All about orchids
Many plants have exotic flowers, but there is something very special about orchids. Whether it’s their vivid colors, intricately painted faces, or pure elegance, there are orchids to suit all tastes. Some are suitable as houseplants, a few for growing outdoors, while others need more specialized conditions. Orchids are widely available from garden centers and flower shops, although you will find the best choice at specialized nurseries, which can also provide the best advice.
Past and present From the collection of wild orchids to the production of artificially propagated plants, our fascination with orchids can be traced back 4,000 years to their use in Chinese medicine.
Today, they are one of our favorite houseplants.
(orchids) Early beginnings
A collection of pressed orchids was first created at the Royal Botanic
Gardens, Kew, England, in the 18th century, but the passion for orchid collecting was not ignited until the 19th century, when William
Cattley became the first person to succeed in actually flowering a plant.
Collectors were sent out in pursuit of the new and fascinating.
Huge consignments of orchids were ripped from the wild and sent back to England, although the vast majority perished before arriving. Records of the early collections can be found, not just in literature, but in the dedicated and exquisitely detailed recording of plants by botanical artists of the time.
orchids Industrial revolution
In the 20th century, new methods of germinating seed on agar in laboratories, followed by the discovery of cloning methods, made the mass production of plants possible. Orchids became much more affordable.
Large-scale production of plants now takes place all over the world, with the majority of moth orchids now coming from Asia. The recent introduction of computer-controlled environments and modern factory equipment, such as conveyor belts and automated light, feeding, and watering systems, makes it possible for millions of plants to be produced with minimal human involvement. This has reduced the cost of plants considerably, making a basic range of inexpensive houseplant orchids available to all.
As a result of this industrialized approach, the amateur orchid grower is finding things more difficult, since small, specialized nurseries are now becoming more of a rarity. These nurseries cannot compete on price with the industrial giants, but it is here that you will find a wealth of advice and knowledge, as well as the more unusual orchids that appeal most to amateur growers and exhibitors.
Range of orchids
Orchids are arguably the largest family of flowering plants, with over 30,000 species and hundreds of thousands of registered and unregistered hybrids.
Flower shape and size vary immensely, and orchids are found in almost every color, except true black. Although some are unperfumed, orchids have a range of scents—not all of them pleasant.
comes from Sumatra and the Philippines, and is one of a group called jewel orchids.
The flowers are insignificant; this orchid is grown for its attractive foliage.
Its velvety green leaves are veined in gold, with the undersides a contrasting deep green, tinged with purple. When sunlight plays on them, they sparkle. Another jewel orchid, Ludisia discolor, is readily available and one of the easiest orchids to grow.
is a native of Mexico and widely cultivated in the tropics as a source of vanilla pods, which are used in cooking and aromatherapy, and are also used to make perfume.
The name comes from the Spanish vainilla, meaning “little pod.” Pods on these orchids can grow up to 6 in (15 cm) long
and contain precious vanilla seed, which is an expensive spice to buy.
Phalaenopsis pulcherrima syn.
Doritis pulcherrima is found from northeast China to Borneo. Its dainty flowers, held on stiff stems, come in a range of remarkable colors, from pure white and white with a colored lip, to various shades of blue.
This plant has been widely used for hybridizing to produce many of today’s moth orchids.
is often referred to as Darwin’s orchid. On observing this orchid’s exceptionally long spur and nocturnal scent, Darwin predicted that it must have a night-flying pollinator.
Many years later, a hawk moth with an extremely long proboscis was discovered, proving Darwin right.
is a spectacular species from Colombia. Like many of the orchids in this recently established genus, it has an almost grotesque appearance.
The name, from the Latin dracula, meaning “little dragon,” also bears homage to Count Dracula from the famous Bram Stoker novel.
Several species have been given “spooky” names, such as Drac. chimera, Drac. diabola, Drac. gorgona, and Drac. vampire.
Bulbophyllum falcatum, commonly called sickle-shaped leaf bulbophyllum, is an unusual species from Africa.
A small plant, it produces a flattened rachis that resembles a knife blade, with tiny maroon flowers aligned horizontally on both surfaces.
A magnifying lens is useful to see them.
Bulbophyllum Thai Spider
is a man-made hybrid, producing an attractive mop of flowers on top of slender stems. These wave eerily in the breeze to attract insect pollinators.
One of the parents of this hybrid is Bulb. medusae, which gets it name from Medusa in classical mythology—a monstrous Gorgon with wriggling serpents for hair.
Cypripedium x ventricosum
is one of the slipper orchids, popularly called lady’s or Venus’s slipper as a result of their shape. Its modified lip or pouch is one of nature’s great adaptations, forming a trap for any insect that is attracted to the flower.
The only escape route for the insect involves climbing past the staminode, collecting or depositing pollen in the process, and ensuring fertilization.
is found throughout tropical America and is one of over a thousand species in a genus that runs the gamut of practically every orchid characteristic.
They range from tall to short, single-flowered to multi-floral, with leaves thin to thick.
hese cool-, intermediate-, and warm-growing species have habitats ranging from wet to dry.
Hamelwellsara Happy Hour
is the result of the hybridizers’ constant quest to grow something new, or even bizarre, as a commercial houseplant.
Recent breedings of Hamelwellsara, pioneered in Australia and New Zealand, have produced brightly colored flowers, in greens, purples, burgundy reds, and whites.
This hybrid from the Zygopetalum alliance is made up of four different genera.
Psychopsis krameriana is always a show stopper
It is a member of a small but extremely flamboyant genus found from Costa Rica to Peru. Another very similar species is Psychopsis papilio.
The genus gets its name from the Greek psyche, meaning “butterfly,” and opsis, meaning “resembling.”
Indeed, there are several tropical butterflies that bear a close resemblance to these large flowers, which open slowly in succession, giving a long flowering season.
like most plants in this genus, has an unusual growth habit—its strangely shaped flowers emerging from the bottom of the plant.
Sometimes called the upside-down orchid, its short-lived flowers are spicily fragrant, not always pleasantly so.
The plants are grown suspended in open wire or plastic baskets to allow the pendulous flower spikes to push through the base before opening.
Spectacular to exhibit, these orchids are a nightmare for growers because their brief flowering period is difficult, if not impossible, to time precisely for an orchid show.
and its close relatives have long been admired, although it is considered something of a challenge to orchid growers in temperate climates.
In its natural tropical environment, with high temperatures and high humidity, it is quite happy to grow suspended by wire, with little or nothing in the way of compost, and depending entirely on its aerial roots for moisture.
There is currently a fashion for buying Vanda in clear glass vases.
Although the plant can survive like this for several weeks, it is best to remove it after it flowers and hang it somewhere hot and humid.
Frequent spraying is essential for the plant to reflower.
Coelogyne cristata, commonly known as string of pearls, has been a favorite of orchid growers for many years.
Once abundant on trees in northern India, it was admired by the English botanist Sir Joseph Hooker, while plant hunting in the mid-19th century.
This orchid produces drooping trusses of fragrant, frilly white flowers and creates a stunning effect when grown suspended in a slatted basket.
Although a slow starter, the flower ball can reach 24 in (60 cm) or more in diameter and becomes extremely heavy.
ORCHIDS Natural habitats
Most orchids grow in the tropics, but it is difficult to find an area of the world, from the Arctic Circle to Antarctica, that does not have its own native species.
Many have specialized to grow in some of the world’s toughest environments.
Dactylorhiza are distributed
throughout Europe and the Mediterranean, the Himalayas, China, and Japan.
North America and Madeira each have one species.
They are Britain’s most prolific orchid, inhabiting fields, marshland, golf courses, nature preserves, and private gardens, where they flower in June and July.
They need a temperate climate and little competition to succeed.
Tropical cloud- and rainforests
are home to most of the world’s epiphytic orchids, where they cling to trees, sheltered by the leaf canopy.
The low-level cloud cover of the cloud forests offers year-round moisture, while the high rainfall in the tropical rainforests sustains millions of plants.
The good light, copious moisture, and high temperatures of these forests make an ideal home.
Orchids not only grow
in habitats with vastly different temperatures, but they can also be found growing at greatly different elevations.
Some of the reed Epidendrum grow high up in the Peruvian Andes in a very harsh climate.
Clinging to the craggy rock, enveloped by passing clouds, and exposed to sun, wind, and rain, they blossom freely.
South African Disa
plant their roots firmly in moist, free-draining soil, alongside streams, waterfalls.
And wet cliffs, at 4,000 ft (1,200 m) above sea level. Known as The Pride of Table Mountain, Disa uniflora grows profusely on this sandstone substrate in open valleys and, more successfully, in rocky gorges.
The Pterostylis of Australia live in areas prone to summer bush fires.
Most are winter-growing and die down to an underground tuber in the dry season, when the fires occur.
The granite outcrops of scrub provide a harsh climate, and the rocky ridges, vulnerable to erosion and grazing by feral goats, provide an unlikely habitat.
The loss of orchid habitat caused by the clearing of tropical forests is well understood, but the destruction of important sites closer to home is often overlooked.
The unauthorized collection and sale of orchids is also a concern.
To protect the world’s wild populations, orchids are classified as endangered, and strict national and international rules control their trade.
Orchids should never be taken from the wild to grow at home, since besides being an illegal practice, the transplants taken will seldom grow well.
Instead, specialized nurseries have the techniques to grow and hybridize better orchids for the amateur.
Buying nurseryraised stock also helps conserve wild plants.
was once common in northern England; now, only a single plant remains.
It is too late to save this orchid in England, but it survives elsewhere.
is shown here growing in Machu Picchu, Peru, at a sanctuary set up to preserve flora.
Several countries have areas set aside to protect their native plant species.
grows in many US states.
It is currently classified as “endangered” in Illinois and “commercially exploited, endangered” in Tennessee.
Pleione formosana orchids
and its forms, this orchids plants widely available from nurseries, so there is no need for the illegal trade in plants collected from the wild.