At least 35,000 orchid species now populate the planet—and orchidists believe that unknown species still await discovery. Orchids have adapted to live in all types of environments—mountains, bogs, grasslands and rainforests.
Botanists believe that orchids were first cultivated for their fragrance. Centuries ago elegantly potted cymbidium orchids were kept and treasured in China and Japan for their delightful, intoxicating sweet scent rather than for their delicate flowers or for their elegant, stately posture.
According to the website www.beautifulorchids.com: ‘ the orchid has been a symbol of love, luxury and beauty for centuries. To the early Greeks, the orchid represented virility, and in China, Confucius (551 BC – 479 ) called it “the plant of the king’s fragrance.” During the Middle Ages, the orchid was considered an aphrodisiac and was used in love potions.
Serious orchid collecting began in the 18th century, but because of their rarity at the time, only a few botanists and wealthy amateurs could enjoy them. In 1818, William Cattley became the first person to bloom an orchid, an event that changed the flower world forever. Orchid hunters stripped forests of millions of orchids, putting many on endangered species lists. A single orchid sold for thousands of dollars. This practice has since been banned, and species are now bred and cultivated specifically for sales.’
In classical Chinese ink and wash paintings monumental stylized landscapes of mountains and rivers were rendered in vivid brush strokes and with varying degrees of intensity. These paintings express the artist’s own emotions and individual concepts of the natural world.
During China’s Song dynasty ( 960-1279 ) flower and bird paintings became a separate genre of painting. Many artists perfected their subject matter which included a rich variety of flowers, fruits, insects and fish. Favorite images included bamboo, chrysanthemums, orchids, pine, and plum blossoms .
Together with bamboo, chrysanthemums and plum blossoms, the orchid is known as one of the ‘four gentlemen’ because these plants represent admirable virtues of loftiness, righteousness, modesty and purity.
The verse on the back of my cup has been translated for me as such:
orchids blowing yield their ancient fragrance daily
For detailed information on the history of Chinese 12 Flowers of the Months tea cups, please read my post from January 1st, 2010.