If you love orchids, you will be so excited about this presidential tradition. Here's the story of how the FLOTUS orchids came to be.

By Jenny Krane
Updated March 07, 2019

Orchids have become symbols of beauty and elegance and are among some of our favorite flowering houseplants. Their waxy foliage and brightly-colored petals are unmistakable, and they add a touch of luxury to any room. These plants have rich American history, too: They've been a part of a presidential tradition dating back 90 years!

Chadwick & Son's Eleanor Roosevelt namesake orchid has light pink outer petals with a fuchsia ruffled lip. Image courtesy of Chadwick & Son

Since 1929, new cattleya orchid hybrids have been created for each First Lady of the United States. Nicknamed ‘FLOTUS’ orchids, the tradition started with Lou Henry Hoover, Herbert Hoover’s wife. Manda’s Orchid Co. in New Jersey, which no longer exists, was the company to start creating these new orchid varieties for First Ladies.

Related: How to Care for Orchids

Michelle Obama's namesake orchid takes on bright lilac flowers with orange and darker purple on the lip. Image courtesy of Chadwick & Son

Chadwick & Son Orchids, Inc. in Virginia picked up the tradition in the 1980s and has created a namesake cattleya for the last five First Ladies. After picking up the FLOTUS flower torch, Chadwick also filled in gaps in the timeline: both Eleanor Roosevelt and Lady Bird Johnson had not been given an orchid at the time of their First Ladyship, so he created them posthumously. Their relatives had the honor of receiving these orchids as a gift.

These First Lady orchids aren’t your typical orchid, either—each Chadwick hybrid takes seven years to bloom from seed. They're also not limited to official FLOTUS: Orchids are selected specifically to honor each potential First Lady when presidential candidates are announced every four years. This means that in their greenhouse, Chadwick & Son has orchids for candidate spouses like Teresa Kerry, Tipper Gore, and Ann Romney.

All of the First Lady orchids are housed at the United States Botanic Garden in Washington, D.C. and have been submitted and registered with the Royal Horticultural Society. Rhyncholaeliocattleya ‘Melania Trump’ has even gone on to win awards with the American Orchid Society.

Related: New York Botanical Garden Orchid Show

First Ladies With Namesake Orchids

  1. Lou Henry Hoover
  2. Eleanor Roosevelt
  3. Bess Truman
  4. Mamie Eisenhower
  5. Jackie Kennedy
  6. Lady Bird Johnson
  7. Pat Nixon
  8. Betty Ford
  9. Rosalynn Carter
  10. Nancy Reagan
  11. Barbara Bush
  12. Hillary Clinton
  13. Laura Bush
  14. Michelle Obama
  15. Melania Trump

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