Orchid Meanings, Symbolism & Mythology + Orchid Uses

Wild Orchids

Orchid meanings and symbolism include beauty, elegance, love, sexuality and fertility, luxury and wealth, and uniqueness. With their symmetrical blossoms and unmatched beauty, orchids evoke fascination and adoration by people of all walks of life. There are over 26,000 species of orchids (Orchidaceae) and they grow all over the world except in Antarctica. So, these gorgeous flowers have cultural and symbolic meaning to many.

In this post, you will find detailed information about orchid meanings (including spiritual meanings), symbolism, mythology, and folklore, as well as orchid uses and conservation.

Bee Orchid
Bee orchid (Ophrys apifera). Photo: Bildagentur Zoonar.

What do orchids symbolize?

  • Beauty
  • Elegance
  • Love
  • Sexuality, Virility, and Fertility
  • Luxury and Wealth
  • Uniqueness

Etymology of the Name Orchid

Before we go into more details on orchid meanings and symbolism, you might be interested in the origination of their name.

Orchids are ancient flowers. Paleontologists estimate they’re about 200 million years old. And they believe they originated somewhere on the Equator. However, today they’re considered native to the Himalayas, the Philippines, other parts of Asia, and Australia. Yet, the name “orchid” is derived from the Greek language – specifically the word orchis, which translates to “testicle” in English.

Legend has it that the renowned Greek botanist and student of Aristotle, Theophrastus thought the exquisite flower’s stem and tuber bore a striking resemblance to male genitalia. And the rest is history.

Detailed Orchid Flower Meanings

Here are some details on commonly shared orchid meanings and symbols:

Beauty

Orchids and Hummingbird
“Orchids and Hummingbird” by Martin Johnson Heade (1819–1904). Source: Museum of Fine Arts Boston.

Orchid blooms have bilateral symmetry, which is similar to human faces. In fact, some experts theorize that this is one of the reasons we like them so much: They remind of us ourselves.

Of course, some would argue that orchids are more beautiful than plenty of creatures that also happen to have bilateral symmetry. Indeed, the unique beauty of orchids is in a class all its own. Certainly, there are some who believe that orchids must be divinely created. In fact, famous artists, such as Georgia O’Keefe and Martin Johnson Heade, spent unknown hours studying them and marveling at the intricate detail of their blossoms and their ornamental leaves.

As a symbol of beauty, the orchid inspires us to pause and reflect on the exquisite artistry of nature. Just like taking the time to “smell the roses,” the orchid reminds us to cherish every instance of beauty. As the saying goes, “At every moment, something sacred is at stake.”

Elegance

In addition to being symbols of beauty, orchids are also signs of elegance. The sunflower and the daisy may be considered the friendliest of flowers. However, the orchid takes the prize when it comes to exotic elegance. In fact, orchids are the flowers that home stagers love to add to décor like putting a ribbon on a gift.

As symbols of elegance, the orchid inspires us to appreciate the finer things in life – and to put in that extra effort to make things sparkle.

Love

With the right conditions and care, orchids can bloom for an extended period of time – sometimes months. In this way, they are like romantic relationships. With proper care and attention, they have the best hopes of fulfilling their potential.

Because of these qualities and their unrivalled beauty, orchids are symbols of love. In fact, the genus of orchids called Paphiopedilum gets its name from the city of Paphos, which is located in Cyprus. According to Greek mythology, Aphrodite, the goddess of love, landed in Paphos when she was born. Another name for Paphiopedilu orchids is the Venus slipper.

Sexuality, Virility, and Fertility

Cooktown orchid
Cooktown orchid (Dendrobium bigibbum). Photo: Nick Greaves.

Throughout history and in many different cultures, orchids have been viewed as symbols of sexuality, fertility, and virility. To begin, some say they resemble male or female sexual organs. To others, they simply look erotic. But beyond their appearance, orchids are said to have aphrodisiacal qualities. The ancient Greeks, Chinese, Europeans, and Aztecs all used orchids in love potions.

Luxury and Wealth

In Japanese and other cultures, orchids symbolize wealth and prosperity, and with that – luxury. With their intricately refined designs, orchids look like they were created by a master. Unlike the daisy, which is a flower that feels accessible to all (and is, not to mention, easy to draw), the orchid represents those things in life that don’t come around easily or often. Yet, some believe that meditating on the orchid can help you to manifest more wealth and luxury in your life.

Uniqueness

Instantly recognizable, orchids are singularly beautiful. Unlike the rose, with its classic beauty, the orchid is exotically unique. They inspire us to appreciate the power of individuality and the beauty in diversity.

Orchid Color Meanings

Orchids come in a rainbow of hues and color combinations. Of course, color meanings are subjective and a matter of personal taste. However, for those who plan on giving orchids as a gift or adorning their homes with them, understanding some of the color meanings can be fun and helpful. After all, there are so many exquisite options that it can be hard to choose. So, here are some color meanings applied to the more dominant colors in different kinds of orchids.

White Orchid Meaning

White Orchids
Dendrobium orchid (Dendrobium christyanum).

White orchids symbolize purity, innocence, elegance, and faith. They can also symbolize new beginnings. Thus, they make lovely housewarming, bridal, and baby shower or baptism gifts.

Pink Orchid Meaning

Pink orchid meanings include love, such as platonic love, fertility, gentleness, and grace. They make lovely gifts for expectant mothers, girls, female relatives and friends, and men and boys who enjoy the color pink.

Hot pink orchids convey many of the same meanings as lighter pink orchids. However, they can also signify romantic love. They are perfect for occasions such as bridal showers, bachelorette parties, romantic dates, and other fun occasions. In addition, bright pink orchids make lovely gifts for the people in your life who have vibrant personalities.

Red Orchid Meaning

Red Orchids

Orchids also come in red tones, from fire red to scarlet to maroon The color red is a power color. Thus, red orchid meanings include passionate and romantic love as well as primal energy. Red orchids can also symbolize wealth and prosperity.

Orange Orchid Meaning

Orchids come in a range of orange hues, from lava colored to yellow-orange. Orange orchid meanings include pride, boldness, enthusiasm, and vitality. Thus, orange orchids are ideal gifts for people (or yourself) when they need confidence in a new venture or experience. In addition, orange orchids make heartwarming gifts for people who want to bring more health and well-being into their lives.

Yellow Orchid Meaning

Yellow Orchid

Yellow orchid meanings include positivity, warmth, sunshine, friendship, and prosperity. Ranging in hues from buttery yellow to yellow-orange, the joyful orchids can lift anyone’s spirits. They make lovely house warming gifts and the perfect way to bring more cheer into a space.

Green Orchid Meaning

Green Orchids

Green orchids come in limey green hues. Among the rarest types of orchids, green orchids symbolize new beginnings, fertility, and renewal as well as heartfelt emotions and trust. They can also symbolize longevity and wealth.

Blue Orchid Meaning

While there are some blue orchids that are actually white orchids that have been dyed, there are a few types of natural orchids that come in blue and violet hues.

Blue orchid meanings include honor, trust, loyalty, and spiritual awareness. So, they make lovely gifts for close friends, colleagues, and other people whom you trust and respect. In addition, if someone in your life is working on expanding their spiritual awareness, the gift of a blue orchid fits the bill.

Purple Orchid Meaning

Purple Orchid

Orchids also come in a stunning array of purples, from lavender to violet to royal purple.

Purple orchids meanings include royalty, luxury, confidence, peace, and spiritual enlightenment. As purple blends the warm color of red with the cool color of blue, orchids that are purple make wonderful peace-offering and forgiveness gifts. They’re also suitable for a range of other occasions, from birthdays to thank you gifts to graduations and more.

Black Orchid Meaning

Black Orchids

There are a few species of orchids that are so dark they appear to be black. These naturally-occurring orchids are generally red or purple orchids that simply have so much pigmentation that they appear to be black. (Florists may also die orchids to artificially make them look black.)

Black orchids make lovely gifts for people who are trendsetters, fiercely independent, or born rebels. They are also appreciated by people who love black and white décor or who simply love elegant surroundings.

Orchid Spiritual Meaning

Orchid Spiritual Meanings
“Orchid and Hummingbird near a Mountain Waterfall” by Martin Johnson Heade. Ca. 1902. Source: Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, Madrid.

On a spiritual level, the uniqueness of the orchid symbolizes the divinity in diversity. Regardless of our socio-economic status, ethnicity, physical or intellectual ability, or other qualities, the uniqueness of the orchid symbolizes the capacity for every one of us to achieve spiritual enlightenment, or union with God or source.

While orchids are not mentioned specifically in the Bible, for some Christians, orchids that have red spots represent the blood of Christ, and therefore his sacrifice for their enlightenment. For some Buddhists, caring for orchids is a practice in mindfulness and patience. In addition, for many spiritual people, the beauty of the orchid is a symbol of God’s intelligent design.

Associated Animal Symbols

Befitting their meaning as a symbol of uniqueness, some orchid species have exclusive relationships with specific pollinators. In this way, they allow for focused pollination to extend the life of their own species. For example, the bee orchid (Ophrys apifera) has flowers that resembles a female Eucera bee. In addition, slug, snails, rats, and mice are all known to eat orchids and their tubers.

In addition to the biological synergies that orchids have with certain insects and animals, they also share meanings and symbolism with certain spirit animals. For example, like the orchid, the giraffe, the leopard, and the jaguar spirit animals are all symbols of uniqueness.

In addition, the orchid shares symbolism with the flamingo and hummingbird as all are symbols of beauty.

Orchid in Mythology and Folklore

Orchid Mythology and Folklore

Because orchids have inhabited the Earth for 200 million years, as long as humans have been here, there have been orchids. As a result, these exotic flowers appear in the mythology and folklore of a number of cultures. Here are some of those stories:

Orchid Meaning in Ancient Greece

The Greeks loved orchids, which they viewed as symbols of love, sexuality, virility, and fertility. To begin, they associated Aphrodite, their goddess of love, with the orchid. And, as mentioned earlier, there is a genus of orchids called Paphiopedilum, which are named for the city of Paphos, Aphrodite’s birthplace.

Orchis

In one Greek myth, a character named Orchis was the son of a satyr and a nymph. While partying one evening during a feast to honor Bacchus, Orchis, having drunk a little too much wine, tried to force himself on a priestess.

The normally jovial Bacchus was not pleased with this behavior. So, so he had Orchis ripped to shreds by wild beasts, and his pieces thrown far and wide. Yet, wherever those pieces landed, an orchid flower grew. (In other versions of the story, Bacchus simply turned Orchis into a flower.)

The Orchid Aphrodisiac

The 1st century physician Dioscorides theorized that orchids had aphrodisiacal qualities, including making men more virile. Indeed, Greek parents believed that if would-be fathers ate large new orchid tubers, they would have a male child. And if mothers-to-be ate small ones, they would have a girl. (No one knows for sure what would have happened if the two parents did this simultaneously…)

Orchids in China

The Chinese have cultivated orchids for centuries and used them for medicinal purposes. However, they also appreciated them for their beauty. In the 6th century BC, Confucius referred to them as the “King of Fragrant Plants.”

Orchid meanings in China include elegance, fertility, perfection, relaxation, and majesty.

Japan

In Japan, orchids symbolize bravery, luxury, prosperity, and fertility. According to Japanese legends, Samurai warriors would travel far and wide in search of wild orchids to bring back to court as gifts. Hence, the flower’s association with bravery. In addition, orchids were exotic flowers in ancient Japan. Thus they were associated with wealth and exotic beauty.

Orchids in Aztec and Totonac Cultural Mythology

Vanilla Orchid
Vanilla orchid (Vanilla aphylla).

Few people realize that the flavor vanilla and vanilla beans are derived from a species of orchid. Anthropologists believe the first people to cultivate orchids for their vanilla flavor were the Totonacs, who lived on the east coast of Mexico. By the 15th century, however, the Aztecs had conquered the Totonacs, and with that, their vanilla recipes. Then, the Spanish came along and they too learned about vanilla through conquest.

For the Totonacs and the Aztecs, orchids were sacred plants. Like the Greeks, they viewed them as symbols of beauty, fertility, and virility.

The Totonacs had a legend about how the vanilla orchid came to be:

Legend of the Vanilla Orchid Princess

The Totonac King Teniztli III had a beautiful daughter with one of his wives. Princess Tzacopontziza, whose name meant Morning Star, was so beautiful that her parents decided she was too good for any mortal man. So, they committed her to be a maiden serving the goddess Tonoacayohua, who ruled plants and food.

One day, while Morning Star was carrying offerings to the goddess’ temple, the young warrior prince, Zkatan-Oxga, whose name meant Young Deer, saw her and fell madly in love with her. When Morning Star saw Young Deer, she fell under his spell.

The two decided they would run away together, but as they did, they were stopped by a fire-breathing monster. Then, the priests of Tonoacayohua caught up with them.

Enraged at the young lovers’ affront to their goddess, the priests beheaded Young Deer and then Morning Star. They then cut out their hearts and threw their bodies into a ravine.

However, wherever their blood was spilled, orchids began to bloom. Thus, the priests and priestesses understood that orchids should be presented as divine offerings to the Goddess Tonoacayohua.

Orchid Tattoo Meaning

Orchid Tattoo

The exotically beautiful orchid is a lovely design for a tattoo. It can demonstrate that you’re a person who is in touch with your sexuality and that you embrace it. It can also demonstrate that you honor your own unique traits and those qualities that set you apart from the crowd. An orchid tattoo can also demonstrate love and reverence to someone who is dear to you.

Of course, tattoo meaning are personal to the person whose skin they adorn. But hopefully understanding more about orchid symbolism and folklore will imbue your tattoo with even deeper meaning.

Orchid Flower Uses

Orchid Perfume

In addition to their aesthetic value, orchids have been used for other purposes throughout history. To begin, as mentioned earlier, they are the natural source of the flavor vanilla. In addition, in Chinese medicine, they have been used to treat ailments from poor vision problems to cancer.

In Turkey, orchids were used to make a beverage called salep. The traditional drink was used to treat digestive issues and gum disease.

Furthermore, perfumers have used orchids in perfumes for centuries. And orchid lovers swear by the power of their fragrant beauty to relieve stress, detox the air, and aid in sleep.

Orchid Conservation

Wild Orchids

While it’s fairly easy to find cultivated orchids at your local florist, the fact is that many species of wild orchids are endangered. For instance, more than half of North America’s 200 orchid species are endangered or threatened in their native range.

Different species of orchids depend on specific types of fungi to grow. Hence, orchids rely on the health of their native ecosystems to thrive and propagate. Like so many wild plants and animals in our world, orchids are subject to human disruptions to their natural habitats that threaten to wipe out entire species. For example, many species of orchids grow in tropical rainforests, which are being decimated by human agriculture and fires made worse by climate change.

If orchid flowers are dear to you, consider learning more about wild orchid conservation and supporting projects and organizations that are focused on saving them. Here are some resources that are focused on wild orchid conservation:

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