The graceful orchid is said to symbolise love, luxury, beauty and strength. White orchids also convey purity while pink orchids convey affection. The symbolism of the orchid doesn’t end there however; it also holds strong cultural symbolic values, especially in Singapore, where the Vanda 'Miss Joaquim' is the country’s national flower.

Vanda Miss Joaquim

The Vanda Miss Joaquim orchid is most commonly referred to as the ‘Singapore orchid’ as it is the country’s national flower. This free-flowering plant can bear up to 12 buds, and starts blossoming once the stem reaches 50 cm or more above ground. The orchid is quite distinctive in both shape and colour; the flower is violet rose with an orange centre, and features purple spots while the petals are twisted so that the back of the flower comes to the fore.

Discovery

The earliest recording of the existence of Vanda Miss Joaquim dates back to 1893, where Henry Nicholas Ridley referenced it as a new plant in “The Gardener's Journal”, one of the most popular horticultural publications of the time. It was noted as a “newly created orchid hybrid”; a cross between the Vanda teres and the Vanda hookeriana. However, no record was documented as to which was used as the male.

Debate

Many horticulturists have refuted Ridley and Miss Joaquim’s claims that the flower was created as a natural hybrid over the years, with several articles, books and arguments that claim Miss Joaquim didn’t have the skills or knowledge required to discover a natural hybrid, and that the flower must be an artificially created orchid hybrid. Despite these claims, the flower is widely accepted and still noted as a natural orchid hybrid.

Popularity

Upon its discovery, the Vanda Miss Joaquim went on to enjoy significant popularity in Singapore as well as in the U.S. and European countries when international export of flowers became more widespread. Popularity began to wane after World War 2 when there were hundreds of orchid species in existence.

Parentage

It was only in 2011 is that true parentage of the flower was discovered. Using innovative DNA coding techniques, scientists were able to identify Vanda teres as the mother and Vanda hookeriana as the father. Further research even uncovered that Vanda Miss Joaquim’s parent orchids actually belonged to the Papilionanthe genus. What many people do not realise that that this discovery has led to the scientific name for Vanda Miss Joaquim being changed to Papilionanthe Miss Joaquim. However, after so many years holding a specially place in the hearts of the Singaporean people, the flower is still commonly called Vanda Miss Joaquim and will likely continue to do so for quite some time.

The National Flower of Singapore

The orchid has always been a flower of importance to Singapore, and when the time came in 1981 to select a national flower for the country, 30 of the 40 preferred options were orchids! A committee featuring officials from the Ministry of Culture, Parks and Recreation; Singapore Tourist Promotion Board; Singapore Institute of Standards and Research; and the Orchid Society of Southeast Asia were tasked with selecting the national flower.
The eventual “winner” was the Vanda Miss Joaquim, making Singapore the only country in the world to have a hybrid flower as their national flower. It was officially unveiled as the national flower on April 15th 1981, and its selection saw an upturn in sales of the flower in Singapore as a result. Its selection saw the flower featured on the currency of the country as well as on several stamp series.

Reasons for selection

The core reasons behind the selection of the Vanda Miss Joaquim were that it promised a vibrant colour and year-round bloom, which the committee believed to represent the vibrant culture, strength and resilience of the Singapore nation. Its hybrid nature was also believed to be a key deciding factor. The hybrid nature is believed to represent the diverse ethnicity of people who are living in harmony in Singapore, an element of their culture that the country has always been exceptionally proud of.

How to grow Vanda Miss Joaquim

The Vanda Miss Joaquim is a slow-growing hybrid that thrives in a sunny, humid location. It requires heavy fertilisation, and only needs watering every 5-12 days (with slightly more frequent watering in summer). The plant won’t start to flower until it is 40-50cm tall, and be sure to tie it to posts for support. The Vanda Miss Joaquim blooms year-round in Singapore.

For anyone visiting Singapore, you can see the beautiful Vanda Miss Joaquim orchid for yourself by visiting the National Orchid Garden at the Singapore Botanical Gardens or by visiting the tombstone of its original breeder, Miss Joaquim.