Even the word 'orchid' is enough to excite the imagination. It conjures exotic images and thoughts; beautiful blooms flowering in steamy jungles, or desert orchids boldly flowering under a glowing sun. The family of orchids include a dazzling array of different petals, shapes and colours, and are found all across the world from sub-arctic wastes to the hot equator. It is estimated that of all the seed plants in the world, as many as one in ten may be an orchid.
As well as appearing in exotic environments all over the world, the orchid has been cultivated by people for thousands of years. And though some orchids, such as the vanilla flower, were cultivated for culinary or medicinal purposes, the vast majority have been grown simply for their incredible beauty. Like the chrysanthemum, the orchid is one of the 'Four Gentlemen' of Chinese art: the orchid symbolises spring, the season of rebirth.