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Nineteenth-Century Orchidmania

Certain plants just have a bigger following than others.

Perhpas it’s shape, color, blossom time or all three of these features that make us seek out and cultivate a particular flower.

In the history of gardening the orchid has maintained a special place, especially because of the many people who have called themselves orchid collectors.

In his book Garden Flora Noel Kingsbury says that with between 22,000 and 26,000 species, divided among 800 genera, the Orchidaceae is arguably the largest flowering plant family.

In the nineteenth century interest in orchids spread from England throughout Western Europe.

It was a time when plant hunters traveled the world to find plants for Kew Garden, Britain’s treasured garden for all the world to see how current the English were with the newest plant on display.

The orchid became symbolic of how successful the English had become. They introduced the garden world to the beautiful orchid with its many colors. [below]

Some Orchid Plants – Cattleya, Oncidium, Dendrobium, Vanda, Phalaenopsis, and Cymbidium [Courtesy of Etsy]

Kingsbury says “the craze for them [the orchids] established them as plants for a wealthy and decadent elite.

“Obsession led to some good ‘gentleman science, ‘ with serious collectors sponsoring the study and classification of orchids, a great many publications, and conferences, the first held in London in 1885.”

By the 1880s, Kingsbury writes, orchid mania had spread from England to France, Germany, Belgium, and even the United States.

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