hide You are viewing an archived web page, collected at the request of Smithsonian Institution using Archive-It. This page was captured on 15:14:43 Oct 22, 2015, and is part of the Smithsonian Institution Websites collection. The information on this web page may be out of date. See All versions of this archived page. Loading media information

Sexy, Scandalous and Dangerous: Orchids in Pop-Culture Literature

Posted by KristenM on August 13th, 2015

by Heather Soulen

Photo by Kristen Minogue

Photo by Kristen Minogue

“Orchids aren’t just pretty. And a lot of them aren’t even pretty at all. But they are sexy, and that’s really one of the things that makes them unusual among flowers. It was believed that orchids sprang up wherever animals had been mating. And in Victorian England, women weren’t allowed to have orchids because the form of them was thought to be too erotic and too sexual, and it would be too much for a woman to bear, having a flower that sexual in her possession.”
-Susan Orlean, transcripts from NOVA’s
“Orchid Hunter”

There’s no denying, orchids are pretty darn sexy plants. And it because of their sex appeal, they’ve sashayed their way into just about every aspect of pop-culture. They’ve glammed their way into movies, TV, music, fashion and literature, and we didn’t even realize the spell they cast until it was too late. Bewitched, bothered and bewildered, we didn’t even realize how inescapable they are in our world. Here we explore a few examples of how orchids deftly made their way into pop-culture literature.

Scandalous Novels That Make Our Pulse Race

There’s been an explosion in books using “orchid” in their titles. Authors entice readers with exotic locations, plots full of suspense and deception, forbidden romances and scandalous sex. Some authored up to four novels in an orchid-inspired series. There are over 100 orchid-centric titles on record, beginning in earnest with James Hadley Chase’s 1939 crime novel “No Orchids for Miss Blandish” where Miss Blandish is described as an innocent, exquisite and vulnerable heiress who is kidnapped by a gang and later ends up with Ma Grisson and her son Slim, a vicious killer who can’t stay away from women – especially beautiful women like the captive Miss Blandish. It caused quite a stir with its “explicit depiction of sexuality and violence.” Escandelo! This novel was adapted to the stage in 1942 and was rumored to run for more than 200 performances at the Prince of Wales Theatre in London. Shortly thereafter in 1948, it was adapted for the big screen and fashioned with a contemporary New York gangster vibe.

More recent, and likely more recognizable, is The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean. This non-fiction piece is a modern day orchidelirium adventure into the bizarre black market subculture. It chronicles the exploits of John Laroche, an orchid fanatic who was arrested for allegedly poaching endangered Ghost Orchids in Florida. He pleaded for mercy in court, saying he was only trying to clone and preserve them. His pleas fell on deaf ears. He was offered a plea deal that sentenced him to six months’ probation and a fine. The Orchid Thief inspired Spike Jonze’s movie “Adaptation” which addresses life’s longings and disappointments. In the movie, the author has a peek into what it means to have true passion – something she is said to have never before seen or experienced. Oh-la-la, tres scandaleux!

Orchid-centric Superheroes

Black Orchid Comic (Photo by Jonathan Soulen)

Photo by Jonathan Soulen.

The comic “Black Orchid” first came on the scene in 1973. But it wasn’t until Neil Gaiman revived the character in his 1991 “Black Orchid” mini-series that people really began to take notice of the comic book character. Neil Gaiman’s mini-series fully developed the heroine, giving her the human name Susan Linden-Thorne and explaining how she came to be a superhero. After fleeing her abusive husband, Susan Linden-Thorne seeks the protection of her childhood sweetheart and botanist Dr. Phillip Sylvian. When she dies at the hands of her abusive husband, Dr. Sylvian saves her by turning her into a plant/human hybrid who launches into a career of espionage and crime fighting.

In 2011, Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello wowed science fiction comic enthusiasts with his 12-issue comic book series “Orchid.” Orchid is a dystopian and post-apocalyptic rebellion tale about a prostitute turned warrior named Orchid and her rise against the mutants and dictatorial warlord Tomo Wolfe.

Literature is just the tip of the orchid pop-culture iceberg. Read on to discover we’ll discuss how orchids have sashayed their way into music and fashion. We’re certain you’ll never look at orchids the same way again.

Bubblegum Pop to Punk and Heavy Metal: Orchids’ Mark on Music

Extravaganza Eleganza: Orchids on the Fashion Runway




1 Comments so far ↓

  1. David McAdoo says:

    What’s sad about Susan Orlean’s book is that the cover photo is not the Ghost Orchid that the story is about & the flower there is upside down! Here’s a link to a picture of a Ghost Orchid –

Leave a Comment