Are You a Tulip, Orchid, or Dandelion?

jessica-knowlden-589517-unsplashYou’ve probably heard of flower language before, where each plant and flower represents something. Some are pretty popular, like roses meaning love, some are obvious, like forget-me-nots, and others can be negative, like marigolds meaning grief.

Most of the time, these symbols give meaning in things like stories and tattoos, giving the image of the flowers a meaning behind it and giving it importance. While it doesn’t meet the artsy approach that flower language typically has, scientists and psychologists have created a bit of flower language of their own, comparing three types of flowers to each other and associating them with a type of behavior and reactions to situations.

This is known as the “orchid hypothesis,” and is used with children in particular. The hypothesis categorizes people into three categories based on how sensitive they are:

  • If someone is an orchid, they’re highly sensitive and have to be in the right environment, otherwise they’ll “wither.” Those who receive proper care and attention “thrive.”
  • Those who are dandelions are considered to be “tough” and can adapt to any situation, no matter where they areStockSnap_AE651BHJBY
  • Tulips fall somewhere in the middle, not “delicate” like orchids, but aren’t as “strong” as dandelions

Assigning someone to one of the flowers is not a diagnosis, but it is simply a way to describe and put someone in a category based on how they react to their environment based on their genetic makeup. There have been studies conducted to see where this link is established, such as one focusing on the CHRM2 gene specifically. CHRM2 is involved with brain functions like memory and learning, and is already associated with alcohol dependency, something that is put in the same group as childhood conduct disorders.

Another study looked to see if there was a relationship between sensitivity and other genes like DAT1, DRD2, and DRD4 (which control dopamine, or how we process reward and emotions and physical movements), MAOA (known as the “Warrior Gene” because of its link to aggression, and helps regulate serotonin and dopamine) , and 5-HTTLPR (this controls serotonin and has associations with mental illnesses like anxiety and depression).

rob-potter-408301-unsplashBeing an orchid, tulip, or dandelion isn’t all just about the biology and if there is a genetic reason for these behaviors. Scientists and psychologists also use these classifications to predict if the child’s environment and upbringing can protect them from the barriers they may face if they were an orchid. For example, if an orchid child grew up in a home with a supportive family, they are less likely to show the more extreme signs of sensitivity. An orchid child growing up in a more negative environment, however, would be more vulnerable to having negative reactions when bad things happen. A dandelion child in a similar negative environment would be genetically “stronger” enough to handle bad situations, and therefore wouldn’t have those negative reactions, or their negative reactions wouldn’t be as extreme.

If there’s anything to take away from this hypothesis, however, is that being an orchid isn’t a bad thing, and does not mean that orchids have poor reactions to negative changes around them. The hypothesis assumes that these flower titles aren’t something that we can control and are based in our biology, but shows that our environment plays a huge difference in whether those qualities show or not.


Do you think you’re an orchid, dandelion, or tulip? Do you think that the flower you are can predict things like anxiety and depression?

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Hi! The moderator is a research team member with a background in behavioral health. We're here to help answer your questions and stimulate some great conversation! We don't provide therapy and are not available 24-7 so please if you are in crisis, go to our crisis page: https://sova.pitt.edu/i-need-help-now We look forward to talking to you!

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