Cymbidium sinense ‘Da Shun’

Continuing with the series on “Biodiversity of China”, here’s another orchid contribution from Eric in SF@Flickr (also see: The original image can be viewed via the Botany Photo of the Day Flickr Pool. Always grateful for your contributions, Eric.

Of the twenty-five to thirty thousand species of orchids in the world, China boasts approximately 1400. Of these, nearly 500 are endemic. Cymbidium sinense, despite being named after China (sinense), is not among the endemics — it has a range extending to Japan, India, Burma, Thailand and Vietnam. Chinese cymbidium has been cultivated and hybridized for nearly a millenia (since at least the Southern Song), with ‘Da Shun’ being one of the dozens, if not hundreds, of cultivars.

One of the main attractions of Cymbidium sinense is the fragrance. From what I’ve read (but haven’t experienced), each cultivar produces a slightly different scent. On ‘Da Shun’ (and the species in general), Eric describes the fragrance as “…heavenly and intoxicating. There are multiple high-end perfumes based on [the scent of the species and cultivars of Cymbidium sinense]”.

In the wild, the species grows in “forests, wet and well-drained shaded places in thickets along streamsides” at elevations of 300-2000m (1000-6500ft.), according to the Flora of China.

Cymbidium sinense 'Da Shun'

13 responses to “Cymbidium sinense ‘Da Shun’”

  1. Eric in SF

    My pleasure, Daniel!
    Another fascinating aspect of this species’ fragrance is that not everyone can smell it! Pass the plant around a group of people and there will be some people who detect no fragrance, others who detect a slight fragrance, and others yet (like myself) who find the fragrance almost overpowering.
    I always break out in a big nerdy orchid grin when I pass someone on the street who is wearing a C. sinense-derived perfume.

  2. Mandy Macdonald

    I don’t often anthropomorphize plants, but this quizzical little face is just what i need after a long and frustrating day! Could it be grown in Scotland?

  3. kate

    How fascinating to hear this phenomenon described: I commonly have the same experience as Eric with flowers – perhaps I have a similarly sensitive nose? (Great when I’m amidst flowers or eating a good dinner; terrible when cleaning out the fridge or standing behind someone wearing cheap perfume. Thank you for the discussion!

  4. Kathleen Garness

    Ok, ok, Eric – I just HAVE to know which perfumes are based on C. sinense!!! I just LOVE cymbidiums…. Can this one be grown on a windowsill, or is another cool grower??? 🙂

  5. Eric in SF

    Kathleen – I’ve not had much google luck searching for perfumes where this orchid specifically is mentioned. Once you’ve smelled this plant in bloom you will immediately recognize the perfume. It smells high quality – a deep, rich spicy scent with this species’ fragrance at its core.
    I’ve read it can be grown on a very bright windowsill but I do not cultivate the species myself.

  6. jane

    Kathleen and Eric, Please let us know if you happen to track down the elusive perfume based on the “deep, rich, spicy” fragrance of Da Shun!

  7. Sue

    Try googling ‘cymbidium sinense fragrance perfume’. I got multiple hits for perfumes based on cymbidium orchids.

  8. Don Fenton

    I am a bit bothered by the word “hybridized” in the write-up. As far as I know,orchids have only been hybridized [deliberately, by humans] since the late 19th century.And a hybrid is [as far as I understand it] a cross between two or more species. So in what sense [and with what species] has Cymbidium sinense been “hybridized”? Cyclamen persicum has been selectively bred for about 150 years: this process is often [annoyingly] referred to as “hybridization”; hybrids of C. persicum and other Cyclamen species have, in fact, recently been achieved, but only through gene manipulation. Selection within a particular species is not, to my understanding, “hybridization”.
    Don Fenton

  9. Eric in SF

    So much of China’s scientific work remains unknown to us in the west, either because it’s still in a library somewhere or worse, the library was destroyed. Therefore it is entirely possible and plausible that the Chinese have been hybridizing their various cymbidium species for millenia.
    That being said I would be curious to hear if Daniel found any printed references to orchid hybridization in China pre-late 19th century.
    There are some forms in cultivation that give Cymbidium growers and taxonomists fits and I would not be surprised to see evidence of cross-species hybridization in these forms were they to be studied using molecular techniques.
    To your second point – I’ve always wondered just that. The die-hard orchid ecologists I know have as much scorn and dislike for line-bred orchid species as they do hybrids. These people truly consider them hybrids in an expanded sense.
    Finally, there could be inadvertent “true” hybridization going on. As we study species and refine their boundaries, often we realize that one of the two choice forms of a species being line-bred is actually a different species. That’s why the RHS orchid parental records are so vital – there is contextual data there we can use in tracking forms that are elevated to species.

  10. Daniel Mosquin

    The word “hybridized” probably should have been avoided. I was reading “The Relationships among Cymbidium sinense Cultivars Based on RAPD Analysis” (2008) by Zhu, Li, Ye and Guo as part of researching this entry and the authors state:
    “Cultivated in China since the South Song Dynasty, more than 1000 cultivars have been produced by natural or artificial selection…However, their genetic background is undefined.”
    (though the authors continually used the phrase “hybrid Cymbidium sinense”, which is what I picked up on, I think).
    Hew’s 2001 paper “Ancient Chinese orchid cultivation: A fresh look at an age-old practice” makes mention of the lack of information as well:
    “In ancient China, orchids collected from the wild were propagated asexually by division. To date, there are no ancient records of growing or attempting to grow orchid from seed (Wu, 1981; Chen and Tang, 1982; Deng, 1990). This is rather surprising in view of the very long history of orchid cultivation in China ”

  11. joyce sinders

    Ohhh so beautiful!

  12. Den

    Not to be overly warm and fuzzy, but looking at the photo reminds me of the ASL sign for “I love you”.

  13. Den

    With regard to the use of “hybrid”, the English language allows for a lot of meanings in the use of the words. I am no professional botanist, but I have studied the subject enough to conclude that good working definitions of even the basic terms “Genus” and “Species” simply do not exist. If they did, you would not have the work of lumpers and splitter cancelling each other out over a matter of years (is the state flower of Oregon Mahonia aquifolium or is it Berberis aquifolium?). Perhaps if we could better define those terms, more strictly defining “hybrid” as an interspefic cross would matter.
    Also, google “Mendel” and “hybridize” and you will get 2.7 million hits, quite a few of those on the first page are reputable scientifically oriented websites that discuss Mendel’s work as a basis for educating the public about genetics and hybridization. The use of hybridization in the context of intraspecific breeding will always exist because that is virtually everyones’ first introduction to the word. Even in grade 10 biology text books, that is the prevailing use of the word, such as in the discussion of modern maize hybrids.
    Finally, I have never seen a discussion where using “hybridize”, either in the context of interspecific hybridization or intraspecies crossbreeding, has ever led to a significant lexical ambiguity. Invariably, when there is a serious scientific discussion of what is being hybridized, both species (or varieties, as the case may be) are mentioned early on, thus making the context of the word clear.

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