Orchids – Symbolism and Meaning

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Known for their sweet-smelling and colorful blooms, orchids are showstoppers in the garden, giving you a glimpse of a tropical paradise. They’re highly coveted and valued for their exotic appearance. Here’s a look at the significance of this exotic flower and its complex family.

About Orchids

Orchids

One of the most diverse family of plants, the Orchidaceae, commonly called orchids, consists of hundreds of genera and thousands of flower species. While they’re tropical blooms commonly found in Asia, Central and South America, some of them are grown in the northern and southern regions with temperate climates.

The name Orchid comes from the Greek term orchis which means testicle, due to the shape of its roots to the male genitalia. What makes them special is they’re commonly an epiphytic plant, which means that they grow on the surface of other plants, trees, or shrubs. This type of orchid has vine-like roots, letting them absorb moisture from the mist and rain. However, not all orchids are epiphytic. For example, the lithophyte orchids grow on rocks, while the terrestrial orchids grow from the soil.

Orchids are described as bilaterally symmetrical and come in every color and size that you can imagine. While pastels and whites are common, some varieties have striped designs similar to tiger prints or even cow spots.

Meaning and Symbolism of the Orchids

Orchids generally represent love, beauty, sophistication and luxury. In Ancient Greek times, the tubers of the flower were associated with virility and men would eat them to enhance the chances of conceiving a boy. However, during the Victorian era, the flower became a symbol of luxury and prestige, which continues to this day.

These flowers are extremely varied, so it’s no surprise that they carry different meanings and symbolism too. In the language of flowers, here are the common meanings of orchids:

  • Refined Beauty – These blooms are the perfect way to say, “You are beautiful.”  In some cultures, it also symbolizes mature charm.
  • Love – Orchids are an embodiment of pure affection. The flower is believed to have aphrodisiac power to boost romance. It’s also associated with fertility, and even regarded as the Chinese symbol for many children.
  • Wisdom – Orchids are associated with being understanding, thoughtful and considerate.
  • Sympathy – In some cultures, white orchids simply express sympathy and remembrance.

However, the specific meaning of orchids depends on its variety. There might be thousand types of orchids, but here are the common symbolisms with regard to its genus and kind:

  • Dendrobium – Orchids of this genus are associated with beauty, refinement and love. It’s also thought to attract friendship and wealth.
  • Orchis mascula – Sometimes called the Adam and Eve Root Plant, these orchids symbolize love and are commonly gifted to newlyweds to wish them happiness. In some cultures, they’re carried in pockets, in hopes of attracting love. Also referred to as the Hand of Power or Lucky Hand, it’s also thought that witches use their roots in making love potions.
  • Angraecum sesquipedale – These blooms represent hope, guidance, and royalty. In some cultures, they’re called the Star of Bethlehem, Darwin’s Orchid, or Christmas Orchid.
  • CattleyaOrchids of this genus symbolize mature charms, which is why it’s commonly gifted on Mother’s Day in the U.S.
  • Vanilla planifolia – These flowers are believed to represent purity, innocence and elegance. In some regions, they’re called Madagascar Vanilla or Bourbon Vanilla. Many also believe that carrying these blooms will improve one’s mental clarity, while its scent is thought to induce lust.
  • Ophrys bombylifloraThe Bumblebee Orchid symbolizes hard work and persistence.
  • Anacamptis papilionacea – Commonly known as Butterfly Orchid, this bloom represents lightheartedness.

However, you might want to be careful with these specific orchid varieties as they have some negative associations:

Negative types of orchid symbolism
  • Ophrys insectifera – Also known as Fly Orchid, the bloom symbolizes mistake or error. It’s not the prettiest variety of orchid, as the flower looks like a brown insect feasting on the leaf.
  • Cypridedium – Orchids of this genus are commonly associated with fickleness and capricious beauty. However, they’re also believed to provide protection against evil spirits, hexes, and spells. Some even used them as amulets in hopes of warding off the Evil Eye. These flowers are also called Lady’s Slipper, Venus’ Shoes and Adam’s Grass.
  • Coeloglossum viride – These orchids represent disgust and are even called Frog Orchid due to the shape of its flowers that resemble little frogs.

Uses of Orchid Flowers throughout History

Orchids have inspired many designers and fashion houses, making them the highlight of various collections, perfumes and cosmetics. Their sophistication and stylish look make them one of the most sought after flowers in a variety of contexts.

In Medicine

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In some parts of North America, the bulbs of the plant, especially the Bletia purpurea, are used as a treatment for fish poisoning. In Malaysia, some species of orchids serve as a poultice for treating skin boils, as well as a drink to boost one’s health after childbirth. In some regions, these plants are used as a diuretic or food supplement.

In Beauty

These sweet-smelling flowers are made into perfumes and cosmetics by different brands. For instance, the L’Occitane brand has featured the scent in their skincare products, from hand creams to soaps and lotions. Guerlain has its own orchidarium as well. Their Orchidée Impériale line was made from the bloom’s extract, since the ingredient is believed to repair the skin.

In Fashion

During the Spring Summer 2015 show in Paris, these blooms dominated the runway, when fashion house Dior decorated the walls with orchids. Fendi also featured its orchid-inspired collection, where floral prints adorned the handbags, dresses, and jackets.

In Gastronomy

Some varieties of orchid smell like chocolate, since vanilla beans come from them, especially the Vanilla planifolia. As you probably know, this ingredient is commonly used in beverages, ice cream, baked goods, custards and savory dishes.

In Turkey, the tubers of Orchis mascula are grounded into powder form and used in cooking. It’s the main ingredient of their popular frozen treat dondurma, as well as the salep drink. In Australia, some Aboriginals consume the potato-like tubers of Gastrodia sesamoides.

As a State and Territorial Flower

Do you know orchids are regarded as the city flower of Shaoxing in China? In some parts of the world, specific varieties of the flower are used as emblems, including the Papilionanthe Miss Joaquim as Singapore’s national flower, as well as the Prosthechea cochleata of Belize and the Peristeria elata of Panama.

The Orchid Flower in Use Today

If you live in a tropical region, these blooms will give a spectacular display in your garden and windows. Orchids are an ideal indoor-potted plant, so why not fill your home with them? Due to their curved stems, they can add texture and a cascading shape to any arrangement. They come in a variety of scents that can fill any room with vanilla and cinnamon fragrance.

In weddings, a lush posy filled with white orchids looks dreamy and romantic. Depending on your wedding theme, these flowers can add a modern touch to traditional decorations, and even make a dramatic centerpiece—think of colorful orchids submerged in glass bowls and vases.

When to Give Orchids

Orchids themselves make wonderful gifts, even for those who aren’t into gardening, as they can be easy to grow as houseplants. Since these blooms are associated with love and fertility, they’re a perfect wedding present as well. They’re even regarded as the 28th wedding anniversary flower.

Also, these blooms are a creative way to tell your family, friends and loved ones that you’re thinking of them. Just keep in mind that their symbolic meanings vary greatly, so make sure to choose the types that express your sentiments.

In Brief

Throughout history, orchids have gained significance across cultures due to their association with beauty, love and wisdom. You can create your own paradise in the comfort of your own home with their striking colors and exotic varieties!