The Orchid Across Cultures
Orchids can grow on barren rock and the bark of trees, but they have also taken root in the fertile soil of the human imagination. From the ancient Greeks to Oscar Wilde they have appeared in myths and stories. They are one of the four noble flowers in Chinese culture. In mediaeval Europe legend has it that orchids sprang from the ground wherever animals mated.
In Greek legend, Orchis was the beautiful, swaggering son of a nymph and a satyr. He lived the high life until earning the displeasure of the gods for trying to seduce a priestess during a feast of celebration. As punishment they had him torn to pieces by wild animals. But once dead they felt pity for him and in honour of his youth and beauty his body was turned into a beautiful, but modest and slender, orchid.
In India in the 1800's a nutritious drink made from the roots of several orchid species was produced and known by the name of Salep or Saloop.
Orchids are one of the four noble flowers of Chinese tradition and the flowers’ moral symbolism was first described by the great Chinese philosopher and scholar Confucius. He believed the beauty and fragrance of orchids reflected nobleness of the intellect and spirit. He was the first person to write about the character of orchids. “The orchids grow in the woods and they let out their fragrance even if there is no one around to appreciate it. Likewise, men of noble character will not let poverty deter their will to be guided by high principles and morals.”
Venus was the Roman goddess of love. One day while out with her lover Adonis they were caught in a storm. Sheltering from the thunder and lightning in the arms of her lover one of Venus’ gold slippers fell from her foot. A peasant later spotted it, but as he bent to pick it up he was astonished to find it magically transformed into flower. On inspection the central petal looked like a slipper, complete with gold markings. Hence, the Venus slipper orchid.