Orchids Go Hollywood!
That one word that best describes the world of orchids is glamour. No group of plants has ever captured the imagination like this strange, exotic, and beautiful flower.
When they were first discovered in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s, orchids became the most sought after playthings of European royalty. Kings and queens had magnificent collections and by the mid 19th century, orchids were part of the complete royal fabric, grown by dukes and barons, viscounts and ladies. Queen Victoria had a large orchid collection as did the German Empress, Queen of the Belgians, and the Empress of Russia. Cattleyas were especially revered by collectors and were eventually given the title “Queen of the Orchids.”
Cattleyas were truly prized flowers. They had delicious fragrances and were available all year. They were large in size and came in exotic shades of lavender and purple. There were all white flowers and white with dark purple lips. They had a delicate appearance that said “Look, but don’t touch.” And they were very feminine. For more than 30 years, from the late 1920’s through the 1950’s, women wore corsages of cattleya flowers whenever they wanted a touch of glamour. They wore them to fancy luncheons, dinner dances, the theatre, the opera, or any other fashionable affair. President Eisenhower’s wife, Mamie, was never seen in public without her corsage of two or three cattleya flowers. In the 1940’s, teenage boys gave their Junior or Senior Prom dates cattleya corsages – because the girls expected them.
This glamour would soon span the century and as the world moved into the technology age, a different kind of royalty appeared – the stars of motion pictures and television. Such famous Hollywood personalities as Gregory Peck and Raymond Burr grew a treasure trove of cattleyas. During his many television interviews, Gregory Peck was often surrounded by his large cattleya plants with their magnificent array of white flowers. Raymond Burr’s orchid collection was legendary and included a sizeable commercial interest, Sea God Nurseries, with hundreds of registered cattleya hybrids and an orchid garden on the island of Java.
In keeping with the tradition of glamour, one of our modern day celebrities, Priscilla Presley, sat down recently to have her picture taken, next to her namesake orchid, Cattleya Priscilla Presley. It was through mutual friends that we approached Ms. Presley several years ago about the concept of having an orchid named in her honor – specifically a cattleya – and included a copy of ‘The Classic Cattleyas’ book as an introduction. She liked the idea and, in the months that followed, she personally selected this hybrid from photographs of seedlings that were in production. As the delicate buds started to appear in the sheaths, we would ship the special plants across the country – in the dead of winter - praying that the plants wouldn’t freeze or get damaged.
All the seedlings from this celebrity cross bloom during the winter months of January and February – exactly when they are desired most by hobbyists. The lovely lavender shaded petals vary ever so slightly from plant to plant and the darker throats offer a hint of gold veining and an unmistakable fragrance.
Ms. Presley, who also has a rose perfume which carries her name, keeps a collection of her namesake orchids in Beverly Hills, CA where they bloom for over a month. She displays the plants in ornate decorative pots which further enhance their beauty and keep the heavily laden flowers from tipping over. The new hybrid was unveiled for the first time to the public as a large grouping of seedlings at last month’s Virginia Orchid Society show in Richmond.