Our love affair with Phalaenopsis orchids traces back to the Victorian era (see our previous post) when orchid-growing reached fever pitch as a hobby. In the 1870s, an estimated 50% of middle and upper class London homes sported attached greenhouses, allowing many people to enjoy growing orchids and other exotic tropical plants.
Victorian parlors frequently housed veritable jungles of exotic plants grown in the owner’s greenhouse. Some orchid species were able to survive in cold, drafty, mercurially-heated Victorian homes; but Phalaenopsis orchids were not among them. Orchid hobbyists had to be contented with enjoying these exceptionally beautiful tropic orchids in their greenhouses. Their inability to survive the challenging environment of the Victorian home gave Phalaenopsis orchids a reputation for being finicky and challenging to grow.
The Updated Hybrids
Coupled with the competitive one-upmanship that drove Victorian orchid fanciers to be the first to acquire newly-discovered rare and exotic plants, the challenge of growing Phalaenopsis orchids encouraged orchid growers to experiment with hybridization. John Seden at England’s Veitch and Son’s Nursery is credited with creating the first Phalaenopsis hybrid in 1875. Only a single seedling survived that initial hybridization attempt, and it took a decade for the plant to flower and reveal the result; but the race was on. By 1900, 13 primary Phalaenopsis hybrids had been created. Early hybridization required considerable technical expertise, adding to orchid’s reputation as a finicky plant. Decades of discovery and experimentation would follow before the development of the easy-care Phalaenopsis hybrids that are so popular today.