BLUE ORCHIDS: THE WILD, THE CULTIVATED, AND THE DYED

Blue Orchid

Thelymitra pauciflora (Image: Melburnian)

Orchids have always been venerated, the first time publicly in the 6th century B.C., when Chinese philosopher Confucius described their fragrance and beauty with the character ‘lan’, which also stands for grace, love, purity, elegance and beauty. Their range of shapes and colors is equal to none in the floral world, including all colors except black. Few orchids are blue.

Real blue is hard to come by anywhere in the floral world, as opposed to purple and pink. One of different explanations for this phenomenon is that only colors which are reflected by an object are visible to the human eye. Blue light supplies plants with more energy than any other color, so plants will absorb rather than reflect it.

Orchids are native to all continents but Antarctica, and most ecosystems, apart from the desert. While blue orchids do exist in the wild, mostly in the tropical rain forests of Southeast Asia and South America, they have always been rare and sought-after. Deforestation and agriculture have been destroying their natural habitat. Poaching has been decimating specimen numbers for centuries, making them even more exclusive.

Among the best-known wild blue orchid varieties are:

Acacallis cyanea (native to Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela),

Cattleya (Costa Rica, South America),

Dendrobium (Philippines, India, Australia),

Thelymitra pauciflora ( Australia) and

Vanda coerulea (Southeast Asia and Australia).

Thanks to hybridization, where new orchid species are being created in a nursery environment, blue orchids are more accessible to the home gardener, and poaching has become less lucrative. The great blue orchid hybrid family includes cultivated varieties of wild blue orchids as well as orchid species that nature does not normally offer in blue.

Then there are the much-discussed dyed blue orchids, where white orchids have been infused with blue dye so they can produce blue flowers. Best known are Dendrobium, Cymbidium, the Blue Mystic and (award-winning) Royal Blue Phalaenopsis. In potted plants, new buds may display a less intense color, and future blooms will be white. As a cut flower, blue cymbidiums make a striking addition to wedding bouquets.

Blue is documented to be most people’s favorite color, and is especially popular among men. With little floral variety in blue, a single blue orchid stem, either cut or potted, makes a powerful and very zen color statement in even the most masculine environment.