One of my projects for the day was getting back into street clothes and getting back on the street, with two modest walks: to Gordon Biersch for lunch, and later, to the local flower shop (which was for the moment not able to offer cut flowers, but did have a stunning cymbidium orchid that I snapped up) and then to Whole Foods, to get cut flowers as a present for the nice neighbors who’ve been giving me a place to sleep while my house is filled with the din of huge drying machines.

Today’s cymbidium, in photos by Ned Deily: the orchid in close-up in front of some bougainvillea, and the whole plant in a more rustic setting:

More about the anatomy of these beauties in a moment. First, a personal note and some general comments on the plants.

From a February 2011 posting:

my cymbidium orchids, showy winter-flowering plants, started blooming around Thanksgiving and are happy indeed with the wet and cold, so they will certainly last into June. They are are a great pleasure.

The first of them, a birthday present from me to Jacques in January 1986 [here there is a photo by Elizabeth Daingerfield Zwicky of the rusty rose flowers]

(After that I got him another one — many colors, some big, some miniature, etc. — every January, divided them every so often (you do it with a hatchet or a saw, remarkably crude operation), and then added some as a gesture of love after he went into the dementia care facility and, eventually, died. I can see them out the window as I write this.)

On the plants, from Wikipedia:

Cymbidium … or boat orchids, is a genus of 52 evergreen species in the orchid family Orchidaceae. It was first described by Olof Swartz in 1799. The name is derived from the Greek word kumbos, meaning ‘hole, cavity’. It refers to the form of the base of the lip.

… It is one of the most popular and desirable orchids in the world because of the beautiful flowers. These plants make great houseplants, and are also popular in floral arrangements and corsages. They have been cultivated for thousands of years, especially in China. Cymbidiums became popular in Europe during the Victorian era. One feature that makes the plant so popular is the fact that it can survive during cold temperatures (as low as 7˚ C or 45˚ F) [Actually they will survive at temperatures below 32˚F for short periods and even as low as 28˚F].

The OED2 etymology isn’t quite the same, but the meanings of kumbos are clearly related semantically:

modern Latin (O. Swartz 1799, in Nova Acta R. Soc. Scient. Upsala VI. 70), < Greek κύμβη cup

A tropical orchid of the genus so named, with a hollow recess in the lip of the flower. [first cite 1815]

The plants come in an astounding variety of colors. The white ones are commonly used in corsages, but then there are the green ones above, and others in orange, red, yellow, pink, and blue:

All these flowers have three sepals (from the case that once contained the bud), alternating with three petals — one evolved into the lip, which is colored or marked so as to attract pollinating insects (mostly bees of various kinds) to the column, above the lip (the sexual part of the flower). The lips are designed to bring the pollinator up to the column (which contains both male and female sexual organs).

One result is the characteristic colorings of the lip, often quite different from the coloring of the sepals and the other two petals. Magenta lips in green flowers, for instance.



One Response to “Cymbidiums”

  1. primroses | Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] cymbidium orchids, discussed here.) Now, while they’re still blooming, some words on primroses (including an etymological essay […]

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