Orchids are stunningly beautiful and are one of the easiest flowering houseplants to care for. This is likely what makes them one of the most popular flowering plants in the world.
There are 51 types of orchids in the world and each one has slightly different care requirements and origins.
All types of orchids are members of the family Orchidaceae. There are more than 800 genera of orchids in the family, which can be broken down even further into more than 25,000 species and over 100,000 hybrids and cultivars.
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Orchids can be found in almost every part of the world excluding Antarctica.
While most species of orchids are native to tropical regions, there is a large number that thrives in hot arid climates, and some have even adapted to live in cold regions such as Alaska and Canada.
Orchids are perineal plants and are characterized by the way they grow. Monopodial orchids grow from one stem, gaining new leaves and getting taller each year.
Sympodial orchids, on the other hand, grow horizontally with new growth sprouting from the extended rhizome of the mature plant.
Most species of orchids that are available as houseplants are sympodial, but exceptions such as varieties from the genus Vanda do exist.
Some species of orchids are epiphytic, meaning they grow on other plants – usually trees – but there are also terrestrial orchids.
Epiphytic orchids are interesting because their roots wrap around the branches of trees and absorb most of their water and nutrients through the rain and air.
Epiphytic species live on the host without causing any damage, unlike a parasite, or adding anything to the host, like a symbiote.
Similar to epiphytic orchids are lithophytic orchids. These grow on rocks and also get their nutrients from the air and the rain.
They also will soak up nutrients from other nearby plants that have died, including even their own dead leaves.
The third kind of orchid, terrestrial, is more traditional in the way it grows. Terrestrial orchids prefer soil that is moist, well-draining, and high in organic matter.
This is why many orchid growers keep their plants in a mixture that includes sphagnum moss.
The largest genus of orchids is Bulbophyllum, which includes approximately 2,000 species. Orchids in the genus Bulbophyllum are generally epiphytic and are usually on the smaller side.
They grow sympodially and generally flower multiple times throughout the year.
The second-largest genus is Epidendrum with roughly 1,500 species. Orchids in the genus Epidendrum can be either epiphytic or terrestrial and most are tropical species.
They generally grow in the spring and summer and bloom when it starts to cool in the fall.
The third-largest genus is Dendrobium. This genus features over 1,400 species of orchids. Most of these are either epiphytic or lithophytic and are very popular in the plant-keeping hobby.
They typically flower from spring to late summer and their blooms generally last 1–3 months.
The western underground orchid is the rarest orchid in the world with an estimated 50 plants in existence.
Its rarity is likely due to the fact that these plants live entirely underground and get all of their nutrients from the roots of the honey myrtle bush.
Unlike epiphytic plants, the western underground orchid is parasitic, meaning that it harms the plant it grows on.
Since this plant lives strictly underground, it has evolved to attract unlikely pollinators. Its flowers emit a unique scent that is meant to attract termites and ants.
Orchid prices are influenced by supply and demand. Whether you are searching for an orchid plant or just a flower, you are likely going to pay at least $10-20 dollars for even the most popular plants.
The most expensive orchid ever sold, however, was a Shenzhen Nongke Orchid flower.
This plant was produced by a research lab in China and the flower was sold at auction in 2005 for a staggering $200,000 dollars. This makes it the most expensive orchid and the most expensive flower sold to date.
There are many types of orchids that are very fragrant, but the one best known for its alluring scents is the genus Cattleya.
Species from this genus are well-loved for their fragrant flowers, which are often used in perfumes, candles, and air fresheners.
The highest concentration of orchids is found in South America, where there are over 300 genera and more than 12,000 species.
This is mostly due to the weather and climate in South America, which boasts a plentiful rainy season, and many areas have rather mild weather year-round.
It is estimated that 10,000 of the 12,000 species found in South America are located in the Amazon rainforest. This is just one more reason for us to protect this unique ecological area.
Grammatophyllum speciosum, also known as the tiger orchid, is the largest orchid in the world based on its overall size.
This species is known to grow over 100ft tall and weigh over 4,000 pounds. These orchids are epiphytic and grow on trees in their native Indonesia.
You can buy these stunning plants online and in some plant specialty stores, but unless you keep them outdoors and you live in a tropical climate, they are unlikely to grow as large as the chart-toppers that are found in the wild.
The smallest orchid in the world is Platystele jungermannioides. Its flowers are only about 2mm in size and the entire plant is so small and thin that it’s nearly translucent.
It was discovered by accident by a scientist who was studying a larger species. He collected the larger species, brought it back to his greenhouse, and a few months later noticed the tiny species growing on it.
Platystele jungermannioides is an epiphytic species that grows in cloud forests in Mexico, Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Panama.
It is successfully cultured in private hands, but specimens can be quite rare due to their delicacy.
Orchids are unique flowers, and each species has a preferred pollinator that their flowers are shaped for. The most common pollinators are bees, wasps, moths, birds, flies, and butterflies.
The male and female parts of the flowers work together to ensure that pollinators entering their flowers are covered with a specialized pollen ball called pollinia.
When a pollinator goes from one flower to the next, pollen is then transferred to the second flower’s stigma and the flower is pollinated.
This means that the flower will be able to produce seeds and spread.
The oddest pollinator around is the raspy cricket, which pollinates species of night-blooming orchids that are found on Reunion Island.
Yes, the Water Spider Orchid is native to the southern United States from Texas and Arkansas to North Carolina and Florida, as well as Mexico, Central America, and the West Indies.
This species is unique due to its adaptability. It can either grow completely terrestrially or it can live completely aquatically.
When found aquatically, the Water Spider Orchid floats on the surface of slow-moving bodies of water such as ponds, lakes, and rivers.
It produces green flowers year-round which are pollinated by moths. Since moths are its preferred pollinator, the Water Spider Orchid flower emits its vanilla scent only at night.
If you are an avid hiker or explorer and you come across a beautiful flowering plant such as an orchid, you may be tempted to collect it for your personal collection.
However, before collecting you will want to check into local, state, and park laws where you are.
Most state and national parks in the United States do not allow collecting, but some wildlife management areas do. Even in areas that do, you will want to be cognizant of the species you are trying to collect.
If it is an endangered species, you are not allowed to collect it.
In short, the answer is yes and no, there are some places where collecting orchids is legal and some where it’s not. Know your laws and you should be good to add to your collection.
If you aren’t able to find a place near you that allows you to collect orchids, you may decide you want to purchase some. There are a ton of options when it comes to buying orchids for your collection.
One great place to source orchids is Ecuagenera USA. They both grow their own plants and import them from Central and South America.
They have a huge variety of orchids that are very healthy, and they can ship all over the United States.
Another great source is your local plant store. Most family-owned plant nurseries will either try to keep a great selection of houseplants in stock, or they will be able to order them in for you from their suppliers.
If you are still struggling to find the plants you want, there are a few more options for harder-to-find varieties. Etsy, eBay, and orchid-specific Facebook groups are also great places to find the plants you are looking for.
Not all species of orchids are edible, but there are some parts of specific orchids that are. Orchids from the genus dendrobium have flowers that are often used in teas, salads, and as a garnish on other dishes.
There is also the flat-leafed vanilla plant. This plant is one of the only edible fruit-bearing orchids and it is where we get vanilla extract from.
These plants are native to Mexico and their flavoring is commonly used in desserts all over the world.
In short, while orchid plants are not edible, some flowers and the pods of vanilla orchids are.
Be cautious if you choose to munch on one of your orchid flowers, even some of the edible types can cause stomach upset.