Orchid Flower Meaning and Symbolism

Orchids are among the most captivating flowers, and although there are over 25,000 different species in the biggest plant family there is, they are instantly recognizable from other plants for their fantastic displays.

But you won’t often see them in floral bouquets because they don’t do well as cut flowers, not that you need to when the original plant looks perfect as it is.

Orchids are very special and somewhat misunderstood plants. Some people won’t consider growing them at all because of their reputation of being very hard to keep alive.

This is based on a lack of knowledge, not skill. What we picture when we think of what orchids need is usually quite different from reality.

But what about the symbolism behind this enigmatic flower?

Behind The Name: What Does ‘Orchid’ Mean?

While the orchid is a graceful, delicate plant, and typically the name origin of a plant matches its description, the name orchid has an entirely, wildly different meaning.

The name, orchid, comes from the Ancient Greek word órkhis, meaning ‘testicle’. No, really. 

The reason for this is that in some orchid species (see also Ten Orchid Types To Grow), they grow paired underground tubers, which have a vague resemblance to male anatomy. 

What does the Orchid Represent?

Just as orchids vary wildly in their appearance, so can the symbolism, depending on the culture, who you ask, and the flower color of the orchid.

Most orchids are multicolored, featuring two or even three colors on a single bloom. In terms of symbolism, you can take the color meaning from all the colors that the orchid features, with the main meaning being the one that’s featured the most in the flower.

There is also some overarching symbolism that isn’t dependent on the color of the orchid’s bloom. Orchids represent fertility, passion, desire, elegance, nobility, wealth, and celebrating uniqueness. 

Red Orchid Symbolism

As with many red flowers, red orchids symbolize desire and romantic love, but this is not the only message to take away from a red orchid.

They can also represent courage, bravery, and the strength in knowing what you should do, especially if it’s difficult, and then just getting on with it. 

White Orchid Meaning

White orchids symbolize grace, beauty, elegance, and spirituality. 

Yellow Orchid Significance

Yellow orchids traditionally represent optimism, joy, and to represent a friendship or non-romantic affection with someone you hold dear.

Purple Orchid Meaning

Purple orchids can be given to someone to represent their unique character, which sets them above the rest. They symbolize respect, a great sense of admiration or even awe, and devotion.

Green Orchid Symbolism

Green orchids symbolize well wishes, as well as prosperity, good luck, and good opportunities.

What is the Cultural Significance Behind the Orchid Flower?

Vanda Orchids (2)

To the Victorians, the orchid was the ultimate symbol of wealth, beauty, and status, as they were extremely difficult to come by, and very expensive to source.

In China, orchids have been cultivated for over 3000 years, as the flower is still a part of traditional Chinese medicine, used to alleviate lung ailments, stomach problems, and kidney issues.

In some parts of Ancient Greece, it was a practice to eat orchid tubers to help predict the unborn child’s gender. It was believed that if the mother ate delicate, small tubers, this would make the baby a girl.

If the father ate much more substantial tubers, it would make the baby a boy.

In Japan, the orchid is seen as a symbol of strength and authority, as well as prosperity in both the home and business affairs. 

Vanilla pods are produced by a specific orchid (see also Vanilla Orchid Types And Care), and humans have used them for centuries. 

There is a manuscript dating back to the 16th Century which records that the ancient Aztecs used a concoction of chocólatl (I don’t think I need to translate that) and vanilla, which was drunk sparingly to  promote vigor and strength.

It was also used to treat stomach ailments, poisons, and among other ailments. Their form of chocolate was much less sweet, made up mostly of cacao, and it was also believed to promote fertility.

What does an Orchid Flower Tattoo Mean?

You can’t go wrong with orchids as a tattoo subject. Depending on the colors you chose, the flower may represent strength, courage, beauty, and charm. 

Or, the orchid can symbolize a situation or outlook that brings you good fortune. It can also be a dedication to someone you hold dear, someone you feel is completely unique.

The Best Time to Give Someone an Orchid

Orchids are normally given as whole plants rather than short-lived cut flowers, as the plant will live significantly longer. 

They are usually given to celebrate achievements and accomplishments, such as a new career, promotion, or other milestone, but they can also be used as a general wish of good luck, prosperity and happiness.

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