Blue Orchid

Ophrys Speculum (Image: Hans Hillewaert)

Truly blue flowers are less frequent than those in other primary colors. When inventing blue orchids, nature created even less variety. Why is that?

The color of a flower or plant depends on heredity, environmental factors, and color perception.

Coloring is mostly predetermined on a cellular level. A plant’s potential genetic color palette consists of only four pigments:

  • Chlorophyll (green) creates the coloring of leaves and stems and is present in all plants.
  • Flavones (pale yellow; colors invisible to human eye) can be found in roses.
  • Carotenes (yellow; orange) ensure the coloring of sunflowers and marigolds.
  • Anthocyanidins (red; blue; purple) give geraniums, day lilies, violas, delphiniums and blue orchids their color. The bluest blue is created by delphinidin which does not exist in orchids. Blue pigmentation is rare in other flowers as well. Most blue flowers are closer to purple and lilac than they are to true blue.

Several pigments may be present within the same plant, creating unique shades of color.

The flowers of blue orchids from the same species may come in many different shades. A blue Cattleya could be lilac, rose blue, blue-lavender, lavender-blue, blue-violet, blue-purple or indigo blue – and anything in between!

Soil acidity and light exposure play a part in manifesting the blue color that has been genetically enabled. Blue orchids either grow on the ground (terrestrial), high up on trees (epiphytes) or on rocks or tree bases respectively (lithophytes).

According to orchid expert Robert J. Griesbach, PhD, ‘…the blue color in many orchid flowers is known to be associated with an alkaline floral pH. Research on some blue orchid forms has shown that blue color increases as the floral pH becomes more alkaline.’  A pH of 7 and higher is alkaline.

Depending on how much light and shade an orchid receives, coloring of its blooms may vary. Blue Vanda orchids, for example, originally are epiphytes, sometimes lithophytes, hence receive light that has – at least partly – been filtered through foliage. Exposing them to full sun light will produce purple-hued flowers rather than blue ones.

Hereditary blue color pigmentation being expressed with the help of ideal soil and light conditions, blue color is visible only when reflected by light. To identify a blue orchid as blue, the eye seeing it must be able to perceive its blue color. While the female human eye is capable of discerning a wider range of blues than that of a man, insects can see color pigments that are invisible to humans. Hence only beetles, bees and butterflies might know which white orchids are in reality blue.


Blue Orchid

Thelymitra macrophylla (Image: Arthur Chapman)

Orchids in general stand for beauty, charm, elegance, strength and peace.

In ancient Greece, they symbolized virility, fertility and sexuality: The word ‘orchid’ is derived from the Greek word ‘orchis’ (testicles) of which the plant’s roots are reminiscent. To influence a baby’s gender, either the father (to conceive a boy) or mother (to have a baby girl) would consume orchid root.

The Chinese also associate orchids with fertility, and with refinement, thoughtfulness and the innocence of children. Orchids’ curative powers are used to treat cough and respiratory problems.

In Mexico, already the Aztecs consumed vanilla orchid-chocolate drinks for strength and power.

In Victorian England, where great numbers of orchids were shipped from exotic, faraway lands (most of them not surviving the voyage), they were associated with luxury, which they were – accessible only to a small, wealthy elite. The sensual meaning had been omitted as it did not conform to moral standards.

Historically, orchids in general and blue ones in particular also stand for rarity and collector’s greed.

Today, orchids represent an important economical factor for producer countries, such as Taiwan, Thailand, Brazil and the Netherlands.

Blue is the color that is easiest to perceive in the dark. When placed beside other colors, it recedes and gives the impression of depth. This quality also makes small spaces appear larger when painted or decorated in blue.

Male and female eyes see blue color pigments differently: Men concentrate on major categories, such as dark blue or light blue. Women differentiate detail, i.e. royal blue, indigo blue, purple blue…

Dark shades of blue stand for confidence, masculinity and corporate strength. Lighter blues are perceived as more feminine.

Blue has a calming, cooling, relaxing effect, to the point of promoting rest, lowering tension and anxiety. The peaceful calm of spirituality and meditation is equally associated with the color blue.

Bringing together the symbolism of blue color and orchids, the meaning of blue orchids would be rare, refreshing beauty of great value; profound, luxurious strength; dark blue testosterone and charming fertile calmness – yin and yang.

This is how 1930/40s swing-era jazz legend Glenn Miller summed up the meaning of blue orchid flowers:

Glenn Miller - Blue Orchids lyrics

Blue Orchids
Glenn Miller
- words and music by Hoagy Carmichael

I dreamed of two blue orchids
Two beautiful blue orchids
One night while in my lonely room
I dreamed of two blue orchids
So full of love and light
That I wanted to possess each tender bloom
Then my dream took wings
And through a thousand springs
Blue orchids seemed in a world apart
But when I met you
Something pale and blue
Came stealing from the meadows of my heart
I saw my two blue orchids
My beautiful blue orchids
Last night and what a sweet surprise
When you looked at me
It was plain to see
Blue orchids only bloom in your eyes.

Lyrics provided by:


Blue Orchid

Blue Phalaenopsis Orchid

Since their introduction in early 2011, electric-blue phalaenopsis orchids have stopped in their tracks even those who would normally walk right past their super market’s or gardening center’s orchid display. Pros and cons have been enflaming retail customers, orchid experts and the flower industry ever since. Phalaenopsis, or simply ‘phal’, are the most widely available potted orchids, and hybridization has made their care easy and straightforward, even for beginners.

The purple-colored phalaenopsis violacea is native to Malaysia and Indonesia. Its hybrids are different shades of purple, rather than blue, as well.

Florida-based Silver Vase Nursery presented its Blue Mystique at the Tropical Plant Industry Exhibition (TPIE) in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, in January.  In May 2011, Dutch Geest Orchideen received the Flora Holland Award 2011 in the Concepts Category, for their Royal Blue phalaenopsis and its shade of blue which the jury considered to be delightful.

During the growth process, the stalk of a white phalaenopsis orchid is injected with a blue dye solution. The intervention is performed in an environment that keeps the infection risk for the plant at a minimum. The blue color is absorbed by the orchid and creates a blue flower.

Subsequent flowerings will result in white blooms. The dye is not available to the public, nor are the exact steps of the procedure. Do-it-yourself dyeing is not encouraged, and at every home gardener’s own risk.

What has been upsetting Blue Mystique and Royal Blue Phal customers is that they believed to be buying a real blue orchid.  In response to controversy that has been picked up by the media, growers now use product labels to inform buyers that a white orchid has been treated in order to produce those magnificent blue flowers, and that future blooms will be white.

This simple gesture allows prospective customers to make informed blue orchid decisions. This is especially meaningful when evaluating the price of white versus blue phalaenopsis. While some may love the electric blue color just as much, others will plan to sell the orchid on Ebay once it returns to its true white nature. Others still might consider purchasing a real blue orchid from a specialty grower or decide on a bouquet of blue dendrobium instead.


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.