Orchids are lovely, complex and diverse flowers. They come in a stunning array of varieties, with nearly every color shape and size imaginable represented. There are many orchid types, approximately 26,000 species and about 880 categories or genera in the world. Since orchids grow on every continent one could say they are one of the most diverse species of flowers. Their structure is unique to the species, and no other flower looks quite like an orchid.
The scientific name Of Orchids is Orchidaceae.
- Kingdom: Plantae (plants)
- Category: Angiosperms (flowering plants)
- Category: Monocots (having one seed leaf)
- Order: Asparagales
- Family: Orchidaceae
Origin of the name (etymology):
John Lindley first used the term Orchid in his 1845 book, “School of Botany.” He derived the word orchid from the Greek word “orchis” which literally means “testicle,” because the root of an orchid is shaped similarly.
Where the Orchids Grow:
Orchids are native to every country on earth and grow anywhere that is not covered by perpetual ice or shifting desert sand. There are many different varieties of orchids, and at least one is native to virtually every area on earth. Many of the most elaborate orchids grow in the tropics, but many lovely varieties grow in northern and temperate climates as well.
Description and Characteristics
So what makes an orchid an orchid?
This vastly diverse species has several characteristics common almost exclusively to orchids. One characteristic that defines an orchid flower is its labellum. A labellum is a different and unusually shaped petal that attracts insects and serves as a landing platform for bees to encourage pollination.
Usually centrally located the labellum of an orchid is always highly modified, irregularly shaped, and frequently brightly colored. In addition,an orchid has fused central stamens and carpels, and very small seeds. Orchid flowers are Zygomorphic, which is a formal way of saying they are the same on the left side as the right, like a face.
The stems and roots of the orchid are also part of the identifying characteristics which define an orchid. Orchids are perennial and their stemsare soft, not woody. Orchids are either monopodial or symopodial. Monopodal means that a single stem, while sympodial refers to conjoined stems, and a lateral growth pattern. Some orchids have a lot of roots visible above ground..
If you happen to know any women over 60 they can tell you of the thrill of having their date pin a fabulously elaborate orchid corsage on their prom dress. Even those who are around fifty may remember, though the trend was slowly dying out by then. When speaking to an older lady about orchids she is sure to brighten up and tell you a wistful tale of loves long past.
It was apparently a universally magical experience to have an orchid pinned on your dress, by a trembling young lad, afraid of sticking his date with the long pin. Mothers day orchid corsages are still popular however, reminding mothers of days gone by.
Orchids however have a long and varied history of symbolic meaning. The ancient Greeks, also noticing the shape of the roots, connected orchids with virility. They believed that if a man ate the roots orchids, they would father a son. Similarly the Aztecs ate the beans of the vanilla orchid mixed with chocolate to give them strength.
In China orchid symbolized both refinement and childlike innocence. The Europeans equated the elaborate orchid with wealth and luxury. Today, the image of the orchid is far more feminine, than its former message of virility, perhaps because we do not admire the roots as often as the flowers. Most modern people feel that the orchid symbolizes love, beauty, and wisdom.
Cultivation and Care
While some growers say that caring for orchids is easy, they can also be a challenge. Orchids have certain environmental requirements. It is important to make sure they are kept in a warm but not hot humid environment with indirect sunlight and plenty of moisture, but never literally allowed to be wet.
Indoor orchid care:
- Watering - Knowing how to water an orchid is the key to growing healthy orchids indoors, or rather simply knowing how to water an orchid isn’t enough. Watering is the most tricky part about indoor orchid care. Not ever overwatering is the secret.
Remember high humidity, misting the bottoms of the leaves is good, but very little water should be applied to the soil. Be careful to only water orchids once or twice a week. Don’t leave water in the saucer, and never use hard, high calcium water.
Water can be softened by using hydrochloric acid at a dilution of 1/1000. Be sure to follow the instructions when diluting hydrochloric acid. Water should be applied only after being kept at room temperature, and never chilled, or straight from the tap.
Strangely one should wait three weeks after potting to water an orchid at all. During this rest period one should only mist the leaves and soil very lightly. Orchids should also have rest periods with less watering after their flowing cycle.
- Fertilizer - When fertilizing orchids it is important to buy orchid fertilizer, and dilute it by half in water, then use fertilizer according to instructions on the box, remembering that it is half strength in the solution.
- Lighting - Avoid direct sunlight, keep plants within three feet of a window but use translucent curtains during the summer. In winter it is OK to open the curtains.
- Potting soil specifications-
The best potting soil for orchids is really not soil at all. Choose a substrate based on bark or pieces of coconut, any substrate that is not based on fibrous peat is preferable until you are confident with the idea of not overwatering.
If you turn out to water infrequently, and not overwater peat based substrate will work well. Orchids must be repotted every two or three years, or when they have outgrown their pots, or when the substrate ‘soil’ mix has broken down.
- Selecting an orchid pot - One of the secrets go orchid care is a transparent orchid pot. A transparent orchid pot is far superior to opaque orchid pots. One can assess the dampness of potting soil much better with a transparent orchid pot.
- Dendrobium Orchid Care - Dendrobium orchids require a light spray of mist daily, and twice a day on hot days. Do not spray on cold dark days. Dendrobium orchids require water with a pH of 4.5 to 5. It is also important to repot with a larger pot, immediately after flowering.
- Phalaenopsis Orchid Care – Place the phalaenopsis orchid near a bright window, but only in indirect light. Phalaenopsis orchid plants temperatures always between 60 and 95 degrees F. Ideal temperature is between 70 and 82 degrees. Pot Phalenopsis orchids in mixtures that drain quickly such as fir bark, tree fern fiber, chunky sphagnum peat, charcoal, perlite or any combinations of these materials.
- Blue Orchid Care- The rare blue orchid is very different from most other orchids. The care of a blue orchid is also different. Blue orchids flower three times a year. They require daily attention and more frequent watering, though still not frequent by other plant standards. Caring for blue orchids requires quite a bit of effort and careful study, however these flowers are so beautiful that it is well worth the effort.
Care of the outdoor bamboo orchid:
If you love orchids but would rather keep your flowers outside, the bamboo orchid is a perfect choice. Hearty enough to withstand either full sun or partial shade, the bamboo orchid can endure the outdoor climate of most areas.
These flowers are tender perennials, surviving and blooming all year long, year after year. Simply plant them about 12 to 15 inches apart and this lovely flowering bamboo will grow to heights between three and ten feet. The cymbidium orchid is great indoors and out.
Among the few orchids that enjoy outdoor life in cold climates is the cymbidium orchid. They like full sun, and can tolerate divergent temperatures with few ill effects. Many people enjoy growing these orchids, and they are often featured in botanical gardens.
Pruning and cutting instruments must be sterilized between uses to prevent spreading disease. When pruning orchid flowers after they are no longer pretty, one should cut off the entire stem of that flower. In monopod species this includes removing the entire bloom stalk from the surface up.
Do not leave parts of flower stems on the stalk, as this will prevent future blooms. Prune orchid plants regularly to remove dead branches, and leaves. Research carefully for more blooming tips specific to the orchid types you have.
Diseases and Pests
Orchids are at risk for bacterial brown rot, bacterial brown spot, bacterial black rot, fusarium wilt, anthracnose fungal disease, leaf spots, petal blight, microfungus, and root rot. While there are fungicides to treat these illnesses, most are related to overwatering and allowing water to stand on plant, so avoid overwatering and getting water on leaves and flowers. Sterilized cutting and pruning tools are also a must for many species.
Parasites and pests that infect orchids include scale, mealy bugs, thrips, spider mites, aphids, whiteflies, snails and slugs, caterpillars, cock roaches, and grasshoppers. There are some insecticides that are safe for use on orchids, however it is also a good idea to physically remove insects from the plants by picking them off when possible.
Despite the diverse beauty of most orchid flowers, these plants are also very useful for food. The most commonly used orchid is the vanilla orchid, which provides the flavor we call vanilla from its beans. Vanilla beans grow on the vanilla plant, and look very similar to green string beans, except they are slimmer. Vanilla beans grow in clusters of pods, on the vanilla plant, and are gathered and dried to make vanilla extract, and powder.
In India orchid roots called tubers are used to make a nutritious food called salep, which is boiled orchid root. Historically many ancient cultures ate boiled orchid tubers, believing them to be aphrodisiacs and fertility enhancers. Even though they may not have these properties, they are still very nutritious. Orchids are also commonly used in teas. In Mexico fibers from various orchid plants are used to make candy.
Various orchids have been used by many ancient cultures as medicine. They are frequently used to dispel tape worms in many cultures, and this actually seems to work if the right species is used. Orchids have also been widely used to treat malaria, and skin diseases and blemishes.
Chinese medicine has employed the use of orchids, perhaps more than any other culture. One of the fifty fundamental herbs of Chinese medicine is the noble dendrobium orchid, which they call shi hu, or shih u lan. There is still a great demand for the dendrobium orchid in Chinese medicine.
Orchids are also used in the production of fertilizer because they have a perfectly balanced ratio of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. They are rich in nutrients, and other rare minerals which other plants need to grow.
Orchids are of course used as cut flowers, and are the most common flower to be worn in corsages. Many people like to grow them in their homes for pleasure as well.They are used commercially in many famous cologne fragrances.
The beauty fragrance and flavor of orchids, has been celebrated throughout history. Today they are a part of many industries, and continue to delight their owners at home as well. These bright orchid flowers are an important part of nature throughout the world.
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