5 Plants And Animals That Live In The Desert Introduction to the Hardy Orchid

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Introduction to the Hardy Orchid

Everyone knows and loves large, tropical orchids (for example, Phalaenopsis, and Cattleya), but few are familiar with the Hardy Orchid. It may surprise you to know that there are many beautiful terrestrial orchids for temperature zones 5-9, some, like bletilla and calanthe are very easy to grow. Other species worth experimenting with in cooler temperatures include aplectrum, calopogon, cephalanthera, cymbidium, epipactus, goodyera, habernaria, pleione, spiranthes, and tipularia. We will not deal with epiphytic (non-domestic) orchids in this article.

Orchids belong to a large plant family called Orchidaceae. There are over 880 genera and 30,000 species in the family. About 10% of all known plants in the world are orchids. And who thought they were rare! Based on the complexity of their floral structure and highly specialized habitats and life cycles, orchids are considered the most evolved of the monocots (plants that grow with only one leaf). The name Orchidaceae comes from one of its species (Orchis). Orchis is derived from the Greek word orkhis which means testicle because the Orchis species produces two bulbs of the size and shape of testicles… I don’t make this up! Gardeners have flocked to this fascinating group and horticulturists have planted or selected over 100,000 registered hybrids and cultivars of orchids and probably 4 times as many unregistered hybrids.

Orchids are widespread on every continent except for Antarctica. North America has at least 20 native families of cold-tolerant orchids, and our home state of North Carolina is home to 60 native orchid species. Orchids grow in every habitat except for deserts and on glaciers, with 90% of The orchid genera are tropical.

Orchids have been coveted and grown for centuries. About 2500 years ago, the Chinese philosopher, Confucius, raised them and wrote poems and songs about them. The first song written that still exists today is Confucius’ “Youlan” or “Solitary Orchid”. About 2200 years ago, in Greece, the ‘Father of plants’, Theophrastus, was the first to use the word orchid in his book, Historia de Plantis (aka Inquiry into Plants). Two thousand years ago, the Greek physician Dioscorides wrote a medical book, Materia Medica, describing how to use orchids as an aphrodisiac. In ancient Europe, a philosophy known as ‘significant theory’ believed that the appearance of a plant indicated how it should be used by mankind. Thus, orchid flowers are widely used to improve sexual power. North American orchids made their way to Europe on the ships of Columbus and Cortez during the Age of Discovery. In 1885, the Royal Horticultural Society in England started the first Orchid Society and in 1921, the American Orchid Society was formed.

Orchid collecting was relatively small until the 19th century when an orchid frenzy broke out in Europe. The orchid’s popularity was contributed in part by the 1851 publication of the ‘Orchid Grower’s Manual’ by BS Williams which taught growers how to properly maintain and propagate orchids. The Victorian era of orchid mania was known as ‘orchidelirium’, and it centered on the Dutch tulip mania of the 1500s. Rich orchid fanatics sent collectors and researchers all over the world to bring back rare and beautiful species to be sold in auction for outrageous prices. Collectors take expensive trips shrouded in secrecy, misinformation, danger and violence. Today, our obsession with orchids is supported by a billion-dollar industry that propagates them in large numbers in physical culture labs.

Orchids are primarily used as ornamental plants but there are some exceptions. The spice vanilla comes from the seed pods of the Vanilla orchid genus. Orchis produces rhizomes that are ground into a powder called salep and used as flour. Occasionally, orchid flowers are used as a salad garnish in fancy restaurants. Orchids are also popular cut flowers. Orchids have thousands of ethnobotanical uses including as an aphrodisiac (Orchis bulbs), to stop blood flow (Bletilla rhizomes), to reduce fertility in women (Ansellia), and as a sedative and anti-anxiety medicine (Cypripedium rhizomes).

As you can see, the Hardy Orchid has an interesting background.

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