Victorians Suffered Orchid Mania

Victorians suffered orchid mania

You have heard about tulip mania in the seventeenth century and perhaps even dahlia mania in the early nineteenth century.

In 1894 the London magazine Chambers’s Journal of Popular Literature, Science, and Art published an article entitled “The Romance of Orchid Collecting” about the sickness called orchid mania in late Victorian England.

Collectors were going crazy over the newest and latest orchids, in spite of the many dangers involved in hunting for orchids.

Earlier in the century Charles Darwin had done research on orchids. Historian James T. Costa mentions the mania in his book Darwin’s Backyard: How Small Experiments Led to a Big Theory. He writes, “Victorian orchid collectors suffered this form of madness.”

The Chambers’s article discussed the trials, tribulations, murder and mayhem that resulted from the hunt for orchids.

“A plant no bigger than a tulip bulb has been sold for many times its weight in gold.”

That someone could become so obsessed with a particular plant is probably not surprising if you consider plant collecting as both a hobby and current fashion.

Darwin, however, was interested in orchids because they cross pollinated.

His interest was scientific.

In the course of Darwin’s investigation into flower structure and pollination, he started a line of orchid research in the 1840s.

Costa does not, however, make any mention of Darwin suffering from orchid mania, probably because that ‘illness’ came later in the century.

Darwin, too, was more interested in plant experiments than plant collecting.

And so, you might say, the orchid mania bug never bit him.

Photo from my Florida trip. You can see orchids on this tree in the front yard. [Thanks to FNGLA garden tour.]
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  1. Sylvia Josh says

    I am attempting to restore gardens surrounding a historic 1903 Georgian house. In Rochester NY. The house was designed by the same architect that designed the George Eastman House and was built by George Eastman’s lawyer. I have original architectural garden drawings with plant lists, however I have not yet been able to study them as they are too fragile. I would like to immerse myself in garden styles of the time in order to have a better feel for how the gardens might look. Can you recommend books or sources for information? Thank you for any help you can provide.

    • Hello Sylvia, thank your for connecting through the website.
      I love Rochester.
      I would recommend Denise Wiles Adams’ books, especially Restoring American Gardens, 1640-1940. She also has a newer book on period landscape design which would also help you. Her work is what you need.
      My new book All about Flowers: James Vick’s Nineteenth Century Seed Company (due out late Fall) has the Rochester setting since Vick’s business was there, as you probably know. He lived not too far from what is now the Eastman mansion on East Avenue.
      Best.
      Stay healthy.

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