Orchids are considered the most varied group of flowering plants with more than 18,000 species that represent approximately 8% of all the flowering plants found all over the world. It is even estimated that there are still around 10,000 to 12,000 orchid species that haven’t been described yet.
Most species of orchids are endemic to microhabitats such as a tepui’s canyon in the Guyana Shield or one Andean valley. Many of them are also extremely rare. Every single year, it is also said that hundreds of orchid species end up extinct as the result of destroying valley systems, specifically those located along the Andes. But despite this, there is still an extensive number of orchids that exist in the world, including those that grow on the ground and the 70% that grow as epiphytes.
Now, you might have noticed how orchids seem to be a common scenario in rainforests. So, why do orchids live in the rainforest?
Probably the most important reason why orchids thrive in the rainforest is that these plants produce small seeds that are measured in microns and can reach hundreds of thousands in numbers. The small size of the seeds and the balloon-like seed coat combined to allow the wind currents to disperse the orchid seeds over great areas.
Continue reading below to learn more about orchids and how they survive in the rainforest.
How Do Orchids Adapt in the Rainforest?
There are actually different ways that make it possible for orchids to adapt to the biome of the rainforest. There are instances when orchids growing on trees develop gorgeous flowers to capture the interest of animals going around.
Now, you might be wondering how orchids endure the constant onslaught of the heat of the sun. After all, the rainforest can be very hot and is always hot actually. How do orchids survive in the Amazon, which is one of the planet’s wettest and most humid places? This is where orchids prove how fascinating they can be.
Orchids are among the most popular rainforest plants. Orchids in South and Central America are commonly called jungle orchids. It is because these orchids are tropical epiphytes or plants growing on other organisms. It means that orchids live through the moisture found in the atmosphere instead in the ground.
Generally speaking, orchids living in the rainforest can be found in shrubs, vines, or other plants due to their ability to adapt. It is an important trait for plants in rainforests due to the lack of soil and lack of water, hence explaining why orchids thrive better if they grow on trees.
How Do Orchids Survive in the Rainforest?
Orchids play an important role in the rainforest ecosystem. Thanks to their intricate strategies for reproduction, these plants manage to survive even amidst arid conditions. Orchids are very sophisticated plants that don’t waste energy producing nectar for the creatures that they come into contact with.
What they do instead is that they look for a specialized pollinator like a bee specializing in orchids. The orchid will then use the pollen produced by a specific type of bee. It means that they no longer need to produce nectar for the other species.
Orchids weren’t supposed to live under direct sunlight, with their adaptations revolving around the ability to acquire the maximum amount of sunlight necessary for their survival. Filtered light is the most common medium for most tropical orchids. These flowering plants also thrive in more humid environments and need a specific level of humidity to grow and thrive.
For orchids to live in the rainforest, these plants evolved to adjust to the environment’s conditions. They have aerial roots that let them acquire airborne nutrients. Orchid flowers also have a velamen which encourages gas exchange in the surroundings.
These types of adaptations are necessary for orchids to survive in the rainforest because of the constantly changing environment, and the fact that self-reproduction isn’t possible with these plants.
Orchids are categorized as epiphytes, which means that they grow on host plants. The plants don’t have a symbiotic relationship, which means both share the same nutrients and water. It is a critical feature of the ecosystem and orchids have to adapt to it.
The plants also need to look for a means to attach themselves to trees. Aside from growing on trees, orchids have to find ways to get themselves attached to other forms of organisms that can offer them support. They also do it to get the nutrients and moisture they need.
The leaves of orchid plants also play an essential role in how they adapt to life in the rainforest. The flower’s female parts are different from the male ones, making them among the flower species with both male and female parts. The female parts of orchids are also not the same as those of other species because there are no roots to cover them.
Orchids have also learned to adapt to the rainforests by having their roots in the ground and then climbing up high to the tree canopy to get the sunlight they need. All of these adaptations have resulted in a thriving orchid ecosystem in many rainforests, specifically tropical rainforests, all over the world,
Can Orchids Live in Other Habitats?
Aside from adapting to the rainforest, orchid plants also managed to develop adaptations to other types of habitats and environments. While they are native to the rainforest, orchids can also thrive and survive in other climates. In fact, some orchids can even be found near the Arctic Circle.
Unfortunately, these plants have already started getting endangered even in their native habitats due to commercial developments and logging, with orchids not getting the protection they need and deserve.
The Bottom Line
Without a doubt, orchids are successfully living in the rainforest because of their ability to adapt to the environment. Their unique traits and characteristics also make it possible for orchids to grow and thrive beautifully in the climate conditions that rainforests are best known for. And thanks to their exceptional adaptations, you can also expect orchids to thrive in other habitats.