Existing in a rainbow of colours, cymbidium orchids are the world’s oldest cultivated orchid. The spectacular flower is a welcome and colourful sight blooming in the months of winter. Their toleration to cold is because the ancestors of today’s cymbidiums originated from the forests of the Himalayan mountains at a height of between 1200 and 2800 metres.
Cymbidium orchids can be found in a wide range of colours and patterns from neutral hues of white, cream and lemon; to vibrant green, yellow and orange; and a multitude of varying pinks, reds and burgundy tones. In fact, they can be found in every colour but blue! The flowers boast a large flower blossoming to up to 10cm wide and consisting of five waxy petals surrounding coloured inner sepals.
History of cymbidium orchids
Also known as boat orchids, the name cymbidium comes from the word ‘cymba’ which is the Latin word for ‘boat’ and refers to the flower’s boat-like shape. Orchids get their name from the Greek word ‘orchis’ which translates as ‘testicle’ and refers to the appearance of the subterranean tubers of some species. It therefore makes sense that orchids are associated with sexuality throughout different cultures of the world and also mean love, beauty, and refinement. Cymbidium orchids are symbolic of virtue, purity, and morality, and receiving a gift of them is considered a sign of respect in Asia.
Cymbidium orchids were first praised in writing for their beauty and fragrance some 2500 years ago by the Chinese philosopher Confucius. They are thought to have healing properties which protect the immune system and fight disease, and are used in perfumes, cosmetics and as herbal tea in Chinese medicine. The juice from the leaves and powder from the seeds are also used in Ayurvedic medicine which is a traditional system of Indian medicine widely practiced in parts of Asia.
Cymbidium orchids were one of the most popular flowers during the Victorian era and were coveted by the upper class to decorate parlours and palaces. Collecting of rare and unusual orchid species was an obsession known as orchidelerium, and the popular hobby caused enormous environmental damage. Nowadays, all orchid species are considered potentially threatened or endangered in their natural habitat and are a protected under the CITES agreement.
How to care for cymbidium orchids
Cut cymbidium orchids are sold as single stems with several flowers per stem and are available in standard and miniature varieties. Look for stems where the upper orchid flowers are closed or partially closed. Choose stems with vibrant waxy flowers and avoid stems with dry or translucent flowers. Cut approximately 2cm off the ends of the stems on an angle and immediately plunge into a vase of cool water that is tall enough to support the stem. Recut the stems and change the water every two days. Trim off the lower orchid flowers from the stem as they die and continue to enjoy the upper flowers as they blossom. Orchids are very sensitive to ethylene and should be kept away from fruit, car exhausts and cigarette smoke.
How to style cymbidium orchids
Cymbidium orchid flowers are wonderfully long lasting. For a low maintenance arrangement, style a selection of stems of cymbidium orchids in varying and interesting vases dependent on their size and height. We also like to trim the flowers off the stems, place them in water-filled vials on stakes, and display them in posy-style bouquets and vase arrangements. Cymbidium orchids make fantastic pot plants with blooms lasting for months at a time. Stake the tall flowers with interesting sticks or branches and display in your favourite pot. With a colour to suit every home, cut or potted cymbidium orchids are the perfect gift for any occasion.
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