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orchid

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.

Classification

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

Bibliography

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

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orchid

[′ȯr·kəd]
(botany)
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.

orchid

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.

orchid

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 ?
Particularly, special attention should be paid to Jeju, as a large part of the orchids that exhibit low levels of genetic diversity occur on this island (Cephalanthera subaphylla, Goodyera repens, Liparis pterosepala, Oreorchis coreana, Pelatantheria scolopendrifolius, Peristylus densus, Platanthera hologlottis, Pogonia minor, and Tipularia japonica).
Low levels of genetic variation within populations of the four rare orchids Gymnadenia cucullata, Gymnadenia camtschatica, Amitostigma gracile, and Pogonia minor in South Korea: indication of genetic drift and implications for conservation.
Meanwhile, periodic and unpredictable dormancy makes small whorled pogonia one of the most elusive orchids in North America.
Since swamp pink and small whorled pogonia both tend to occupy relatively small spatial areas, land managers cannot readily determine their distribution across the installation by looking at aerial photographs or topographic maps.
Small whorled pogonia generally can be found rising from the leaf litter to a maximum height of around 10 inches, with five to six leaves that are "whorled" or encircle the top of the stem, just below the flower.
Large whorled pogonia also possesses the same number of leaves, in an identical pattern.
What is more, although the small whorled pogonia is currently classified as a threatened species, it is not rigorously protected because it is a plant.
Spawning site selection by spotted seatrout, Cynoscion nebulosus, and black drum, Pogonias cromis, in Louisiana.
However elusive, the small whorled pogonia is making a comeback.
Caption: The federally threatened small whorled pogonia
Bees land on the brightly colored lip or labellum of the rose pogonia flower.
Evolution of flower allometry and its significance for pollination success in the deceptive orchid Pogonia japonica.