I saw a picture of a stunning Cattleya orchid named after the current First Lady in a recent issue of Orchids magazine. What can you tell me about this hybrid? Jon B.
Like all ‘First Lady’ orchids, the hybrid named for Laura Bush is very special.
We are fortunate to have been involved in the naming of the hybrids for the past three First Ladies and, in each case, we chose classic Cattleyas whose colors are a striking combination of white petals with a contrasting purple throat. The flowers are very large, measuring up to 7” across, quite fragrant, and officially registered with the Royal Horticultural Society in London.
One of the exciting aspects of hybridizing is selecting the best varieties from the dozens or, perhaps, hundreds of blooming specimens. There is an added element of importance when selecting for the First Ladies since the best variety might actually end up at the White House in the hands of THE FIRST LADY. It has to be good. Very good.
What makes the Laura Bush orchid unique is a distinctive feature in which there are purple tips on the white petals that give it a ‘splash’ or ‘starburst’ appearance. This flower clearly earns the highly respected variety name ‘First Lady’ for there is only one like it in the entire seed population…… and in the world.
We have learned first hand that the daily schedule of a First Lady is extremely hectic with literally every minute accounted for in some way –
A seemingly endless number of meetings and public appearances all over the globe and subject to change on a moments notice. Likewise, the blooming schedule of a Cattleya orchid is very narrow – just a few weeks each year – so it is, therefore, a tremendous challenge to arrange a one-on-one meeting between the two parties – First Lady and Orchid. Despite these challenges and several earlier attempts, we have been ‘penciled in’ for an official White House orchid presentation in Spring 2006. Will keep you posted……..
Hillary Rodham Clinton is a modern-day First Lady who posed with her namesake orchid while in office. In 1995, she accepted her now-famous flowers following her keynote speech at the annual black tie Kennedy-King Dinner in Washington, D.C. Surrounded by body guards and bomb sniffing dogs and being closely followed by dozens of spectators, she proudly displayed her corsages to the press. What makes this orchid so special, is the iridescent peachy colored frilly lip Just this year, the American Orchid Society recognized her hybrid as botanically superior by garnishing their Highly Commendable Certificate (HCC/AOS) award.
Barbara Bush, who was in Richmond last month for a Virginia Literacy Foundation fundraiser, acknowledged receiving her namesake orchids with a hand written letter “They are beautiful. Many thanks. I am so honored!”
The lovely feature of this cattleya is the distinctive two tone – purple and yellow lip. Barbara grew up during the 1940’s when Cattleya orchid corsages were the standard for high fashion in the United States. Today, she resides in Houston, Texas and, at age 80, still travels the country supporting her favorite cause, education.
Other high profile women have been presented their namesake orchids in recent years. Former Prime Minister of England, Margaret Thatcher, described her flowers as ‘Simply Lovely!” and the blossoms adorned her lapel all evening while she was visiting the University of Richmond last year. In 1999, Vice President Al Gore’s wife, Tipper, graciously allowed the orchid presentation at her home in Washington, D.C. Her mother was visiting from Arlington at the time and loved the flowers so much that she asked to be included in the photograph sessions.
The naming of orchid hybrids after First Ladies dates back 60 - 75 years with Mrs. Herbert Hoover, Bess Truman, and Mamie Eisenhower and is a tradition that will continue for many generations to come. It is all about timing...
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