Russian version has been published in the Orchid Planet magazine #27 (2012)
RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN MEXICAN ORCHIDS AND PEOPLE
en Ecología Tropical. Centro de Investigaciones Tropicales.
Universidad Veracruzana. Xalapa, Veracruz. México.
Universitario. Centro de Investigaciones Tropicales. Universidad
Veracruzana. Xalapa, Veracruz. México.
among cultures have attracted people around the world since they have
been considered to be more beautiful than any other type of flower
Their aesthetic features makes them highly appreciated as ornamental
flowers, this type of attributes offer not only flowers expressed in
poetical shapes or bright colors, but also some elements of
attractive fragrances (2).
In the case of Mexico, orchids have been an important resource for
its people. For example, since Prehispanic time, the vanilla bean was
used as an ingredient for the original chocolate drink recipe, a
legacy that even in today's families is kept very popular.
Unfortunately, orchids face serious problems such as
overexploitation, deforestation and reproductive barriers which pose
a serious threat to the conservation of these species. Under these
circumstances, the Orquidario Universitario at the Universidad
Veracruzana is developing a research program encompassing a wide
range of areas including work with traditional growers and
investigation with in
Orchidaceae family is one of the biggest families in the Plantae
kingdom with an estimated number between 20,000 to 35,000 species (3,
4, and 1).
In Mexico, 164 genera and more than 1,200 species can be found (1).
Many of these orchids, as in other parts of the world, are highly
appreciated by Mexicans who have adopted them in many horticultural,
social and cultural practices. For example, historical records show
that since Prehispanic times the study of orchids led to a
significant development of knowledge regarding their characteristics,
healing properties and compilation of local uses (1).
One of the oldest records, that dates back to the XVth century,
reveals the use of vanilla in Mexico. Nevertheless, vanilla was not
the only orchid of utilitarian nature amongst the ancient Mexican
cultures, there were registered other species of orchids that
concolor, Vanilla planifolia, Prosthechea vitellina, Bletia jucunda,
Laelia speciosa and
(Fig. 1) (1).
1. Some orchids used by Mexican cultures:
Prosthechea concolor (a),
Vanilla planifolia (b),
Prosthechea vitellina (c),
Bletia jucunda (d),
Laelia speciosa (e)
the Spanish arrived in Mexico, orchids were used mainly as a type of
adhesive susbtance resembling glue. This glue-alike was obtained from
the pseudobulbs of the species of the genera Laelia,
Species included in this list were (Fig. 2): Prosthechea
pastori, P. citrina and
fabricated adhesive had many important uses. For
example, the glue substance obtained from Laelia
was used to bond musical instruments (1).
On the other hand, one of the most exquisite expressions of ancient
Mexican cultures also used orchid glue. Feather art was produced by
special artisans who created magnificent handicrafts with
hummingbirds and quetzal feathers (Fig. 3).
Figure 2. Some species from which glue was obtained: Prosthechea
P. citrine (b),
Laelia autumnalis (c),
3. Feather art in Mexico (6)
was another important orchid for many
ancient Mexican cultures. Even before the Spanish arrived to the
continent, local people had already known and used vanilla
traditionally. Its uses were varied: as currency for daily trades,
for meal flavoring and as
an aphrodisiac herb (7).
Today, the vanilla plant (Fig. 4) is one of the orchids with more
names in different Indigenous languages, e.g.: xanat,
(Totonaco, Veracruz), tlilxóchitl
(Chinanteco, Oaxaca), zizbic
(Maya, Yucatán), nashú-xicha
(Masateco), and juju
4. Vanilla plant or tlilxóchitl
(Nahuátl: a Mexican dialect) (9)
Mexican cultures the vanilla plant was so important that as part of
their traditions, a legend was conceptualized about how vanilla was
originated. The legend refers to a love story: “a
princess and a soldier whose love was prohibited. Under this
restriction, they decided to run away but were caught by the priest
community who witnessed their escape. As part of their penalty
sentence, they were killed for this impropriety. At the place where
they were sacrificed, it’s said that a tree grew up and beside
it a beautiful vine started to surround it, representing the love of
the princess and the soldier. From the vine, an orchid with green
flowers and aromatic fruits came out”.
It was this representation of an unconsummated relationship that
portrayed how vanilla was originated.
1767 at the end of the colonial period, vanilla
was exported to the world from Papantla through the Port of Veracruz
By 1942 around 10,000 people were producing vanilla at the north of
Veracruz State (10).
The large production of vanilla in a tiny geographical area made
Papantla earn the name of “the
city that perfumed the world”
(Fig. 5). Now it can be said that vanilla is a gastronomical legacy
from Mexico to the world (7).
5. Vanilla beans during the curing process in the XVIIIth century at
Papantla, Veracruz, Mex. (11),
also known as “the
city that perfumed the world”.
the other hand, orchids also played an important place in the
traditional medicine practice. The species used for this purposes
constitute a group integrated by 30 genera and 57 species; just in
the case of Veracruz state, 36 species have been acknowledged for
their medicinal properties used in different types of treatments
Some of these species include (Fig. 6): Chysis
Epidendrum flexuosum (b),
Laelia anceps (c),
Myrmecophila grandiflora (d),
Prosthechea citrina (e),
Sobralia macrantha (f)
Figure 6. Some orchids species used for medical treatment (5).
in Mexico, orchids still have a vast importance to society.
Throughout the country they are used in religious celebrations, as
exclusive collection items and as industrial crops (vanilla).
Celebrations like the famous Day of the Dead, Corpus Christi and
other regional celebrations use orchids to decorate houses, churches
and public places (Fig. 7).
7. Orchids used in the celebration of the “Day of Dead”
in Mexico (13).
many other plants in Mexico and around the world, orchids are
considered endangered species. Habitat
destruction is only one part of the problem. In regions of Mexico
orchid species that grow in the forest are subject to human pressure
for the following reason. Interested in plants, many people collect
wild orchids to bring and grow them on nearby trees in their
species, for example the ones that belong to the genus Laelia,
are on the verge of extinction due to selective gathering to supply
plants for these demands and to other orchid growers (14).
the conservation of species, even of those now endangered, is not a
difficult task. First, it has to be recognized the importance of ex
conservation activities and the part that commercial growers can play
in the implementation of these type of strategies. For instance,
is an orchid that has never been found in the wild, yet for many
decades peasants in Hidalgo State have been collecting and
maintaining the species through local cultivation; this action has
made possible for the species to be known at present (14).
this point, it’s evident the important role that small growers
can play at indigenous communities in contribution to the
conservation of orchids. As part of this conservation strategy, all
cultural and social issues must be preserved equally. The ancient
knowledge about orchids is a valuable item that must be communicated
and revealed to today’s society. Therefore,
it is fundamental that local communities preserve their culture and
knowledge about orchids in order to leave a lifetime legacy.
an orchid research and conservation program is being undertaken at
the Orquidario Universitario (Fig. 9) in Xalapa, Veracruz, Mexico.
As part of this program, a group of scientists is working with
indigenous communities from Veracruz and Oaxaca focusing on rescuing
and fostering local knowledge about orchids. Also, we are culturing
endangered orchids through in
techniques. This procedure provides a high number of plantlets which
in turn can be cultivated by small traditional growers, securing in
some extent the reduction of wild plant extraction.
9. Orquidario Universitario (15).
like to acknowledge the financial support of the Consejo Nacional de
Ciencia y Tecnologia (CONACyT) for our projects and in consequence
for believing in this type of projects aimed at the conservation of
Mexican orchids. We
thank to Dr. Valentina Martínez, for the suggestions and
corrections of the English text.
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Machorro, M.A. López Rosas y R.L. Dressler. Las orquídeas
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