Orchid Recovery Center

Resource on Conservation of Rare and Endangered Orchid Species

Orchid History

Calypso Orchid RareLong before anyone knew exactly what the orchid was, the flower was in high demand. In the 1800s, there was a good deal of attention placed on things exotic and different, and the then-unnamed orchid certainly fit that bill. It looked exotic, it came from exotic places, and it even tantalized people into going on elaborate orchid hunting trips. The orchid’s pull was definitely considerable, and this pull hasn’t changed in the many years since that time.

Orchid Collections in the 19th Century

The Victorian era in England had a number of quirks. It wasn’t unusual for people to build a collection of oddities. With the introduction of the orchid into English social circles, collectors gained another unusual commodity. Part of what made the orchid such a commodity is the uniqueness of the flower visually. While all flowers have petals, a stem and roots that connect them to their nutrient sources, the orchid is vastly different in shape and size from a rose

Not only were orchids something new, but they were also quite rare because many didn’t survive the trip back to England. Those that did survive were auctioned off at often obscenely high prices. This caused a great demand for the orchid flower.

Protect Natives
See Native Orchid Species for more information on why these flowers should stay where they are.
With a rapid spike in demand, more people chose to go looking for the orchid themselves. The term “orchid hunters” was coined for the men who traveled to exotic locations to find the beautiful seed-producing flower. These expeditions weren’t easy by any means. Orchid hunters faced fierce competition from rival hunters, and some even went as far as sabotaging orchids found by fellow hunters. Since orchids were found most often in lush, tropical locations, orchid hunters faced attacks from natives, as well as risked sickness and diseases in order to bring the flowers back to England.

As more common species of orchids were hunted and identified, many orchid enthusiasts turned their attentions to the rare forms of the flower. The Ghost Orchid became the focus for many hunters and this is one species of the flower that is still hunted today. The elusive Ghost Orchid was the focus of Susan Orlean’s 1998 non-fiction book the Orchid Thief.  The book is based on the  story or John Laroche and his arrest for poaching Ghost Orchids. Later the movie Adaptation written by Charlie Kaufman and directed by Spike Jones was created about the Orchid Thief.
Susan Orlean’s Take on Adaptation (Video)

Continuing the Orchid Frenzyrare peruvian orchids

Despite all the risks, the orchid hunt has continued throughout the years. Although more precautions are being taken to stave off disease and sickness, the orchid hunt still has a number of dangers. Instead of facing tigers or angry natives in search of rare and endangered orchids, today’s orchid hunters risk encroaching on the territory of drug smugglers or hunting in a country with an unstable government. FARC guerillas are known for taking hostages, and an orchid hunter is especially vulnerable to capture when they’re searching for the plants in the jungle.

Just a handful of people today choose to hunt orchids like they did in the Victorian era. These enthusiasts may be collectors, or simply people who choose to study the flowers for scientific purposes. By studying the orchid’s anatomy, botanists can see how the flower has evolved over time. Large quantities of the flower aren’t needed for studies like this, so hunting for scientific purposes is more accepted by orchid preservation groups than widespread harvesting.

For the people who do hunt orchids for sport, they can face fines or imprisonment. Often the punishment depends on the type of orchid they were caught poaching, as well as the amount they were found to have hunted.

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Despite this case being recent, most people aren’t collecting orchids because they’re an oddity or even because they’re rare. Instead the beauty of the flower has captivated many and made it a popular choice for a number of occasions in day-to-day life. Some of them include:

  • Prom:  An orchid corsage or boutonniere can be a unique addition to a dress or a tuxedo.
  • Weddings: Orchids are often the flower of choice because they add a colorful and exotic twist to a traditional ceremony.
  • Decorations: Orchids make wonderful decorations for the home because of their fragrance and tropical feel. Restaurants or businesses with an island theme might also choose to decorate with orchids.
  • Gifts: Sometimes orchid arrangements can even be thoughtful gifts as they’re a departure from traditional bouquets.
  • Natural Scents: The vanilla plant is one of the more common species in the orchid family. It’s a natural way to flavor foods, candles, or even give perfumes and air fresheners a pleasant scent. Thus many perfume companies are interested in both the orchid and the vanilla species.

As demand for orchids grow, there’s obviously a push for supply to meet the demand. In order to meet this demand, dedicated orchid farms can be established, where the flower is grown without worry about the dangers of orchid hunting. These orchid farms can also establish what percentage of the flower population can be harvested at what time, thus assuring the continued survival of the many orchid species.

Since many Victorian orchid hunters chose to document their expeditions, today’s orchid enthusiasts can read about their exploits without actually engaging in an orchid hunting expedition. Some places may even host orchid festivals, celebrating the beauty and versatility of the flower while educating new generations about its history. Many orchid festivals display the different species of orchids, including the rare forms like the Ghost Orchid. This makes it easier for people to enjoy their beauty without encouraging orchid hunting.

Calypso Orchid Hunt (Video)

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Orchid Recovery Center 2011