The Orchid Family

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Orchidaceae

The orchid holds a special place in my heart. When showing off, it has beautiful flowers which can last quite a long time but then it happens… The flowers begin to shrivel up one by one, fall off, and for some people, never show their beauty again. This is when they come to me. Some of the people around me know that I have open arms to any and all orchids. They call them, boring with plain green leaves. I don’t see them that way and love to nurse them back to health. They sit in my bathroom upstairs enjoying the filtered light and moisture from the shower until they are ready to make an appearance again. Once buds begin to form, they come back downstairs and sit in the prime flower spot in the foyer and kitchen where people can ooh and ahh over them. Every day in my bathroom I look at those boring green leaves and feel a great sense of love knowing what their future holds. The gift of new buds feels like Christmas. Growing orchids takes a lot of patience but I believe it is well worth it!

As I dig deeper into the orchid family, it seems that there is a lot of variance with statements like, they are primarily this but can also be like this. Read on to see a few examples. According to Botany Illustrated, Orchids are found worldwide and are known as the largest family with an estimated 30,000 species. [Even their] habitats vary enormously from dry sand to acidic bogs and wet meadows, from temperate forest and mangrove swamps to tropical cloud forests there is even an underground orchid, Thizanthella gardneri (Glimn-Lacy & Kaufman, 2006, pg.130). They also vary greatly in size. Most leaves are alternate and simple but some plants are leafless. They are primarily herbaceous (nonwoody) but they may also be like a vine or a shrub. You may find them getting nutrients by either being attached to another plant, epiphytic, or from the soil and dead organic matter, saprophytic. Orchids are considered perennials, which means they live for more than two years.

If you’ve ever tried to buy an orchid as a gift, you know that the flower colors and patterns vary greatly too, making it a difficult decision. Dodson (2019) from the Encyclopedia Britannica explains a little about the unique characteristics of an orchid – As a group, the orchids are different from other plants but only in the morphological (structural) characteristics associated with the flower and its organization. Even the special characteristics of orchid flowers, such as the masses of pollen called pollinia, the joining of the stamens and pistil to form a column, and the tiny seeds without endosperm are found individually in other groups of flowering plants. It is through the combination of several characteristics that a family of flowering plants, the Orchidaceae, emerges.  The flower is usually bisexual which means it has staminate and pistillate structures. It has three sepals that may resemble petals, a column of fused stamen and stigmas, and three carpels which make up the inferior ovary. The central petal which is the lip is usually large and unique sometimes even considered bizarre. The lip encloses the fused male and female parts creating a column. On the tip of this column is a sticky pollen sac. The other end of the column has a sticky flap called the rostellum. Insects take pollen from one flower to another flower. There it sticks to the rostellum and a capsule fruit is formed.

The orchid got its name from the Ancient Greeks. They called it órkhis, which when translated means testicle. It is believed that this name was given because of the shape of the root. Carl Linnaeus classified the family as Orchidaceae and the name orchid was used by John Lindley in the book School Botany in 1845. Interestingly, the orchid family is of great economic importance and provides a very important item, vanilla! There are also many folk medicines and cures associated with the orchid: Cure poisoning from a fish, prevent sickness after childbirth, to treat boils, as a diuretic, good for broken bones, food and food supplements, sold as a vegetable, seasoning, flour substitute, and can even be used as a glue.

To conclude, the orchid can be found everywhere, even in roadside ditches, and have many varying features which create a unique family, to say the least. Some species are considered a weed whereas others are considered endangered and protected. They can be used for vanilla, folk medicinal cures, or just for admiring their beauty. Once the flowers fall and you are left with only the leaves, it can take great patience to wait for the flowers to bloom again. I wonder if there is an organization out there for rescuing abandoned orchids? Maybe I should start one.


Aitchinson, P. (2013) Orchid: How did it get its name? Retrieved from https://sfvos.com/ 2013/09/12/orchid-how-did-it-get-its-name/
Dodson, C. (2019) Orchid. Retrieved from https://www.britannica.com/plant/orchid
Glimn-Lacy & Kaufman. (2006) Botany Illustrated: Introduction to Plants, Major Groups, Flowering Plant Families second edition. New York, NY: Springer Science+Buisness Media, Inc.