As promised in my From One Aster to Another post, here is some more detail about the orchid family. While asters such as sunflowers, dandelions, and lettuces represent a vast plant family, no plant family includes so many species as does the Orchidaceae. Despite the rarity of these orchid species, they make up more than 1/3 of the monocot species in the world! The smallest orchid species grows only to be one fifth of an inch tall while the largest can grow up to fifty feet tall. The most well known orchid species (that most people don’t know is an orchid) is vanilla, which grows as a vine and is the most economically valuable orchid.

Orchids have unique flower structures, as displayed in this fairy slipper orchid.

Fairy Slipper (1)

Fairy Slipper (2)

The uniqueness in their flower structure allows for unique pollination to occur. For example, at least one orchid mimics the look and smell of a female bee so that male bees will pollinate it.

Most orchids have complex relationships with the fungi in the soil in which they grow–for this reason, cultivating and/or trying to replant orchids is exceptionally challenging, if not impossible, and contributes to the rareness of these species. So don’t pick orchids. They’ll never grow back.

Lady's Slipper Orchid
Lady’s Slipper Orchid

References (and good sources for more info):

Encyclopedia of Life–Orchidaceae

Flora of North America–OrchidaceaeĀ