Orchidaceae (the orchid family) is the largest family of flowering plants with more than 25,000 species, with more and more new orchid plants are being discovered continually, though about 3,000 of the species are under taxonomic dispute. It is also the oldest type of flowering plant on earth and makes up about 6–11% of all seed plants. The largest genera of orchids are the Bulbophyllum with about 2,000 species, the Epidendrum with about 1,500 species, the Dendrobium with about 1,400 species and the Pleurothallis with about 1,000 species. The orchid family also includes the Vanilla orchid, and many cultivated orchids like the Cattleya orchid.
The popularity of orchid plants means that they are easily the most recognized types of plants in the world. People might not know exactly what type of orchid plant it is, but anyone will be able to tell that it is indeed an orchid when they see it. A large part of this popularity stems from the fact that the orchid flower is long-lasting and very elegant with a delicate exotic beauty. This makes orchid plants with their graceful appearance the perfect gift for many occasions.
In nature most orchid species grow in the tropical and subtropical regions of Asia and South America. However, most orchid species will grow practically anywhere in the world, except for the Polar Regions and extremely arid desert areas. This makes growing orchids possible for most people, and the relative ease with which orchids can be cultivated has also contributed to its popularity.
Growing orchids is quite easy in almost any type of climate even though most people think of orchids as being tropical. The most popular orchid species are the Phalaenopsis orchid (or Moth orchid), Cymbidium orchids, and the Dendrobium orchid, while the Vanilla orchid (and its vanilla bean) is the most highly produced orchid species. Many types of orchids are epiphytes that grow anchored to trees. They lodge in the crotches of branches or encircle their roots around the limbs of trees and thus extract nutrients from patches of moss and detritus in crevices and absorbing moisture from the atmosphere. Some types of orchids are saprophytes in that they do not have their own chlorophyll with which to get energy from the sun to photosynthesize. Some of the most beautiful types of orchids are saprophytic and are extremely difficult to cultivate. Many are terrestrial as well as semi-terrestrial; and grow from ground level and have roots extending into the soil from underground rhizomes and tubers.
Many types of orchids have uniquely shaped blooms, but the orchid flower conforms to a basic, common pattern. The petals form two groups or whorls of three each, all the petals in the outer whorl are similar in shape and two of the petals in the inner whorl are generally similarly shaped to the outer whorl petals. They may just differ in size, and the lowest petal, the third of the inner whorl, usually called the lip, is quite differently shaped from all the other petals. There are more details on the orchid flower in Orchid Biological Structure.
Orchids in different epochs
To the ancient Greeks, orchids suggested virility, and after the rise in popularity of orchid plant collections in Victorian England, the meaning of orchids moved towards being symbolic of luxury. Orchids have also been believed to carry various healing and protective properties, allowing them to ward off disease. The Aztecs were said to drink a mixture of the Vanilla orchid and chocolate to give them power and strength, and the Chinese believe orchids can help cure lung illnesses and coughs. In the following pages the aim will be to shed some light on orchids, growing orchids and orchid care.
Different types of Orchids
The different orchid species are classified according to the climates in which they grow and thrive. This can be cool-climate orchids, intermediate-climate orchids, and warm climate orchids. The more popular individual orchid plants are arranged in these categories as follows:
Some orchids, like the Dendrobium orchid, are found in a range of climate conditions and do not belong to one specific climatic classification.