A Flora and Fauna of Symi

A personal guide to the wildlife of Symi and beyond

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The Holy Orchid

May 1, 2015

The Holy Orchid or Orchis Sancta covers the eastern Mediterranean from Palestine, Israel, Lebanon, Syria, Turkey to Cyprus, Crete and the Aegean. Described in 1759 from Haifa and named "sacred" because it grows in the  area of the Holy Land of Christianity. In Greece it is relatively rare in Crete and Karpathos, forming large populations in Rhodes, Amorgos and other islands and is generally common in the islands of the Cyclades, the Dodecanese and the large islands of the Eastern Aegean Ikaria, Samos, Chios and Lesvos. 

In Greek mythology, Orchis was the son of a nymph and a satyr. During a celebratory feast for Bacchus, Orchis committed the sacrilege of attempting to rape a priestess, resulting in his being torn apart by wild beasts, then metamorphosing into a slender and modest plant.

Theophrastus was the first of the Western authors to mention orchids. It was he who first applied the name Orchis scientifically, echoing the myth of Orchis and reflecting the resemblance of the double root tubers to the male genitalia that got old Orchis in trouble in the first place. Greek women thought they could control the sex of their unborn children with Orchid roots. If the father ate large, new tubers, the child would be male; if the mother ate small tubers, the child would be female.

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