Orchids, also known as “the daughters of the air,” are one of the most beautiful flowers on Earth. Discover some facts about these amazing plants!

Orchids: facts to know

  1. A bit of history
  2. What is salep
  3. Taxonomic classification and morphology
  4. Types of orchids

Orchids are one of the most beautiful flowers in the world and can be found in every corner of the planet except the poles and deserts; its uses range from ornamental to medicinal. They have diverse forms and their preferred habitat is tropical climates around the world. Withso manyspecies in the family, the size, shape and colour of the flowers is very varied, as is their fragrance. The main orchid producing countries are Thailand, Japan, Taiwan, China, the Netherlands, Italy and Poland.

Already in ancient Greece orchids were attributed aphrodisiac powers due to the resemblance of their tuber to thetesticles; in fact, their name comes from the Greek orchis, which means testicles. Ancient Greek physicians claimed that orchids gave two types of bulbs: a large one, which taken cooked with goat’s milk stimulated sexuality, and a smaller one that had the opposite effect.

Dioscorides, in his treatise De materia medica, claimed that applying the root of the orchid in poultice this acted as an anti-inflammatory and cured ulcers, herpes and fistulas.

Pliny the Elder, in his book Natural History confirms the aphrodisiac power of the bulb of the orchid, as does Claudius Galen in his work The Book of the Simple.

In South America it appears present in all the ceremonies of baptisms, weddings and funerals and is known by the names of Flower of Jesus, Flower of the Holy Spirit or Flower of the Dead. In Africa, the Zulu tribe uses the parts of certain orchid species as contraceptives and in India and China medicinal properties are also attributed to it.

Orchid bulb

Salep, salop or salab was a kind of “drug” well known in the eighteenth century from Persia and seenonly in Paris. Saleb was obtained from grinding dried orchid bulbs and today is produced in large quantities in Turkey and Iran; mixed with other substances such as honey, ginger or ginseng has effects against dysentery, diarrhea and cholera.

Taxonomic classification and morphology Orchids are native to the tropical regions of our planet, infact, they were first discoveredby Europeans when Christopher Columbus landed in the Caribbean during his second voyage to the New World. 90% of the species are concentrated in the tropical areas of America, Africa and Asia. They are monocotyledonous plants and the family comprises more than 30,000 species spread over 800 genera.

Kingdom: Plantae

Sub-kingdom: Tracheobionta

Division: Magnoliophyta

Subdivision: Angiosperm.

Class: Lilyopsida

Subclass: Liliidae

Order: Asparagales

Family: Orchidaceae

Subfamily: Epidendroideae

Different shapes and shades of orchid flowers

Orchids are land plants, lithophytes (grow on the ground) or epiphytes (grow on other vegetables) and occasionally climbers. The roots are fleshy, with the epidermis spongy, very absorbent of water and formed by dead cells sometimes modified in the form of tubers or tuberous roots, occasionally fasciculated, basal and with the ability to penetratethe substrates s or aerial; those that penetrate the soil enter symbiosis with mycorrhizae. The tallos normally thicken at the base forming pseudobulbs. The hojas can be alternate and sometimes opposite, verticiladas or all basal, simple, whole and in number from 1 to many; the laminae are double with parallel venation and envorlvente base. The inflorescences can be axillary, basal, or terminal, sessile to long pedunculated, solitary flowers, in clusters or in panicles. The flower has a plane of bilateral symmetry and are normally hermaphrodites (monoecious); can appear in number from one to 100 per plant and can be tiny or large and extravagant, in all colors (although rarely blue), ephemeral or extremely durable and usually fragrant, with 3 free sepals or fused with 3 petals free sometimes spotted and variedly colored with that of the medium clearly differentiated from the 2 sides and forming a lip (labellum). Its seeds are very fine and gather thousands in a single capsule; they are spread by the wind.

Floral morphology

Types of orchids The seeds of orchids are very thin and gather thousands in a single capsule; they are spread by the wind and can land on the ground or on trees. This feature divides orchids into epiphytes, lithophytes, terrestrials or saprophytes:

  • Epiphytic orchids. They are those that use trees as a support for their growth, feeding on the detritus accumulated on them, such as the excrement of birds, bats, mammals, etc. and absorbing rainwater. They are typical of cloud forests with high rainfall (pluvisilva) and can grow at different altitudes as long as their roots (aerial) do not suffer from low temperatures. They occupy the sunniest and most airy parts of the trees and at the beginning of the dry season their roots are covered with a white veil, called a velamen, which protects them from dehydration. They are the most common in our nurseries. According to their form of growth they can be classified into:
    • Orchids of sympodial growth; It is the most common of the family and the flowers arise from a horizontal and creeping stem that is called a rhizome that generates numerous stems from pseudobulbs. These pseudobulbs can live from 5 to 6 years and act as a storehouse of reserves in the dry season, nurturing the new pseudobulbs that replace the old ones. From each pseudobulb come leaves and roots. The genera Paphiopedilum, Cattleya, Cymbidium, Oncidium, Dendrobium and Stanhopea stand out.
    • Monopodial-growing orchids; unlike the previous ones, they have a single main stem that grows erect from the center of the plant. Normally, the stem grows upwards and roots originate in the knots, which grow downwards. The plant, as it grows, loses the lower leaves as the new leaves form at the upper end. The genera Ascocentrum, Phalaenopsis and Vanda stand out.

These orchids can live for tens of years as long as their host is kept alive.

Types of growth of epiphytic orchids

  • Lithophytic orchids. They are those that sit on rocky areas and cliffs. Son very similaris to epiphytes, but they are even more resistant to drought. Paphiopedilum stands out.
  • Terrestrial orchids. They are very distributed; only in Spain there are about 100 species. Its root system is underground and can be fasciculated, in the form of a rhizome, tuber or pseudobulb. In the dry season the aerial part disappears and entersthe latency period until the rains return.
  • Saprophytic orchids. They are species adapted to dark forests, feeding on the decaying organic matter of the soil thanks to the fungi with which they enter into symbiosis.
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