St Catharine’s College was delighted to hear that Dr Emrys Chew (1992) both originated and registered an orchid hybrid named Vanda St Catharine’s College, Cambridge (V. tricolor x V. ustii) with the RHS: The International Orchid Register / RHS Gardening.
Elaborating on his floral tribute to the College, Dr Chew said “this orchid belongs to the genus Vanda, a botanical name derived uniquely from the Sanskrit word for epiphyte, which is something my mentor Professor Chris Bayly, and before him my father Dr Ernest Chew’s supervisor Professor Eric Stokes, would have readily appreciated both as historians of British India and Fellows of this College.
“As a primary hybrid it combines hereditary influences from two closely allied species in Section Deltoglossae. It is thus fairly typical of the group as a whole. Plants are robust and cold tolerant to 11 degrees Celsius by night, forming into large, handsome specimens when mature. The leaves are strap shaped, leathery and shaded medium green. Best of all are the flowers, scented sweetly like grape candy and clothed symbolically in Catz colours: petals and sepals creamy white, variously spotted in claret, with prominent lips flushed magenta.
“Undoubtedly this is the first orchid to be named for an Oxbridge college. Even more compelling, however, is one amazing coincidence that unites the hybrid with its pollen parent. Unlike the seed parent Vanda tricolor, a well-known species from Java’s highlands first introduced to Britain by the Veitch Nurseries in 1846, the pollen parent Vanda ustii is a comparatively recent find from mountain forests of Luzon in the Philippines. In 2000 it was named for the University of Santo Tomas (UST), Manila. Delving into the history of that institution, I was much astonished to learn that the patron saint of Asia’s oldest university (founded in 1611) is none other than St Catharine of Alexandria!”