide varieties to satisfy their customers' desires, but they also educate their customers and sponsor 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 be to label orchids accurately because there are many different species of orchids. The growers make sure that the orchids they sell are disease-free. Most orchid growers might understand the need for a rigid quality control standard 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 its 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 named 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; 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 are entirely 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 list, and almost all collecting of orchids is banned. Species are only cultivated from seeds 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, please get to know your orchid and appreciate its unique quality. You are hooked and want more.

Another benefit to consider as a gift is that 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.

Orchids General Guide

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


Kenna McHugh (author) from Northern California on October 06, 2018:

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.

Anonymous on October 06, 2018:

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 (author) from Northern California on February 24, 2018:

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

Stacie L on February 24, 2018:

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.