Do orchids smell?  Not the ones we now buy in supermarkets, which have become such a popular design statement.  But yes, in the wild, some do:  the Cattleya orchid, in particular – though even that varies, from heady and vanilla-y to light and clean. (Other orchids – obviously not used in perfumery – can stink of rotten meat, or faeces.  The smell is to attract the type of insect that pollinates the plant:  some clearly get off on pretty smells, others on stinkers.)

There are thought to be over 20,000 different orchids altogether.  The name (who knew?) comes from the Greek ‘órkhis’, literally meaning “testicle”, thanks to the shape of the root.

Not terribly romantic, but we do like the Greek myth behind the naming of the plant.  So the legend goes, Orchis – son of a satyr and a nymph (quite a combo) stumbled upon a festival of Dionysus (a.k.a. Bacchus), in a forest.  As tended to happen at ‘bacchanales’, he imbibed too much, and became somewhat over-amorous towards a priestess.  The Bacchanalians tore him apart.  His father prayed for Orchis to be restored, but instead the gods transformed him into the flower we know today as the orchid.

In reality, when you smell ‘orchid’ as a fragrance note, today it’s more likely to be synthetic.  Nice myth, though.

Smell orchid in:

Dior J’Adore
Jean-Paul Gaultier Classique
Viktor & Rolf Flowerbomb

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