White orchids are rich with symbolic meaning. From the Aztecs and Ancient Greeks to Victorians, white orchids have been more than just pleasing decorations. Their shape led some cultures to associate them with virility while others associated the flowers with beauty and refinement.
More than 25,000 species of orchids have been identified. Many of these exotic blooms come in white varieties. Angraecum orchids, which have an unusual star shape, primarily are white. Other white orchids have a touch of other colors. These orchids sometimes are referred to as pansy orchids because their coloring resembles that of pansies. Regardless of the type of white orchid, the meanings associated with the flowers remains the same.
Ancient Greeks associated the flowers with virility, and Greek women fed large tubers to their husbands to produce male children. In ancient China, Confucius compared virtuous people to the orchid because both shared the characteristics of a perfectly cultured being, including refinement and humility.
White orchids primarily grow in tropical areas and the Far East. This meant transporting them to Europe was costly -- particularly during the 19th century. As a result, only wealthy people could afford to purchase them during the Victorian era. This economic reality led to orchids being associated with wealth, luxury and refinement as well as exotic and rare beauty. The Victorians were not the only privileged people to treasure the flower; the royalty of ancient Japan also considered them symbolic of wealth.
Although white orchids no longer are associated with virility and are not a decoration only for the wealthy, they have not lost symbolic significance. Today, white orchids represent a number of things, including hope. White orchids also represent innocence and purity because of their color.