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orchid, popular name for members of the Orchidaceae, a family of perennial herbs widely distributed in both hemispheres. The unusually large family (of some 450 genera and an estimated 10,000 to 17,500 species) includes terrestrial, epiphytic (see epiphyte), and saprophytic (subsisting on decomposing material) genera. Although the latter may sometimes lack chlorophyll, none is actually parasitic. Orchids grow most abundantly in tropical and subtropical forests, where they are largely epiphytic; the temperate genera thrive in all kinds of shaded habitats except excessively dry or cold ones. Most temperate orchids and all those of Arctic are terrestrial.

A Highly Varied Plant Family

This family of monocotyledonous plants has evolved from prototypes of the lily and amaryllis family and is noteworthy for the wide variety of its highly specialized and curiously modified forms. Epiphytic types have a stem swollen at the base to form a pseudobulb (for food storage) and pendulous aerial roots adapted for water absorption and sometimes containing chlorophyll to make photosynthesis possible. In terrestrial types a symbiotic relationship often exists between the roots and filamentous fungi (mycorrhiza). Horticulturists have found that the presence of certain fungi is necessary for the germination of the minute seeds. Orchid pollen occurs as mealy or waxen lumps of tiny pollen grains, highly varied in form.

The flowers characteristically consist of three petals and three petallike sepals, the central sepal modified into a conspicuous lip (labellum) specialized to secrete nectar that attracts insects. Most of the diverse forms of orchid flowers are apparently complicated adaptations for pollination by specific insects, e.g., the enormous waxflower of Africa, which has a labellum over a foot long and is pollinated by a moth with a tongue of equal length. The saclike labellum of the lady's-slipper serves the same function by forcing the insect to brush against the anther and the stigma (male and female organs) while procuring nectar.

Orchid Species

The expensive orchid of the florists' trade is usually the large cattleya; species of this genus (Cattleya) are epiphytic plants native to tropical America. Among the other cultivated orchids are several of the terrestrial rein orchids (genus Habenaria) and many epiphytic tropical genera, e.g., the Asian Dendrobium, with pendant clusters of flowers; Epidendrum, represented in the SE United States by the greenfly orchid; and Odontoglossum, indigenous to the Andes Mts.

About 140 species of orchid are native to North America, usually as bog plants or flowers of moist woodlands and meadows. Species of lady's-slipper, or moccasin flower (Cypripedium) [Lat.,=slipper of Venus], include the pink-blossomed common, or stemless, lady's-slipper (C. acaule) and the showy lady's-slipper (C. reginae), both of the Northeast, and varieties of the yellow lady's-slipper (C. calceolus), which grow in all but the warmest regions of the continent. Other terrestrial genera that grow as American wildflowers are the fringe orchids (Blephariglottis); the small-blossomed twayblades (species of Liparis and Listera); the pogonias, or beard-flowers (Pogonia); the wild pinks, or swamp rose orchids (Arethusa), of northeastern sphagnum bogs; the grass pinks (Limodorum) of eastern bogs and meadows; and the ladies'-tresses, or pearl-twists (Spiranthes), with a distinctive spiral arrangement of yellowish or white flowers. The coral-roots (Corallorhiza), named for the corallike branching of their underground rhizomes, are a nongreen saprophytic genus which includes some North American species. Because orchids are characteristically slow growing and difficult to seed, excessive picking and futile attempts to transplant have depleted native species in some areas.

Economic Uses

Orchids are among the most highly prized of ornamental plants. In Mexico the flowers are used symbolically by the natives; each one conveys a sentiment associated with different ceremonies or religious figures. From the time that orchids were first imported from the Bahamas to Britain (in the early 18th cent.) these flowers have been cultivated for their commercial value and have been successfully hybridized and variegated. Many orchids are now propagated by tissue culture methods. Hawaii has become a major center for commercial orchid culture. A species of the Vanilla genus of tropical America is important economically as the source of natural vanilla flavoring.


The orchid family is classified in the division Magnoliophyta, class Liliopsida, order Orchidales.


See R. T. Northen, Home Orchid Growing (3d ed. 1970); M. A. Reinikka, A History of the Orchid (1972).

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Any member of the family Orchidaceae; plants have complex, specialized irregular flowers usually with only one or two stamens.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.


of Venezuela. [Flower Symbolism: WB, 7: 264]
Allusions—Cultural, Literary, Biblical, and Historical: A Thematic Dictionary. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


any terrestrial or epiphytic plant of the family Orchidaceae, often having flowers of unusual shapes and beautiful colours, specialized for pollination by certain insects
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
References in periodicals archive ?
Predator-prey relationships involving the American oyster, Crassostrea virginica, and the black drum, Pogonias cromis, in Mississippi Sound.
Nestled on an unassuming mountain slope, deep in the understory of the 2,700-acre Schunnemunk State Park in Orange County, lies one of the rarest plants in eastern North America: the small whorled pogonia (Isotria medeoloides).
Disparity between the feeding performance and predicted muscle strength in the pharyngeal musculature of black drum, Pogonias cromis (Sciaenidae).
2,415.0 Northern kingfish Menticirrhus saxatilis 177.8 Gafftopsail catfish Bagre marinus 1,990.7 Irridescent swimming crab Portunus gibbesii 8.7 Flounder (family) Bothidae 1,699.4 Bonnethead shark Sphyrna tiburo 1,252.0 Atlantic cutlassfish Trichiurus lepturus 1,225.5 Black drum Pogonias cromis 1,402.7 Blue crab Callinectes sapidus Weakfish Cynoscion regalis Atlantic bumper Chloroscombrus chrysurus 1,062.8 Sand perch Diplectrum formosum 953.4 Longspine swimming crab Portunus spinicarpus 4.5 Vermillion (B-liner) Rhomboplites aurorubens 893.2 snapper Left-eye flounder Syacium spp.
2002 1000 mm TL Sciaenops ocellutus 160,000-3,270,000 Wilson and 1550 mm TL Nieland 1994 Pogonias cromis 510,000-2,420,000 Nieland and 1700 mm TL Wilson 1993 Note: Bold type indicates southern California species indicated with #.
(12.) Elisa New's remarks about "Rose Pogonias" are resonant here.
In our field studies, higher seed oyster mortalities were observed in open cages compared with closed cages at MP and BG and were likely due to predation from blue crabs (Callinectes sapidus), stone crabs (Menippe adina), and black drums (Pogonias cromis) as evidenced by occasional crab, drum, and shell fragments in open cages lifted out of water during sampling (Fig.
Cynoscion striatus Isopisthus parvipinnis 8 135.3 0.049 Larimus breviceps 7 237.2 0.023 Macrodon atricauda Menticirrhus americanus 1 38.1 0.002 Menticirrhus littoralis 5 242.7 0.054 Micropogonias furnieri 32 1286.9 0.769 Paralonchunis 1 108.2 0.004 brasiliensis Pogonias cromis Slellifer rastrifer 176 9085.5 5.561 Slellifer slellifer 1 95.6 0.004 Umbrina coroides Scombridae Scomberomoms 2 104.0 0.005 brasiliensis Serranidae Diplectrum radiale 8 140.3 0.050 Rypticus randalli Sparidae Archosargus 11 1408.7 0.494 rhomboidalis Diplodus argenteus Sphyraenidae Sphyraena guachancho 8 91.6 0.020 Sphyraena sp.
Guaguanche Sphyraena guachancho Conger eel (family) Congridae Conger eel Conger oceanicus Bonnethead Sphyrna tiburo Black jack Caranx lugubris Black drum Pogonias cromis Bermuda chub Kyphosus sectatrix Yellowfln grouper Mycteroperca venenosa Yellow conger Hildebrandia flava Spotfin hogfish Bodianus pulchellus Southern puffer Sphoeroides nephelus Smooth butterfly ray Gymnura micrura Pufferfish (genus) Sphoeroides sp.