Charles Darwin, the renowned naturalist who proposed the theory of natural selection had a thing for orchids. He had studied thousands of plants and animals prior to the publication in 1859 of the seminal work “On the Origin of the Species”, but the orchid held special interest for him.
Darwin had long been fascinated by insect pollination and had studied the wild orchids found along the Torquay coastline while on family holidays. In particular, he examined how the different petal colours and formations attracted bees and moths to pollinate the plants. Challenging the idea the huge variety in flowers served no real purpose other than beauty, Darwin contended that there must be a reason why each variety of flower – the array of different shapes and colours – looked as they did.
Knowing of his interest in orchids, the horticulturist James Bateman sent Darwin several examples of Angraecum sesquipedale, which had been discovered by French botanist Louis-Marie Aubert du Petit-Thouars in 1798, but only described in 1822.
The orchid, also known as the Star of Bethlehem orchid and King of the Angraecums, was an impressive flower only found on the island of Madagascar.