The Orchid is one of the largest groups of flowering plants in the world. It is
grown everywhere except Antarctica and some of the most arid desert zones of West
Asia. This large group of flower, family Orchidae, has a number of species that
vary from 15,000 to 25,000! That's a lot!
Orchids have fascinated people since early times. They have been the symbol
of love, luxury, and beauty for centuries. Greeks looked at them as a symbol of
virility. The Chinese, as long ago as the time of Confucius, called orchids "The Plant
of the King's Fragrance." In the middle ages, orchids played a major role in herbal
remedies. They were also regarded as an aphrodisiac and have been one of the main
ingredients in certain love potions. When orchids appear in a dream, they
supposedly represent a deep inner need and desire to keep gentleness, delicacy, and
romance in ones relationship.
By the start of the 18th century orchid collecting was firmly established in
many parts of the world. Because of their attractive unusual flowers and
intoxicating fragrances. A few orchids were brought back from far off lands by
British sea captains in the 18th century. They remained curiosities for a handful of
botanists and wealthy amateurs. This all changed in 1818, when a man by the name
of William Cattley bloomed the first Cattleya. The strange thing about this whole
event was he had been unpacking plants he had shipped in (not orchids), he noticed
these strange plants that had been used as packing material. He potted some of them
up and in November, one of the Cattleyas bloomed. The flower world has never
been the same, it is still feeling the impact of that single plant.
Entire forests were stripped of millions of orchids. Almost all collecting of
orchids are now banned. Many are on the "endangered lists." Species are now being
cultivated from seed. Orchids have been cultivated in Europe for 250 years.
Orchids and their allies are distinguished from other flowering plants by a
combination of floral characteristics rather than by a single characteristic. Orchid
flowers are born on stalks called pedicels. During the growth and development of
the flower, however, the pedicel rotates 180°, so that the mature orchid flower is
born upside down! Of the flower's three sepals and three petals, all the sepals and
the two lateral petals are usually similar to one another in color and shape. The
remaining petal, always different from the others, is called the labellum, or lip. The
labellum is usually larger, different in color and shape, and often being lobed or
cupped. The labellum, which often...