Longitudinally, orchids have been cultivated far longer and earlier in the East than in the West. They have been recorded in various documents from the ancient history in China, including herbal medicine books more than three thousand years ago, the “Book of Changes” 易經 dating back to the first millennium BC, and the first manuscript to deal with botany in its entirety around 300 BC, as well as the oldest Chinese dictionary entitled “Shuo Wen Jie Tzi” 說文解字 (edited by Xu Shen, a famous Chinese scholar during the middle part of the Eastern Han Dynasty from 25 AD to 220 AD), in which the Chinese word 蘭 encapsulates perfumed plants prominently represented by orchids, especially the Cymbidium orchid, which is one of the classic flowers of Chinese and Japanese horticulture and art.
The East-West divide rests not solely in the encounters, utilizations and documentations of endemic orchid species but also in the morphological differences between Occidental and Oriental Cymbidiums, accentuated and consolidated over epochs, dynasties and generations by sociocultural forces more than by geographical factors. In other words, whilst globalization has distributed many orchid genera and species far and wide, the largest cultural (and horticultural) divide between the East and West in the cultivation of orchids nowadays probably lies in the Cymbidieae tribe. The typically showy and colourful hybrid Cymbidiums that appeal to Western growers are plants from (sub)tropical Asia with green leaves and little or no fragrance. In contrast, the petite and subdued Cymbidiums preferred and coveted by Eastern growers are the fragrant temperate species with foliage and floral chimerisms that arise from spontaneous natural variants and hybrids.
Oriental Cymbidiums (Asian Cymbidiums or Chinese Cymbidiums) have long been regarded by the Chinese as one of the four noble plants 蘭菊竹梅 (orchid, chrysanthemum, bamboo, plum). In fact, they were deemed as the most precious of the four to the extent that they required special growing technique in pots with well-drained soil, which only wealthy and noble people could provide and enjoy. They were collected by the nobility (sometimes on behalf of the ruling emperors) from the high mountains and brought back to palaces, where certain natural variations of some species were favoured and selected for many generations to accentuate the desired traits and prized attributes in those species via careful divisions of the plants, which were grown in elaborate containers, and were often exchanged or given as gifts with visiting land barons. The value of such a gift was in direct proportion to the rarity of the attributes, and the status accorded to the plants were such that discussions about the orchids and their growing conditions would begin with a tea ceremony accompanied by burning incense.
After the Wei and Jin dynasties (220 to 420 AD), orchid cultivation expanded from the palace to the private gardens of the literati class, where they were used to adorn gardens and beautify landscapes. By the time of the Ming and Qing dynasties (1368 to 1912), descriptions and depictions of Oriental Cymbidiums have firmly established in various books, pictures, poems, porcelains and crafts.
The extra-horticultural and meta-botanical merits of Oriental Cymbidiums with respect to the position of these orchids in the Chinese history and culture can be gauged by its allegorical and heuristic representations in many prominent texts, both recent and ancient. For example, Confucius 孔夫子, the eminent teacher, editor, politician and philosopher in Ancient China (551 to 479 BC) stated:
A solitary orchid adorning the side of a mountain perfumes the air even in the absence of any human presence or appreciation. A true scholar learned in morality and philosophy is always a noble gentleman holding firm to his high principles even in the absence of wealth or prosperity.
Confucius also referred to Oriental Cymbidiums as the “King of Fragrance” 「王者之香」, a phrase that is still in use today, having withstood the test of time and the rise and fall of dynasties.
Beautiful, graceful, elegant, exquisite orchids growing in the vacant valley.
Figuratively describing something rare, commonly used to express or denote the elegance, grace, refinement, style or beauty of a human character.
In conclusion, under the rich Chinese cultural characteristics and heritage, Oriental Cymbidiums have come to symbolize elegance, grandeur, refinement, purity, virtuosity, friendship, nobility, patriotism, stoicism and spiritual perfection. They are known for their graceful leaves, dainty blooms and distinctive fragrances. Selective breeding, chance mutation, keen observation, perennial patience, meticulous cultivation and meristem cloning have produced startlingly beautiful forms in Oriental Cymbidiums, resulting in long-lasting fragrance, peloric flowers, variegated leaves and dwarf varieties loved by admiring fans and dedicated growers for hundreds or thousands of years in China, Japan and Korea. Many of them are grown as accent plants to be appreciated in the contexts of art, decor, poetry, caligraphy, painting, philosophy, Zen Buddhism, monasticism, Confucianism and Daoism, all of which are underpinned by various forms of aesthetic sensibility, spiritual ideal and cultural connotation. Some exemplary specimens are even considered as national treasures. The flowers are sometimes used as ingredients in soup, tea, alcoholic drink and certain food.
Strict adherence to proper growing conditions are usually required on an ongoing basis to maintain variegation and peloricity. Otherwise, reversion to undesirable types may be permanent even upon resumption of proper care.
For example, improper fertilization or taking divisions with single growths (less than two pseudobulbs) can cause the loss of variegation in the Da Mo varieties of sinense, which are special dwarf, compact forms named after the Zen Buddhist Monk called Da Mo (達摩). It is somewhat ironic that “monastic discipline” is required for the optimum cultivation of these cymbidiums.
Variegated and peloric varieties or chimeras can originate from the following Cymbidium species and their crosses. Habitats of the endemic species and natural hybrids include open woodland forest, evergreen lowland forests, montane forest, on the ground or on damp shaded evergreen trees. The elevation can be from the sea level to 2500 metres, depending on the place of origin and climate.
|Chinese Cymbidium||墨蘭, 報歲蘭, 養老, 達摩, 瑞玉, 鶴之華||Guangdong, Hainan, Taiwan, Fujian, Jiangxi, Southern Sichuan, Guizhou and Yunnan provinces of China; Northern Vietnam; Assam of India; Nansei-shoto of Japan|
|Four Season Orchid, Golden-thread Orchid, Spring Orchid, Burned Apex Orchid, Rock Orchid||建蘭, 四季蘭, 焦尾, 漳蘭, 玉沉||Indo-China to Temperate Eastern Asia|
|Spring Orchid||春蘭||Himalaya to Temperate Eastern Asia|
goeringii subsp. goeringii var. goeringii
|Chinese Spring Orchid, Japanese Spring Orchid, Korean Spring Orchid||江浙春蘭, 日本春蘭, 韓國春蘭||Temperate Eastern Asia|
goeringii subsp. goeringii var. formosanum
|Taiwanese Spring Orchid||台灣春蘭||Taiwan|
goeringii subsp. goeringii var. forrestii
|Yunnanese Spring Orchid||雲南春蘭, 朵朵香||South Western China|
goeringii subsp. gracillimum
|Leek Orchid, Chive Orchid||豆瓣綠, 豆瓣蘭, 綫葉春蘭||Japan to Southern China|
goeringii subsp. longibracteatum var. longibracteatum
|Sword-leaf Spring Orchid||春劍蘭||Southern Central China|
goeringii subsp. longibracteatum var. tsukengensis
|Mt Tsukerg Orchid, Snow Orchid||雪蘭||Southern Central China|
goeringii subsp. tortisepalum
|Broad-leaf Spring Orchid||菅草蘭||Southern Central China to Taiwan|
goeringii subsp. tortisepalum var. tortisepalum
goeringii subsp. tortisepalum var. lianpan
|Miscanthus Orchid||蓮瓣蘭||Southern Central China|
|Cold-growing Cymbidium||寒蘭||Southern China to Southern Japan Taiwan, Guangdong, Gunagxi, Yunnan, Sichuan, Guizhou, Hainan Island provinces of China; Honshu and the Ryuku Islands, Japan; and South Korea|
|Multi-flower Orchid, Miscanthus Orchid||蕙蘭, 九華蘭||Uttaranchal to Taiwan|
|Red Column Cymbidium||紅柱蘭||Vietnam|
|Low’s Cymbidium||碧玉蘭||Burma, Thailand, Yunnan China and Vietnam|
|Golden Leaf-edge Orchid, Golden-edged Orchid, Yellow Margin Orchid||多花蘭, 金棱邊||Southern China, Yunnan, Taiwan and Vietnam|
|Phoenix Orchid, Tree Orchid, Day’s Cymbidium||冬鳳蘭, 冬風蘭||Assam of India; Eastern Himalayas; Sikkim; Thailand; Cambodia; Taiwan, Fujian, Guangdong, Guangxi, Hainan and Yunnan of China; Vietnam; Borneo; Malaysia; the Philippines; Sulawesi; Sumatra; Ryukyu Islands and Southern Japan|
According to the Culture Sheet for Cymbidium:
- alba is the most coveted form
- next come flowers without contrasting features such as dots or streaks, pure green petals and sepals
- horizontal lateral petals, not opening upwards
- thick labellum tip, preventing it to open upward and expose the gynostemium
- fragrant flowers
- petal shapes define the floral type. There are five types and several species are typically used in their lineage: 16)
- Chinese growers aim for petals as those of plum blossoms: round in shape, minimum eccentricity. They include the daffodil, lotus and plum shape.
- leaves display a harmonious composition. Ornamental foliage cymbidiums can have erect to arching leaves, those that are grown for their flowers rarely have erect leaves because it obstructs the inflorescence. Many cultivar lines are purely bred for their variegation, e.g.: 17)
- Claws: tips of leaves are golden, diluting towards the base
- Golden laces: golden lines at the leaf edge
- Silk lines: golden lines on the leaves
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Variegated Cymbidiums in TAIWAN
Variegated Cymbidiums in JAPAN
Variegated Cymbidiums in KOREA
Variegated Cymbidiums in Hong Kong
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