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Although the scientists affirm that the origins of orchids in the earth dated back from 120 million years, it seems that its history started in Japan or China just 3.000 or 4.000 years ago.

The Chinese word for orchids (lan) has appeared in Chinese herbal medicine since that time. However, we don't exactly know when man began to cultivate them or if it occurred for esthetic or medical reasons or for both purposes.

The first reference found was made by Sheng Nung, Chinese emperor, when he gave some advice about the Dendrobium's application in medical usage.

Confucius (551-479 before Christ) also mentioned the orchids' scent.

In the 3rd century, a Chinese manuscript mentioned two species which are nowadays known as Cymbidium ensifolium and Dendrobium moniliforme.

In old Chinese manuscripts, dated 290-370 (after Christ), there are some direct referrals to orchids the most common being of the genera Vanda, Dendrobium or Cymbidium with the Cymbidium being the most often mentioned of the three.

In the Western Hemisphere, the oldest reference found was by Theophrastus, a pupil of Aristotle, and a scholar considered by many as the father of Botany.
Around 300 BC, in a study entitled "Inquiry into Plants", he mentioned the word "orkhis" to denominate some of the orchid's terrestrial species which gave origin to the name of the whole family (Orchidaceae).
"Orkhis" is the Greek word for testicles and in spite of being the first one to mention it, probably Theophrastus wasn't the first one to observe the resemblance between the roots of some terrestrial orchids (which vegetate in Europe in intermediate zones) and testicles. Even now these species are known by the same name (Orchis maculata, simia, mascula, spectabilis).

During the first century after Christ, in a study called "Materia Medica", a Greek physician named Dioscorides who worked as surgeon at the roman troops, assembled some information about 500 medical plants and among them, he included two "orchis" varieties.

During the period between 960 and 1279 (Sung Dynasty), there were written many monographs and treatises on these plants in China.

With the discovery of the new world some other orchid genera , for example epiphytes until then completely unknown, became part of the European universe.

Some old Aztec inscriptions told about how the Vanilla bean was used by their ancestors to flavor a drink made with cocoa. The Mayas also used it. The Spanish conquerors brought the Vanilla bean to Europe about 1510.

In 1522 the "Badianus' Manuscripts" mentioned, for the first time in Western literature, an orchid from the new world, the "Vanilla". This first study of South America's flora informed us that vanilla was used as a spice, as flavoring or as a general potion for good health.

In "Gerard's herbal" (John Gerard, 1542/1612), published in 1597, orchids had been called "Satyrion feminina" because they were considered as satyrs' food and would provoke their excesses of behavior.

In 1688, John Ray, in his "Plantarum History" described Disa uniflora as the most lovely orchid from South Africa.

In 1712, Englebert Kaempfer, a German physician, in a study named " Amoenitatum escoticarun" mentioned, for the first time, an orchid from the East.

In 1728, the first book about orchids was published in Japan: "Igansai-ranpin".

In 1735, Carl Von Liné (Linnaeus), a Swedish botanist, established, not only the first coherent identification of the plants (genus named followed by the specific name), but also the lines of the development of the living organisms and the evolutionary laws. In his study called "Genera Plantarum", he used the word "Orchidaceae" (taken from "Orkhis") to designated the entire family of orchids. Those studies opened, later, the way to Darwin's studies.

In 1763 Linnaeus published another treatise naming a hundred different species but he called them all "Epidendrum", as tropical orchids were known then.

In 1768, the second edition of "Miller's Gardener dictionary", also called them "Epidendrum".

In 1772, Matsuoka published a Chinese book which was, probably, a translation of the "Igansai-ranpin". In this book, 6 orchids were mentioned.

In 1830, John Lindley (botanist and taxonomist) did the first classification of orchids. He wrote many books about plants but it was his studies about orchids, "The Genus and Species of Orchidaceae Plants", that made him well known. He also left the unfinished book, "Folia Orchidaceae considered a classic of Botany and he is recognized as the father of orchid cultivation.

In 1862 Darwin published "The Various Contrivances By Which Orchids Are Fertilized By Insects", which in fact was the first essential contribution for the knowledge and comprehension of the strategies used for the species to ensure propagation.

In 1877, Lewis published "Orchids: Their Structure, history and cultivation".

In 1906, the volume III of "Flora Brasiliensis" has been published. It includes the description of the species and the drawings and was the first great work concerning exclusively the Brazilian orchids. The complete set of "Flora Brasiliensis" has 40 volumes and has been started by Von Martius and many scientists worked in the conclusion. Cogniaux accomplished the studies concerning the orchids. This work had the cooperation of Barbosa Rodrigues who gave his drawings and watercolors.

The importance of Barbosa Rodrigues (1842-1909) must be deservedly stated. Besides being an important scientist and respectable director of the Botanical Garden of Rio de Janeiro, he left a legacy of many scientific works in many different fields (archaeology, botany, entomology, zoology and history), watercolors and drawings where he joined a scientific rigor to an acute esthetic sense. The original of his watercolors have been restored by Basilea University in Switzerland and published in two 2 volumes ( "Iconographie des Orchidées du Brésil"), after 6 years of research and long diplomatic negotiations. There are 380 paintings, embracing 700 species of Brazilian orchids that had remained unpublished for 100 years. Unfortunately, the remainder is lost or damaged beyond hope of restoration.
During the last century, many Brazilian and foreign scientists gave their contribution for increasing the knowledge of the Brazilian species: Rolfe, Porsch, Kraenzlin, Schlecther, Loefgren, Brade, Campos Porto.
In 1935, Porto and Brade published an index including all new species and modifications since l907 until 1932 (Rodriguesia, Tomo II).
Later this work had this continuation with the publication of the second index done by Brade and Pabst, in l950.
The personality who dominated the first half of the XX century was, no doubt about, F. C. Hoehne who carried on the great project of doing the survey of Brazilian Flora. This great work, Flora Brasílica, started to be published in the first years of the 40th decade. Concerning the orchids, it included 94 genera with almost all species. Unfortunately he passed away before finishing this monumental work which started with the intention of updating Martius' work. Hoehne, besides this work, has a great bibliography which includes Iconografia de Orchidaceas do Brasil (a meticolous report of this travel through the interior of the country) an "Album de Orchidaceas Brasileiras" and many other works. Many of them done under the auspices of Agriculture Department of the state of São Paulo, where he used to work. Guido Pabst, in the years 70th, had the intention to go on with this work, however the died before.
The great personality of the second half of the XX century is Guido Pabst, orchidologist respected around the world. All along his life, he published many works developed in small articles published in the magazine "Orquídea". His great contribution has been done by his most important and most known book, prepared with Dungs and denominated"Orchidaceae Brasiliense". This work embraces 2.300 species illustrated with watercolor and drawings and is, still today, the main reference for the study of Brazilian orchids. In a certain way, he has been the teacher or, at least, the mentor who influenced many scientists of the posterior generations.
It is quite big the number of researchers with academic formation or not (or with formation in different areas) who, last century or at the beginning of this century, apply seriously their selves in the study of the Orchidaceae family in Brazil, including those who are, at this moment, concluding their thesis. Many of those researchers study just a genera, certain region, kind of habitat or a wider subjects. All of them (Brazilian or foreign researches) bring important theorist scientific information or of field researches contributing to the knowledge of Brazilian orchids. Unfortunately we don't have their biography to inform a little by their works and in what area their are working.
From those studies resulted important changes in the panorama of the family Orchidaceae in Brazil: New genera and new species were discovered, alterations and migrations of genera have been proposed. The number of new species or new occurrence for Brazil has increased a lot due to the recent field expeditions, mainly in Amazon region, done by, especially, João Batista F. da Silva, Francisco Miranda, Kleber Lacerda, Pedro Ivo Soares Braga.

Alvadir T de Oliveira

A. L. V. Toscano de Brito

Augusto Ruschi

Carl. L . Withner

Carlos Eduardo de Britto Pereira (Orchid News # 10)

Cassio van den Berg

Carlyle Luer

Cláudio Nicoletti Fraga (Orchid News # 16)

David Miller (Orchid News # 22)

Eduardo L. Borba

Eric Hágsater

Fábio de Barros

Fernando da Costa Pinheiro (Orchid News # 21)

Francisco Miranda (Orchid News # 6)

Gerardo A Salazar

Gustavo A. Romero-Gonzalez

Helmut Seehawer

J. A. Fowlie

João Aguiar Nogueira (Orchid News # 24)

João Batista F. da Silva

João Semir

Kleber G. de Lacerda (Orchid News # 13)

Leslie A. Garay

Lou C. Menezes (Orchid News # 7 e 23)

Luciano de B. Bianchetti (Orchid News # 24)

Luiz Menini Neto (Orchid News # 25)

Manoela F. Fernandes da Silva

Marcos Antonio Campacci (Orchid News # 12)

Pedro Ivo Soares Braga

Rudolf Jenny

Ruy Valka Alves

Vitorino Paiva Castro Neto (Orchid News # 12)


Despite doubts often expressed, it seems that the first tropical orchid to be cultivated in Europe was a specie of Bletia genus (Bletia verecunda) from The Bahamas that bloomed in England in 1732. Some books, however, indicate that Brassavola nodosa during the 17th century in the Netherlands was the first.
By the 18th century, many species had been introduced to Europe from China and the Antilles and in 1794, 17 foreign species were cultivated in the Royal Botanical Garden at Kew, England.

In 1805, Robert Brown discovered that tropical orchids were epiphytic not parasites. The belief that orchids were parasites remained for a long time and in fact to this day many people still think that they are parasites.

Just since 1818, the orchid cultivation began to really spread in Europe when William Cattley succeeded on making bloom a Cattleya labiata whose pseudo-bulb he received mixed in the packing material for other tropical plants coming from Brazil.

In the 19th century, a passion for tropical orchids overtook Europe and the people became practically manic in their interest which drove prices to incredible heights.
Missions were sent to the tropics for collecting orchids to satisfy this passion for exotic plants.

Many habitats were destroyed during this frenzy of collecting making many species rare and as a consequence prices rose even higher.
Most of orchids died during transport because no one had any idea of how they must be cared for during shipment or how they must be cultivated on arrival . It was generally believed that the orchids needed to be cultivated in stuffy air.

During this same century, growers noticed that they needed to know more about wild orchid habitats in order to provide cultivated orchids the conditions adequate to their needs. They also noticed that species from different habitats needed different conditions. Based on information brought back from explorers, they were able to develop a cultivation technology more adequate to the needs of epiphytic orchids.

John Paxton, the 7th Duke of Devonshire's gardener, encouraged by John Lindley and based on the new habitat information, improved conditions of ventilation, watering and humidity. In 1830, he was the first grower to use different greenhouses to separate species from different native habitats.

Maybe due to the fact that plants occupied an important place in the English way of life and England, as a result being a country plenty of gardens, the increase of the interest in those wonderful and previously unknown flowers began there. During the 19th century, England remained as the main importer country , followed by the Netherlands and Belgium.

Since then numerous scientists, botanists, gardeners and explorers have had their names attributed to orchids.

John Lindley (Genera: Lindleyella, Neolindleyella, Species: Barkeria lindleyana, Cattleyopsis lindleyana, Maxillaria lindleyana, Epindendrum Lindleyanum, Odontoglossum lindleyanum, Sobralia lindleyanum, Bulbophyllum lindleyanum);
Loddiges (Catlleya loddigesii);
Skninner (Cattleya skinneri);
Gould (Laelia gouldiana);
Sander (Vanda sanderiana, Paphiopedilum sanderiana);
And many others.

Until the end of the 19th century, orchid seed germination remained a mystery. In 1889, Nöel Bernard, French biologist, observed plant shoots around the base of Noetia nidus-avis. When examining them through a microscope, he noticed with surprise, that there were mycelial filaments, a fungus later identified as Rhizoctonia, living in tandem with their root structure. Based on his observations , he published many studies describing the nature and the role of the association of orchids and the fungus in orchid seed germination.

His study, the result of 10 years of research, was published in 1909 and explained the association between orchids and michoriza fungus. The study has been a great revolution on orchid cultivation and has opened the way for others to continue similar research.

Hans Burgell, a German scientist, continued with the studies and developed another method also using fungus culture to provoke seed germination.

However, in 1922 an American Biologist Lewis Knudson developed a formula that supplanted all the previous methods. By using sterile gel which contained minerals, salts and sugar, he could reproduce in the laboratory the same effects the fungus gave, making seed germination possible by the asymbiotic method.

Other solutions have been developed, some of them very efficient but for the most part the solutions were based on Knudson's method.

During the 1st World War many European collections were lost due to the lack of fuel to maintain greenhouse temperatures. In the USA, where fuel was plentiful, cultivation interest has continued to increase and nurseries have been installed in tropical zones, where fuel needs are minimal, on all continents. Also at this time there was much progress in orchid hybridization and hybrids developed began to be cultivated on a large scale.

In 1960, Professor George Morel, another French botanist, discovered the meristem culture method of obtaining hundreds of identical specimens from only one mother plant without seed germination. It is a difficult method that needs specialized equipment and must be executed under laboratory conditions.