April 2nd, 2018
Here in Snowdonia we are lucky to have a whole range of wonderful flora and fauna, including some very rare wild orchids. But did you know that there’s more to the beautiful orchids than meets the eye?
Mysterious, beautiful orchids are one of the world’s most adored flowers. There are over 35,000 different species and hybrids worldwide, and these pretty flowers come in a huge variety of slightly differing shapes, sizes and colours.
They are adored because of their simple beauty, and their connotations of wealth and exotic luxury. The delicate, pastel coloured petals that wrap around the striking stigma and petal lip that is usually a deep, rich pink, red or orange colour are instantly recognisable.
Although orchids have been cultivated in the tropics for centuries, they were introduced to Europe about 300 years ago. They were sent home from missionaries or explorers who were abroad, and were also brought in by returning cargo vessels docking in British ports – sailors often made extra money by bringing home exotic flowers and plants to sell.
It was only wealthy businessmen and aristocracy that could afford to purchase these exotic flowers, as well as provide the environment needed to cultivate them. One of the largest collections of live orchids during this period was at Chatsworth House in Derbyshire, where the Duke of Devonshire employed gardeners and horticulturists specifically to tend to his orchid collection, and to find new and exciting species.
As well as being grown for their beauty, elegance and grace, orchids are used for their flavouring – the vanilla orchid is grown commercially and widely used as a sweet flavouring. The roots of some orchids are also ground and used in the cooking of some Turkish and Arabic dishes, and the delicate fragrance of orchids is highly prized, and often copied by perfumers.
Orchids are also steeped in mystery and legend, and have inspired and fascinated us throughout history. The ancient Greeks gave the orchid its name because of its shape – “orkhis” literally means testicle, thanks to the bulbous look of the roots. So, the flowers began to be associated with fertility, virility and erotica.
The Greeks even believed that eating the roots of orchid plants could control the sex of unborn babies. For a baby boy, the father should eat large and new roots, and for a girl, the mother should eat smaller roots. Orchids have also been used as a cure for arthritis, dysentery, fever, cholera and headaches, as well as being used for religious and scientific symbols across the world.
Look out for some of these wonderful flowers whilst you’re out and about exploring beautiful Snowdonia.