Purple Orchid When you think of symbolically significant flowers, roses are probably the first thing that come to mind. It’s surprising just how many statements you can make simply by varying the number and color of roses you give to someone. Of course, we tend to give flowers a lot of emotional weight, and this is by no means linked to one specific bloom.

Orchids, for instance, are known to be one of the largest families of flowers in the world, and as such it’s unsurprising that they would also be regarded by humans as significant. There are between 22,000 and 26,000 accepted species of orchid. To put that into perspective, that’s twice the number of birds and four times the number of mammals on earth. These orchid varieties account for about 10 percent of the world’s seeded plants. With so many variations, flower enthusiasts are sure to find one that suits their aesthetic needs. In fact, Charles Darwin himself wrote extensively on orchid cross-pollination, simply because they took so well to genetic experimentation. They can be found in a number of different climates, from tropical environs to – if you can believe it – underground.

Orchids of all types are frequently sought by collectors. There are hundreds of societies across the world devoted to dealing with orchids and finding specific blooms. They are regarded as a prized flower, and rare species can cost thousands of dollars. Asian cultures tend to cultivate the best orchids, primarily because the climate is especially well-suited to growing them. Taiwan and Singapore have some of the best public collections of orchids in the world. They’ve also become a best-selling flower here in the United States, thanks in no small part to their wide and varied aesthetic qualities.

White and pink spotted orchid

Orchids have a fair amount of symbolic significance as well, particularly in China. They’re known as the City Flower of Shaoxing, China, and are one of the Four Gentlemen, a group that also includes the bamboo, plum and chrysanthemum. They’ve been used in painting since the 900s, each representing one of the four seasons. Orchids, in this case, represent spring. Painting an orchid requires basic brush styles, so aspiring artists frequently learn how to paint them.

The orchid certainly has a long and storied history, and it only takes one look to understand why. They’re beautiful, varied and can be found throughout the world.