Orchidelirium: The Victorian Madness for Orchids at Any Price

Victorian England was obsessed with orchids. The trend was called Orchidelirium, like Dutch Tulip mania centuries before. Fortunes were made and lost, and tropical rainforests were deliberately stripped bare to ship plants to Britain. Many orchid hunters died in the process, and most of the orchids died, too. The few surviving plants which made it to England cost extravagant amounts, but rarely lived for long, as growers struggled to understand their care in the cold English climate. Britain’s richest competed to have the best collections long before 1886, when “Orchid King” Frederick Sander was named Royal Orchid Grower by Queen Victoria. Orchids became symbols of wealth and privilege, a mythos that they retain today, even as they’re sold at supermarkets. Orchidelirium may have subsided, but it certainly hasn’t disappeared. There are plenty of stories like The Orchid Thief to prove that many still suffer from the madness.

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