Plant Graded

What is So Special About Orchids?

Orchids are one of those flowers that give off this air of mystique that you don’t often see in other plants. They are enigmatic and elegant, and sometimes, they look almost unreal. This is why it isn’t a big surprise that more and more people from different parts of the world cannot help but fall in love with orchids.

what is so special about orchids

But what is so special about orchids, though? Why is it that people are all clamoring to own at least one of these beauties?

Here are some facts about orchids that will make you see and realize why these flowers are so special.

Charles Darwin Also Studied Orchids

The naturalist Charles Darwin was probably the biggest and most popular fan of orchids. Darwin first started studying native orchids in England and was riveted in the discovery of more orchid genera in subtropical and tropical climates. He took particular interest in the unique ways orchids evolved to attract pollinators to continue their species.

Darwin’s 1862 Fertilization of Orchids might have been the main influence that began the orchid mania during the Victorian era. Even though Darwin might be most famous for his acclaimed study of primates, his orchid publication was the reason why the public took more interest in these stunning plants.

Some Orchids are Not Epiphytes 

Epiphytic orchids grow on host trees. These orchids have aerial roots and don’t grow in soil. The roots of these orchids wrap and secure themselves to the host instead. These epiphytes are not parasitic and don’t harm their hosts. But although most orchids are epiphytes, some are lithophytes, terrestrial, and semi-terrestrial.

Terrestrial or semi-terrestrial orchids can live either in the ground, forest floors, desert sand, or in bogs. Some of them also spread their roots along the earth’s surface. The roots of these orchids push along the floor of the forest in well-aerated and loose earth and leaves.

Some terrestrial orchids also form tubers with the ability to penetrate deep into the soil and keep reserves of energy. Some orchids are also deciduous. They lose their leaves during winter and grow new ones once spring comes.

Just like epiphytes, lithophytes also attach themselves but instead of trees, they do so in rocks. Similar to their epiphytic counterparts, lithophytes often come from tropical or subtropical climates. A very common characteristic of lithophytic orchids is the thick succulent leaves used for storing water as a form of protection from drought.

You Can Find Orchids on All Continents Except Antarctica

Although most of you probably think that orchids are tropical plants, the truth is that these are very diverse species. Just so you know, orchids can grow on all continents, with Antarctica being the only exception.

Orchids can grow on alpine meadows and even on sandy deserts. The state flower of Minnesota is Cypripedium reginae, the pink and white lady’s slipper. Another variety, popularly called the bog orchid, thrives in Canada and most US states.

To be fair, many cultivated orchids come from subtropical, tropical, and cloud forest habitats as well. For most people, the most challenging orchids to grow are the cloud forest orchids. These orchids typically need high light, high humidity levels, and cooler temperatures. Many cloud forest orchids are considered cool growers.

Orchid plants often grow mostly in the subtropical and tropical climates of Central and South America, Asia, Australia, and New Zealand. There are also more than 200 varieties of native orchid species in the US alone.

Orchids are Hypoallergenic

Don’t worry if you have allergies because orchids are perfect for allergy sufferers out there. Instead of being airborne, orchid pollen is stored in pollinia in pollen pockets of waxy substance. The packet sticks to the pollinator that delivers it to another orchid. It means that people with allergies can live with orchids around them without worrying about annoying sneezes.

Orchids are the Largest Family of Flowering Plants

With more than 30,000 orchid species with thousands of registered crosses, there is no denying that orchids vary a lot. Only grasses are actually a bigger plant family. However, orchids are the biggest family of flowering plants.

Orchids Have Unusual Roots

If you have ever tried potting an orchid before, you might already know that these plants have unusual roots that are different from those of other plants.

Velamen is the special covering in orchid roots. The sheath serves as a sponge that absorbs nutrients and water for the orchid. The roots in most orchids are green when they are newly hydrated and white or silver-green when dry but healthy.

Limp and mushy orchid roots are a sign of overwatering, while brittle or tan roots indicate that the plant is underwatered. The root tips of a healthy orchid should be bright green. If the tips of the roots are black, it is a sign of high salts. Be careful in repotting orchids with black root tips because salts will quickly kill not just the roots but also the plant itself.

Fungi is Necessary for Orchid Seeds to Germinate

Orchid enthusiasts have long been trying to use seeds to grow orchids only to fail in their efforts again and again. Since it is impossible to use seeds to grow orchids, these plants have become an expensive and rare commodity.

It was eventually discovered that orchids cannot be grown from seeds because their tiny seeds need mycorrhiza, a special type of fungus. Epiphytic orchids won’t germinate without the help of this special fungus.

Thanks to the discovery of the fungus, the propagation of orchids was changed forever, turning them into more than prized plants that only the rich and affluent can grow. Today, while orchids are far from being cheap, they have already become more widely available than they used to be in the past.

The Bottom Line

These are just some of the many reasons why orchids are so special. There are apparently more facts about these plants that put them high on the pedestal, especially among plant enthusiasts. But of course, one look at these beauties is more than enough to convince you that they are indeed special.