A bit of orchid history
Confucius, the Chinese philosopher, grew orchids in the fifth century BC and wrote a poem about them.
Theophrastus, a Greek philosopher and scientist, mentions orchids in his “Essay on Plants” published around 300 BC
Dioscorides, a Greek botanist, physician and pharmacologist mentioned orchids in his work “De Materia Medica” ( “Of Medical Maters”) published around 60 AD This work remained a reference manual till the Middle Age (1,400 - 1,500 AD).
Orchids, in those times, were believed to have medicinal properties, one of them being an aphrodisiac.
And about 2,000 years ago Greeks gave orchids the name “orkhis” which means testicle, because of the form of their pseudobulbs (pseudo = Greek for “false”).
In more recent times, the first record of orchids in cultivation dates back to 1731 in England. Philip Miller mentioned several orchids in his second edition of “Dictionary of Gardening” (1768).
Records of the Kew Royal Botanical Gardens show that Epidendrum cochleatum flowered for the first time in cultivation in 1787. Ten years later 15 orchid species were cultivated at Kew.
Cultivation of orchids started in earnest in the 19th century. At that time orchids were brought to Europe by companies or individuals who financed collecting expeditions. They commissioned professional collectors who traveled for months all over the world in search of showy new species. Like treasure hunters these expensive enterprises were often shrouded in secrecy and it was not unusual for them to spread misleading information about the locations where new orchids were found.
New exotic orchids were most often sold at Protheros & Morris & Stevens Sales Rooms in London, fetching extravagant prices.
At that time very little was known about the cultivation of orchids and their survival rate was dismal.
Through experimentation and by gathering more information on the growing conditions of orchids in their natural habitat, knowledge was slowly being developed and by 1851 B. S. Williams published the first edition of “The Orchid Grower’s Manual”.
By the end of the 19th century there was enough experience and knowledge about the growing conditions of orchids that many orchids survived and bloomed in England’s greenhouses.
Today there is a wealth of knowledge about growing orchids and modern propagation methods have driven prices to affordable levels. Affordable prices, the fascination exercised by their captivating beauty and their diversity has made them increasingly popular houseplants.
From Venamy Orchids
© Bernard Bosmans Photography