Orchis: The Testicles of a Demi-God and History of a Divine Plant.

The name “Orchid” comes from the Ancient Greek ὄρχις orchis, meaning “testicle.”

According to Ancient Greek mythology, Orchis, the son of a nymph and a satyr, was an incredibly beautiful demi-god who thought himself entitled to do as he wanted and have all he wished. Orchis used his beauty to seduce and possess the most attractive of young girls. However, something irreparable happened. During a festival in honor of the god Dionysus, Orchis attempted to rape a priestess of the god, committing sacrilege. Although Orchis thought himself omnipotent, he could not escape the vengeance of the powerful Moirai, and was mauled to death by wild beasts.

The gods created an extraordinarily carnal plant to grow from his remains, the flower in remembrance of his beauty and licentiousness, and below the surface, the two bulbs symbolize the sin that brought on his misfortune for ruling his actions.

The first orchid bloomed…

 

Statue of Theophrastus, Orto botanico di Palermo
Statue of Theophrastus, Orto botanico di Palermo
Orchid (Satyrion). From Leonhart Fuchs, Plantarum Eefigies [sic] (Lyons, 1551). Reproduced with permission from the Special Collections of the University of Virginia.
Orchid (Satyrion). From Leonhart Fuchs, Plantarum Eefigies [sic] (Lyons, 1551). Reproduced with permission from the Special Collections of the University of Virginia.

Theophrastus  (IV-III century B.C.), pupil of Aristotle and Plato and historically recognized as the greatest botanist of antiquity, immortalized Orchis in his Historia Plantarum, officially attributing this name to the flower species. He referenced the name to the rounded shape of the two “tubers” that make up the root system of most species of this flower, similar to human testes. This feature has helped fuel popular beliefs which credited them erroneously as aphrodisiacs and possessors of healing powers for female infertility.

In Roman medicine, the orchid-based aphrodisiacs drinks were called Satyrion, named after the lustful satyrs. This aphrodisiac is mentioned twice in the Satyricon of Petronius.

Satyrium was even a former name for orchid.

This, paradoxically, has caused problems for the proliferation of the plant, as it was so frequently sought out for the drying of the tubers, due in large part to the theory of signs of Paracelsus, claiming that some species were divinely marked to show man their medicinal properties.  This is why today, without even knowing its mythological inception and history, the Occident attributes sexual and sensual attributes to this plant.

Before Theophrastus, the first written descriptions of the orchid are dated back to Confucios, between the VI and V century B.C., praising their beauty and frangrance. 

The Chinese were already cultivating this plant 4.000 years ago.

In New Zealand, where orchids are found in abundance, the Maori believe these plants to be of divine origin, hailing from the gardens between the stars; their gods spread them on mountains and trees to announce their arrival.

Orchids were always thought to be part of a very “young” plant family in the evolution scale, dating them back 20-30 million years ago. It now appears that they are significantly more ancient than most botanists had previously thought. An incredible discovery indicates orchids arose some 76 to 84 million years ago, dating them to even before the great biological catastrophe that 65 million years ago not only caused the disappearance of the dinosaurs, but that eliminated 75 percent of living species, both plant and animal, on our planet.

This amber-preserved stingless bee carries pollen from Meliorchis caribea, the first unambiguous fossil orchid known to science.
This amber-preserved stingless bee carries pollen from Meliorchis caribea, the first unambiguous fossil orchid known to science.

This suprising find is attributed to biologists at Harvard University, who identified a mass of orchid pollen on the chest of a bee (of a species now extinct) preserved in amber; the discovery has great value in itself, because it is the first unambiguous fossil orchid and represents one of the few eyewitness evidences of pollen transport made by an insect observable in a fossil sample.



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