Victorian Orchidelirium

From 'Reichenbachia' by Frederick Sander, illustrated by Henry George Moon. Second series, volume 2, plate 68, Phalaenopsis sanderiana and Phalaenopsis × intermedia. Public domain

Orchids date back millions of years. But in the 1800s, the plants became a status symbol and the cornerstone of a high-dollar industry. Collecting the plants involved adventure and excitement -- and a high death rate.

If you'd like to try the potato candy recipe our listener Brittany mentioned in her email, you can find it here:

Holly's Research:

  • Amelinckx, Andrew. “Old Time Farm Crime: The Cutthroat World of Victorian Orchid Hunters.” Modern Farmer. Aug. 1, 2014.
  • Hardman, Isabel. “Orchidelirium: Being mad about flowers can help you stay sane.” Spectator. July 2017.
  • Hansford, David. “Orchidelirium.” New Zealand Geographic. Issue 124. Nov-Dec 2014.
  • Cock-Starkey, Claire. “The Dangerous and Competetive World of Victorian Orchid Hunting.” Mental Floss. November 18, 2016.
  • Waiton, Victoria. “BY HOOK OR BY CROOK: THE PLUNDER OF ORCHIDS FROM THE NEW WORLD.” Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden. April 14, 2012.
  • Biggs, Matthew. “Plant Hunters Extraordinaire.” The Garden. June 2014.
  • Fitz-Gerald, William George. “The Romance of Hunting Orchids.” Evening Star. Feb. 25, 1906. Accessed online:
  • Hone, Dr. Dave. “Moth tongues, orchids and Darwin – the predictive power of evolution.” The Guardian. Oct. 2, 2013.
  • Campbell, Dana. “Orchidae.” Encyclopedia of Life.
  • Bulpitt, Christopher J et al. “The Use of Orchids in Chinese Medicine.” Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine 100.12 (2007): 558–563. https:/s/
  • Riley-Smith, Ben. “William John Swainson: who was he?” The Telegraph. Oct. 8, 2013.
  • Boyle, Frederick. “THE WOODLANDS ORCHIDS.” Macmillan. 1901. Accessed online:

Topics in this Podcast: Queen Victoria, colonialism, plants, manias, botany, 19th century, British history