The proliferous Orchidaceae, commonly known as the orchid, is a family of flowering plants that have been around for centuries, wooing us with their beauty and graceful contours. They exist in nearly every corner of the world and have come to dominate mainstream culture alongside the rose. One of its most prominent and distinguished members, the vanilla-leaf orchid, has been controlling taste buds around the world through its vanilla flavor, which is responsible for some of the best food on the planet. There is of course much more to this family of flowers than just vanilla though.
Keep reading to find out the:
- Origins of the orchid flower
- There are how many species?!
- The looks of the orchid
- Symbolism in cultures around the world
- Quirky orchid facts
- Culinary and other uses
- How to raise your orchid
Origins of the Orchid Flower
Recent research has placed orchids in the world as long ago as 60-80 million years. They are mostly found in tropical environments such as in Asia and Africa but can be found in most areas of the world, excluding very cold areas such as Antarctica. A slow-growing plant, it can take up to 5 to 7 years to flower. Because of its large, shapely roots, the name “orchis,” from the Greek word for “testicle,” was given to it. They are primarily pollinated by bees, with the occasional bird species taking part. Unlike other plants, some orchids rely on fungi for nutrient uptake as they do not have an endosperm.
There Are How Many Species?!
The orchid family is one of the most dominant flowering plant species on the planet with close to 30,000 species and still more being added every year. To put that into perspective, that is close to double the species of birds in existence and over four times the number of mammals on the planet! It is no wonder that the orchid is one of the most popular flowers in the world, it is simply impossible to go anywhere without running into them. It also has some of the largest quantities of hybrids in existence, with nearly 100,000 different varieties having been created by humans. The orchid name is responsible for close to 10 percent of all the seed plants on the earth.
The Looks of the Orchid
The orchid flower has as many colors as a rainbow; greens, pinks, reds and yellows, whites and purple flowers can be found all over with blues being the rarest. Due to the large variety in existence, there are many structural differences between each plant. A few orchids hold a single flower, but most of them grow multiple flowers, known as an inflorescence.
The ancient form of the orchid had three stamens, but the more modern breeds have reduced that down to one. The orchid can be as tiny as a fingernail or grow as large as 25 feet tall such as the tiger orchid found in Indonesia. Orchids are not picky about where they live, growing above and below ground or attached to other plants.
Symbolism in Cultures Around the World
Many central and south American countries in the world such as Colombia, Venezuela, and others hold the orchid as their national flower. It is thought to represent virility, not surprising considering its impressive record at spreading itself around the world, but is also seen as a sign of strength, beauty, and love. In ancient Greece, women fed their husbands the tubers as it was thought to lead to more male children.
Quirky Orchid Facts
Living up to 100 years old, the orchid has plenty of time to get up to some shenanigans, especially when we speak in terms of evolution. Some of the most amusing flowers are in the orchid family, starting with what is known as the “naked guy” orchid, which looks like it has a small nude man hanging off its top. The monkey orchid, another hilarious flower, has a cute, white fluffy looking top that resembles the face of a monkey. Some are just plain awesome though, with the owl orchid stealing the show, which as its name implies, looks exactly like an owl, very reminiscent of Hedwig from Harry Potter for all the geeks out there.
Culinary and Other Uses
Some species of orchid, such as the Gastrodia, produce tubers, similar to the potato that can be eaten, with the aboriginals in Australia using them quite often. Others can be ground down to a fine powder and have been used in hot beverages or even frozen desserts like the Turkish dondurma. The vanilla bean is probably its most commercially successful food use, being found in dozens of sweets and beverages. It is used in some perfumes and some extracts from orchids, such as salep, and ibogaine are used psychedelically to treat addictions.
How to Raise Your Orchid
The orchid is possibly one of the most common household plants, yet it is quite difficult to grow. The orchid flower can give off up to three million seeds, although microscopic, this ups the chances of good germination. Unlike other plants though, it does not have an endosperm and requires a specific type of fungus to grow. Ideally buying a more mature, less picky variety that better suits the climate of your home and up your chances of keeping the flower alive. The moth orchid is quite easy to raise and the best choice for beginners while the cymbidium can last in colder parts of the world. Dendrobiums, very common in florists, and oncidiums last well indoors. Most require weekly watering, and grow well in medium-light, perfect for windowsills.
The Virile Orchidaceae
The orchid has come to dominate the modern world and can be found anywhere and everywhere. Its quirky evolutionary traits and beautiful exterior are going to continue to help it keep its spot amongst the most popular of flowers for the foreseeable future, a wonderful way to spice up or sweeten in the vanilla orchids case, any interior or exterior.