A Brief history of Orchids in Asia

Contrary to the popular belief that the initial interests in orchids originated in Europe, there are early documentations which reflected that the study and the cultivation of these plants began in China. It is reputed that Yan Emperor (炎帝) who is also known 神农 has first described Bletilla hyacinthina and a dendrobium in Materia Medica 本草經, a work which supposed to be the first to advise on the use of plants and animal for human usage.

In fact in Confucius’ day, the orchids were associated with people of high social standing. According to one Confucian saying, “The association with a superior person is like entering a cultivated orchid house filled with its fragrant, with bad people it is like going into a fish market and getting used to the stench and after sometimes. You don’t notice it.” 『跟好人在一起,像走入種植蘭花的花房一樣,久了就感覺不到香氣;與不好的人相處,就像跑到魚市場一樣,久了也就感覺不到腥臭。』

The earliest Chinese manuscript given entirely to botany, 『南方草木狀』 (Nan Fang Cao Mu Chuang) supposingly written by 嵇含 (Ki Han), he had included both Cymbidium ensiflolium and Dendrobium monoliforme as herbs in his manuscript.

Orchids had gain popularity as a subject matter for Chinese painters by the end of Yuan Dynasty (1279 -1368), particularly with the Genus Cymbidium.

The growing of orchids is also known as an ancient practice in Japan. Samurai warriors grew Neofinetia falcata(風蘭) which is associated with the status of wealth and nobility. Many of the feudal lords were attached to these plants. It was rumored that they carried their plants with them on journeys.

Friends of the imperial aristocracy of Kyoto grew Dendrobium moniliforme, called sekkoku in Japanese, which means orchid that makes men live a long life.

H. A. Rheede tot Draakenstein (1636-1691), Dutch governor of Malabar in Southern India was the first to write of the abundance of native orchids in tropical Asia. His Hortus Indicus Malabaricus, published after his death has six species under their vernacular names. Rhynchostylis retusa( Angeli-Maravara, Biti-Maram-Maravar), Vanda spathulata (Ponnampou- Maravara), Acampe wightiana (Thalia- Maravara), Sarcanthus peninsularis (Tsjerou-Mau-Maravara, Kolli Tsjerou- Mau-Maravara), Dendrobium ovatum (Anantali- Maravara), Cymbidium aloifolium (Kans jiram-Maravara).

German physician, Engelbert Kaempfer, an employee of the Dutch East India Company in Indonesia, provided the earliest recorded notes on orchids in Indonesia from 1690-1692, he published notes and drawings on Javanese orchids in 1712 which included Arachnis flos-aeris and Dendrobium moniliforme.

Around that period, another Dutchman – Georgius Everhardus Rumphius – spent years collecting, identifying, describing and illustrating the indigenous flora of Ambon (Maluku). He was the first to find and describe phalaenopsis , the name assigned then was Angracum album majus. The plant remained relatively unknown until 1825 when the dutch botanist Carl Ludwig Blume, re-discover of this species , known thereafter as Phalaenopsis amabilis. Blume was the assistant Director of the Buitenzorg (Bogor) Botanic Garden 1822-26 focused on methods of orchid classification. Rumphius have recorded six vanda species known today as vanda helvola, Vanda insignis, Vanda concolor, Vanda furva(now considered as a synonym of Vanda concolor), Vanda limbata and Vanda tricolor.

In the 1800s to early 1900s , orchid culture enjoyed it s biggest “boom” in the British empire, other countries like the United States, Germany were also caught in this trend. Commercial orchid collectors aka orchid hunters were sent out in droves. Thousands of orchids were shipped from tropical countries to fuel this fever.

As time passes, with rapid new developments and cultural advances , seeing the need to forge a stronger ties between growers all over the world, the First world orchid conference is burned and is first hosted in St Louis in October 1954.

The 4th World orchid Conference (WOC) chaired in Singapore by the Malayan orchid Society (Orchid Society of South East Asia) is the first WOC hosted in Asia, attracted hundreds of orchid enthusiasts all over the world to Singapore . The 20th WOC would be again be held in Singapore from 14th to 23rd of Nov 2011 at the Marina Bay area in Singapore.

1. Meele A. Reinikka, 1972, A History of the Orchid
2. Vandas- Their Botany, History and culture
3. http://www.answers.com/topic/shen-nung
4. http://faculty.ndhu.edu.tw/~lulu9811/info/info_south.htm
5. http://www.20woc.com.sg/site/


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