A World Of Orchids

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Blooming, Care and Culture, Classification

Very often one’s first encounter with orchids is an eye-catching display of flowering sprays in a store window. But to see orchids at their best at an orchid show is a breathtaking experience. So diverse are the multitude of blooms; which, at first glance, can be difficult to recognize as belonging to the same family, that you cannot help but be left with a desire to know more. These are the “hobby orchids,” grown by enthusiasts the world over and loved for their mystery and elegance combined with ease of growing; quite unimaginable in other plants.

As with all flowering plants, the classification of orchids is based on the structure of the blooms. Orchids are, in the main, insect pollinated and despite their diversity, each conforms to one basic pattern. Until you have become more familiar with its many variations, this pattern may be hard to recognize. The flower consists of three sepals that form the outside of the closed bud. As the bud opens, three inner petals are revealed. The third petal is different from the other two, and is distinguished by its shape and colorings. It has developed into a lip, or labellum (The third petal of an orchid flower, modified by evolution into a lip often used as an attractive landing platform for pollinators). At the center of the flower is the column, a finger-like structure that carries the pollen.

Uniquely, the millions of pollen grains are compressed into small, solid packages for an insect to carry from one flower to the next. The seed capsules can contain anything up to a million tiny seeds. In nature, these need the assistance of a microscopic mycorrhizal fungus (a symbiotic association of the mycelium of a fungus with the roots of certain plants) before they will germinate, and only a very few will be successful. In cultivation, the seed is sown (sprinkled with seed) on a prepared medium in sterile jars containing the nutrients and trace elements required to replace the natural mycorrhiza. In this way, it is possible to germinate 100 percent of the seeds, so the number that can be raised is almost limitless. Over many years, this has led to a huge propagation of hybrids. Orchids are slow growing and, depending upon the genus, can take up to five years or longer to flower. However, they are extremely long lived, and once a well-cultivated plant reaches maturity, it will continue to grow and bloom for many years.

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