Orchid – New World Encyclopedia

Orchids (Orchidaceae household) are the most important and most numerous of the flowering plant households, with over eight hundred described genera and 25,000 species. There are additionally over 100,000 hybrids and cultivars produced by horticulturalists, created for the reason that introduction of tropical species to Europe.

Orchids have a repute for magnificence and thriller and have lengthy been cultivated. Orchid rising is a well-liked passion worldwide and in addition an necessary trade. One orchid, vanilla, itself helps a serious trade.

Orchids get their identify from the Greek orchis, that means “testicle,” from the looks of subterranean tuberoids of the genus Orchis. The phrase “orchis” was first utilized by Theophrastos in his e-book “De historia plantarum” (The pure historical past of crops). He was a pupil of Aristotle and is taken into account the daddy of botany and ecology.

Normal description

Orchids, just like the grasses and the palms that they resemble in some methods—as an illustration the type of their leaves—are monocotyledons. They’ve one cotyledon, or embryo leaf, in distinction to the 2 of most flowering crops.

Orchids are discovered on all continents besides Antarctica. The nice majority are to be discovered within the tropics, largely Asia, South America, and Central America. Some are discovered above the Arctic Circle, in southern Patagonia, and even on Macquarie Island, near Antarctica.

The next record provides a tough overview of their distribution:

  • Eurasia: 40–60 genera
  • North America: 20–30 genera
  • tropical America: 300–350 genera
  • tropical Africa: 125–150 genera
  • tropical Asia: 250–300 genera
  • Oceania: 50–70 genera

Orchids will be grouped in accordance with the best way they retrieve vitamins:

  • A majority of species are perennial epiphytes (rising upon or hooked up to a different residing plant). They’re present in tropical moist broadleaf forests or mountains and subtropics. These are anchored on different crops, largely timber, typically shrubs. Nevertheless, they aren’t parasites.
  • A number of are lithophytes, much like epiphytes however rising naturally on rocks or on very rocky soil. Epiphytes and lithophytes derive their vitamins from the ambiance, rain water, litter, humus, and even their very own lifeless tissue.
  • Others are terrestrial crops. They develop within the soil and procure their vitamins from the soil. This group consists of practically all temperate orchids.
  • Some lack chlorophyll and are myco-heterotrophs. These achlorophyllous orchids have an ectomycorrhizal relationship, i.e. they’re utterly depending on soil fungi feeding on decaying plant matter (often fallen leaves) to supply them with vitamins. Typical examples embody the Chook’s-nest Orchid (Neottia nidus-avis) and Noticed Coral-root (Corallorrhiza maculata).

Most superior orchids have these 5 fundamental options:

  • The presence of a column, additionally referred to as gynostemium
  • The flower is bilaterally symmetric.
  • The pollen are glued collectively into the pollinia, a mass of waxy pollen on filaments.
  • The seeds are microscopically small, missing endosperm (meals reserves) within the total majority of the species. There are notable exceptions, resembling Disa cardinalis, whose seeds could develop to a size of 1.1 millimeters. Seeds of Vanilla could weigh 20 occasions or extra that of different orchids.
  • The seeds can, beneath pure circumstances, solely germinate in symbiosis with specialised fungi. Below synthetic circumstances, nonetheless, germination is feasible “in vitro” on sterile substrates of agar in specialised laboratories. Germinating seeds in agar, often achieved in flasks, is a sophisticated approach, requiring sterility in any respect prices. It takes anyplace from one as much as 5 to 10 years for an orchid seedling to mature. Another synthetic germination, nonetheless, is completed by cultivating the fungus and sowing the seeds on them. That is referred to as in-vitro symbiotic tradition and is used mostly for terrestrial orchids.


This small orchid demonstrates a typical zygomorphic flower with three petal-like sepals (prime, decrease proper, decrease left), two regular petals on both aspect of the dorsal (higher) sepal, and the labellum, a modified decrease petal in three components surrounding and under the shiny column.

Orchids have easy leaves with parallel veins. Their form is extremely variable between species. Their dimension and form will be an assist in figuring out the orchid, because it displays the taxonomic place. The leaves will be monumental or minute, or they will even be missing (as within the Ghost Orchid (Dendrophylax lindenii), a mycoheterotrophic species, and Aphyllorchis and Taeniophyllum, which depend upon their roots, which comprise chlorophyll, for photosynthesis).

The construction of the leaves corresponds to the precise habitat of the orchid. Species that usually take pleasure in daylight, or develop on websites that may be sometimes very dry, have thick, leathery leaves. The laminas are coated by a waxy cuticle to retain water. Shade species, however, have tall, skinny leaves. They can not tolerate a drop in atmospheric humidity or publicity to direct daylight. Between these two extremes, there’s a entire vary of intermediate varieties.

The leaves of most orchids stay for a number of years. Some species shed their aged leaves yearly and develop new ones.

The leaves of some species will be most lovely. The leaves of the Macodes sanderiana, a semiterrestrial or lithophyte, present a glowing silver and gold veining on a light-weight inexperienced background. The cordate leaves of Psychopsiella limminghei are gentle brownish inexperienced with maroon-puce markings, created by flower pigments. The engaging mottle of the leaves of Woman’s Slippers from temperate zones (Paphiopedilum) is attributable to uneven distribution of chlorophyll. Additionally Phalaenopsis schilleriana is a beautiful pastel pink orchid with leaves noticed darkish inexperienced and light-weight inexperienced. The Jewel Orchid (Ludisia discolor) is grown extra for its colourful leaves than its pretty inconspicuous white flowers.


The stem of an orchid determines the behavior of the species. Every kind of stem can develop in one in every of these two methods:

  • monopodial (“one-footed”) development. The brand new shoots develop upwards from a single stem, originating ultimately bud of the previous shoots. It then produces leaves and flowers alongside this stem. The stem of those orchids can attain a size of a number of meters (as within the genera Vanda and Vanilla).
  • sympodial (“many-footed”) development. The plant produces a sequence of adjoining shoots that develop to a sure dimension, bloom, after which cease rising, to get replaced by the following development. Vegetation of this sort develop laterally somewhat than vertically, following the floor of their assist. The expansion continues by improvement of recent leads (with their very own leaves and roots) sprouting from or subsequent to these of the earlier yr (as within the genus Cattleya). Whereas this lead is creating, the rhizome could begin its development once more, this time from an ‘eye,’ or undeveloped bud, thereby inflicting the rhizome to department.

Plant thallus and roots

Pseudobulbs of an epiphytic orchid

All orchids are perennial herbs, missing any everlasting woody construction.

  • Some orchids are terrestrial, rising rooted within the soil. Terrestrial orchids could also be rhizomatous, forming corms or tubers. These act as storage organs for meals and water. The foundation caps of terrestrials are easy and white. Terrestrials are largely present in colder climates.
  • A terrific many orchids are epiphytes, which don’t require soil and use timber for assist. They happen in hotter areas. Epiphytic orchids have modified aerial roots and, within the older components of the basis, an dermis modified right into a spongy, water-absorbing velamen, which may have a silvery-gray, white, or brown look. The cells of the basis dermis develop at a proper angle to the axis of the basis. This permits them to get a agency grasp on their assist. These roots can typically be a number of meters lengthy, with a purpose to take up as a lot moisture as potential. Vitamins primarily come from animal droppings on their supporting tree which can be washed down when it rains.
  • A number of species are lithophytes, rising on rocks. They’re discovered particularly in rocky mountain ranges in Australia and Tasmania, central Brazil and Africa.

The bottom of the stem of sympodial epiphytes, or in some species primarily the complete stem, could also be thickened to kind what known as a pseudobulb. These comprise vitamins and water for drier intervals. Pseudobulbs have a easy floor with lengthwise grooves. They usually keep alive for 5 or 6 years. On the within, they give the impression of being extra like a corm (brief, vertical, swollen underground stem of a plant that serves as a storage organ) than the embryonal stage of leaf sheaths. They’ve completely different dimensions and shapes. They are often conical or rectangular. Within the Black Orchids (Bulbophyllum), the pseudobulbs are not than 2 millimeters. The most important orchid on the planet, the Large Orchid (Grammatophyllum speciosum), has pseudobulbs with lengths of two–3 meters. When the orchid has aged and the pseudobulb has shed its leaves, the pseudobulb turns into dormant and known as a backbulb. The subsequent yr’s pseudobulb then takes over, exploiting the final reserves of the backbulb. Finally, the backbulb additionally dies off, having given life to newer growths. On the finish of the pseudobulb usually seem one or two leaves, although there could also be as much as a dozen or extra. Some Dendrobium have lengthy, canelike pseudobulbs with brief, rounded leaves over the entire size. Some orchids have hidden or extraordinarily small pseudobulbs hidden utterly inside leaves.

Some sympodial terrestrials, resembling Orchis and Ophrys, have two subterranean tubers (extra like tuberous roots) between the roots. One is used as a meals reserve for wintry intervals, and supplies for the event of the opposite pseudobulb, from which seen development develops.

In heat and humid climates, many terrestrial orchids don’t want pseudobulbs.

Orchid flowers

Orchids are most notable to people for the sweetness and number of their flowers. No plant household has as many several types of flowers because the orchid household.

There are a lot of varieties of specializations inside the Orchidaceae. Finest identified are the various structural variations within the flowers that encourage pollination by specific species of bugs, bats, or birds.

Most African orchids are white, whereas Asian orchids are sometimes multicolored. Some orchids solely develop one flower on every stem, others typically greater than 100 collectively on a single spike.

The everyday orchid flower is zygomorphic, i.e. bilaterally symmetric. Notable exceptions are the genera Mormodes, Ludisia, and Macodes.

The flowers develop on racemes or panicles. These will be:

  • basal (i.e. produced from the bottom of the pseudobulb, as in Cymbidium)
  • apical (i.e. produced from the apex of the orchid, as in Cattleya)
  • or axillary (i.e. coming from a node between the leaf axil and the plant axis, as in Vanda).

The essential orchid flower consists of three sepals within the outer whorl, and three petals within the interior whorl. A sepal is a person unit of the outer a part of a flower, with the items often differentiated into petals and sepals. The time period ‘tepal’ is often utilized when the petals and sepals are usually not differentiated. Nevertheless, in a “typical” flower the sepals are inexperienced and lie beneath the extra conspicuous petals. When the flower is in bud, the sepals enclose and defend the extra delicate floral components inside. The medial petal is often modified and enlarged (then referred to as the labellum or lip), forming a platform for pollinators close to the middle of the corolla. Collectively, besides the lip, they’re referred to as tepals.

Sepals kind the outside of the bud. They’re inexperienced on this stage, however typically, if the orchid blossom is, for instance, purple, the buds can present a purple tint. When the flower opens, the sepals change into intensely coloured. Sepals could mimic petals resembling in some phalaenopsis, or be utterly distinct. In lots of orchids, the sepals are mutually completely different and customarily resemble the petals. It isn’t at all times simple to differentiate sepals and petals. The conventional kind will be present in Cattleya, with three sepals forming a triangle. However in Venus Slippers (Paphiopedilum) the decrease two sepals are concrescent (fused collectively right into a synsepal), whereas the lip has taken the type of a slipper. In Masdevallia all of the sepals are fused right into a calyx. In an instance like this, the sepals are very distinguished, particularly in lycaste orchids, the precise petals change into diminished and inconspicuous.

The reproductive organs within the middle (stamens and pistil) have tailored to change into a cylindrical construction referred to as the column or gynandrium. On prime of the column lies the stigma, the vestiges of stamens and the pollinia, a mass of waxy pollen on filaments. These filaments is usually a caudicle (as in Habenaria) or a stipe (as in Vanda). These filaments maintain the pollinia to the viscidium (sticky pad). The pollen are held collectively by the alkaloid viscine. This viscidium adheres to the physique of a visiting insect. The kind of pollinia is beneficial in figuring out the genus. On prime of the pollinia is the anther cap, stopping self-pollination. On the higher fringe of the stigma of single-anthered orchids, in entrance of the anther cap, is the rostellum, a slender beaklike extension.


Bumblebee Orchid (Ophrys bombyliflora)

The range and the refinement of orchids’ reproductive strategies are actually wonderful. On many orchids, the lip (labellum) serves as a touchdown pad for flying bugs. The labellum is usually tailored to have a shade and form that pulls specific male bugs by way of mimicry of a receptive feminine insect. Some orchids are reliant solely on this deception for pollination.

  • The Woman’s Slipper (Paphiopedilum) has a deep pocket that traps visiting bugs, with only one exit. Passage by this exit results in pollinia being deposited on the insect.
  • Many neotropical orchids are pollinated by male orchid bees, which go to the flowers to assemble risky chemical substances they require to synthesize pheromonal attractants. Every kind of orchid locations the pollinia on a distinct physique a part of a distinct species of bee, in order to implement correct cross-pollination.
  • Eurasian genus Ophrys has some species that look and scent a lot like feminine bumblebees that male bees flying close by are irresistibly drawn in and try to mate with the flower, resembling with the Bumblebee Orchid (Ophrys bombyliflora). The viscidium, and thus pollinia, follow the top or the stomach of the bumblebee. On visiting one other orchid of the identical species, the bumblebee pollinates the sticky stigma with the pollinia. The filaments of the pollinia have, throughout transport, taken such place that the waxy pollen are capable of stick within the second orchid to the stigma, just under the rostellum. Such is the refinement of the replica. If the filaments had not taken the brand new place on the bee, the pollinia couldn’t have pollinated the unique orchid. Different species of Ophrys are mimics of various bees or wasps, and are additionally pollinated by males trying to mate with the flowers, and different orchid genera follow related deception.
  • An underground orchid in Australia, Rhizanthella slateri, by no means sees the sunshine of day, however is dependent upon ants and different terrestrial bugs to pollinate it.
  • Many Bulbophyllum species stink like rotting carcasses, and the flies they entice help their replica.
  • Catasetum saccatum, a species mentioned briefly by Darwin really launches its viscid pollen sacs with explosive pressure, when an insect touches a seta. He was ridiculed for suggesting this by the naturalist Thomas Huxley.
  • Some Phalaenopsis species in Malaysia are identified to make use of delicate climate cues to coordinate mass flowering.
  • Some Phalaenopsis, Dendrobium, and Vanda species produce keiki, offshoots or plantlets fashioned from one of many nodes alongside the stem, by the buildup of development hormones at that time.
  • The filaments of the pollinia of some orchids dry up in the event that they haven’t been visited by an insect. This fashion, the waxy pollen falls on the stigma inflicting the orchid to self-fertilize.

Fruits and seeds

Cross-section of an orchid capsule, displaying Three or 6 longitudinal slits

If pollination was profitable, the sepals and petals fade and wilt however they continue to be hooked up to the ovary. The ovary usually develops right into a capsule with three or six longitudinal slits, remaining closed at each ends. The ripening of a capsule can take 2–18 months. The microscopic seeds are very quite a few (over 1,000,000 per capsule in most species). They blow off after ripening like mud particles or spores, barely seen to the human eye. Since they lack endosperm, they have to enter symbiotic relationship with mycorrhizal fungi to germinate. These fungi present the mandatory vitamins to the seeds.

All species depend upon mycorrhizal associations with varied fungi, largely genus Rhizoctonia (class Basidiomycetes), for at the very least a part of their life cycle. Some achlorophyllous (missing chlorophyll) species are tailored to be fully dependent upon these fungi for vitamins. The fungi decompose surrounding matter, releasing up water-soluble vitamins. As a result of most orchid seeds are extraordinarily tiny with no meals reserves (endosperm missing), they won’t germinate with out such a symbiont to produce vitamins within the wild. Some fungi proceed to stay within the roots of the grownup orchid. This allows an orchid resembling Neottia nidus-avis to perform with out chlorophyll. The prospect for a seed to satisfy a becoming fungus may be very small. Of all of the seeds launched, solely a minute fraction develop into new orchids.

Horticultural methods have been devised for germinating seeds on a nutrient-containing gel, eliminating the requirement of the fungus for germination, and drastically aiding the propagation of uncommon and endangered species.

Orchid cultivation

Orchids have been cultivated for over three thousand years, beginning in China. Nevertheless, fashionable orchid cultivation began within the Netherlands within the late 1600s when tropical species had been introduced again on ships from the Far East and the New World. After an extended interval of path and error, Europeans discovered tips on how to domesticate tropical orchids. One necessary level was, and nonetheless is, understanding the pure local weather and circumstances of every species’ native habitat and attempting to duplicate them.

By 1802 orchids had been being raised from seed and in 1856 the primary artificially produced hybrid orchid bloomed. Within the years that adopted many new hybrids had been created and the cultivation of orchids has change into a well-liked passion worldwide. The rising of orchid crops for hobbyists and in addition for lower flowers has change into an necessary trade in lots of international locations. Most orchids grown and bought are hybrids.


Vanilla, Vanilla planifolia (and two different Vanilla species much less generally grown), is the one orchid that’s grown for meals or some other use in addition to its magnificence (with a number of minor exceptions). Vanilla was first cultivated in Central America the place it was used, like at this time, as a flavoring. Vanilla cultivation was launched to different components of the world within the 1800s and it’s now an necessary crop in a lot of the tropics. Madagascar is the main producer, producing three million metric tons (of a world whole of seven.Three million metric tons) in 2005.

The Coca-Cola Firm is the world’s largest person of vanilla. In addition to its use as a flavoring, vanilla can be utilized in fragrances and perfumes.

Vanilla is a really labor-intensive crop to develop, for the reason that flowers must be pollinated by hand. It’s most suited to small household farms.

“I’ve by no means in my life seen something as worthwhile for smallholders as vanilla,” mentioned Steve New, a horticultural adviser working in Uganda.[1]


Many wild orchid species are threatened by individuals accumulating them on the market to orchid fanciers and nurseries. Many are additionally threatened by the destruction of their habitat by logging and forest clearing.

In 1975 a treaty often known as the Conference on Worldwide Commerce in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (also called CITES) went into impact. It has been ratified by over 140 nations. Below its authority, all orchid species are protected for the needs of worldwide commerce as probably threatened or endangered of their pure habitat, with most species listed beneath Appendix II. Various species and genera are afforded safety beneath Appendix I, together with all of Paphiopedilum and all of Phragmipedium. Many different species are protected by each worldwide and nationwide laws, whereas hybrids are particularly exempted.


  • Batygina, T. B., E. A. Bragina, and E. Vasilyeva. 2003. The reproductive system and germination in orchids. Acta Biol. Cracov. ser. Bot. 45: 21-34.
  • Berg Pana, H. 2005. Handbuch der Orchideen-Namen. Dictionary of Orchid Names. Dizionario dei nomi delle orchidee. Ulmer, Stuttgart.
  • Kreutz, C. A. J. 2004. Kompendium der Europaischen Orchideen. Catalogue of European Orchids. Landgraaf, Netherlands: Kreutz Publishers,
  • Taylor. D. L., and T. D. Bruns. 1997. Ectomycorrhizal mutualism by two nonphotosynthetic orchids, Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 94: 4510-4515. (on line).
  • Stewart, J. 2000. Orchids. Portland, OR: Timber Press.


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