A while back I posted the info below the line, in a different group, and am resurrecting it here. Orchids are amazing. I have orchids in every window, at home and in my office window at work. Some bloom for so long, they seem artificial. Most modern hybrids that are coaxable to rebloom at home, bloom for one to three months per year, but there is a great deal of variation and diversity. The varieties that reward me the most are hybrids of Dendrobium nobile, a Himalayan species that has been modified by Japanese growers into a new type of easily grown orchids ("Yamamoto" orchids); Oncidium intergeneric hybrids, which originate in Central and South America, and a few Cymbidium hybrids, also originally from the Himalayas. Phalaenopsis, the "moth orchids" are almost ubiquitous, are easily grown in the home, bloom for months on end, rebloom with ease, and are good starter orchids. Hybridizers in Taiwan have been especially creative, producing varieties with spots, stripes, splotches, and pure colors ranging from white, purple, and pink. The blue ones you may find in the grocery store have been dyed, by feeding a dye to the roots. Phalaenopsis come from Southeast Asia and the Phillipine islands.
This is Darwin's orchid - Angraecum sesquipedale. On studying this species, Darwinand evolutionist Alfred Russel Wallace both proposed that a moth with a foot-long proboscis would be required to pollinate this flower. Long after Darwin's lifetime, such a moth was discovered. Angraecum is one of a handful of African orchid species, this one from Madagascar. I have not grown this one - I don't think it will like my home environment, and would be too large for my home.
Old lithographs of orchids are beautiful in their own right. Many were drawn by explorers, who risked their lives to find new and beautiful orchid species. This is a Paphiopedilum species - I've grown some of these to bloom multiple times, but somehow I'm not as interested in these as some others. Paphiopedilum are terrestrial orchids, growing in the composted detritus of the forest floor, and as such do not have the light requirements of some epiphytic species. Paphiopedilum come mainly from Southeast Asia.
I've read quite a bit about orchids. It's a great escape into an exotic world. There are tens of thousands of species on all continents but Antartica. About 1/3 of orchid species depend on their ability to deceive animals into thinking the orchid flower is a sex object, or a food that it is not. Orchid flowers use color, shapes, and scent to fool insects into interacting with them. The deception is so effective that in at least one case, it leads to wasp ejaculation into the flower. In other cases, the insects and the orchids coevolved into mutual dependency. The deceptions include fooling insects into thinking that the orchid flower is insect carrion, other flowers, and especially female insects. The insect "fraud victims" include bees, wasps, hornets, moths, and others.
This is a Vanda-type orchid, good if you live in tropics. They grow very large.
In return, the orchid gives nothing to the insect, unlike the many plants that provide nutrition in the form of nectar and pollen.
This is an Oncidium species. Oncidium is a highly diverse genus, and readily hybridizes with other genera to form Intergenerics. Many intergenerics grow well in an average house, especially if high light requirements can be met in a South or West facing window. I've rebloomed several varieties multiple times, and have some sending up new flower spikes now. Oncidium and related genera come from Central and South America.
Darwin wrote a treatise on orchids, and they were an interest to Wallace as well. The name "orchid" refers to the observation that the paired, furry, oblong tubers of some European species reminded taxonomists of testicles. "Orchid" refers to "testicle". These are European ground orchids.
Orchids have been around since the time of the dinosaurs. The are adapted to live in the tops of trees, on rocks, and in the soil. I have a special interest in epiphytes. The idea that plants serve as structural and nutritional substrates for other plants, emphasizes the coevolution of life on earth and demonstrates the profound adaptability of plant species. Because of their great diversity of habitat, an orchid species or hybrid can be found to suit almost any home or garden environment - you just have to know which ones to choose, and how to adjust some of your plant-growing preconceptions to suit the orchid.
The old botanical prints here are antique, from the 1800s, so I hope there are no copyright violations in copying them. My greater concern is that some may have been removed from books, and sold on the internet.
More will be added as comments, including information about the evolutionary ecology of orchids, how to grow some varieties at home, and what to look for when buying an orchid. These flowers are perfect for the curious free-thinker, because they teach us about the interesting adaptations of these plants to their environments and their coevolution with insect species.
Looking at some articles, the oldest known fossil of an orchid was dated at about 15 to 20 million years old. This was a pollen sac, attached to a pollinating bee, preserved in amber. The appearance is similar to that found on orchid-pollinating bees today. It doesn't give the appearance of the flower but does tell us that the this orchid/insect interaction has been around for a long time. sciencedaily.com a better picture of the bee here, from national geographic.
Using molecular biology, it is estimated that the most recent common ancestor of currently living orchids flowered in the in the Late Cretaceous (76–84 Million years ago) era. During that era, there were Tyrannosaurus rex and feathered Velociraptor. Plants which survive to today from before that time include Monkey Puzzle trees Araucaria araucana (Jurassic), Magnolias , and more ancient survivors such as ginkgo trees (Permian), horsetails (Devonian), and ferns (carboniferous).
smithsonian.com orchid bees were around before the orchids - "at least 12 million years before the orchids. “The bees evolved much earlier and independently...And as the bees evolve new preferences for these chemical compounds, the orchids follow, evolving new compounds to lure back their bee pollinators
Awesome information here - thanks! I love this stuff!
OH I love this! I am interested in this topic. I took Botany and other plant classes and enjoyed them.
Thanks for all the information on this beautiful flower.
Phalaenopsis hybrids are among the easiest orchids to grow and rebloom in the house. Phals are the most common orchid plants you will find in the big box store or grocery store. They are the "moth orchids" because someone thought the flowers looked like moths with outspread wings.
This phalaenopsis has been in my bathroom window for 2 years. After the first flowers dropped, I cut the flower stem above a node, and it sent out a new stem from the node. Then, it sent out a new flower stem. This plant bloomed for more than a year before it rested. Now, 6 months later, it's starting a new flower spike again. Most of my phals are not this persistant, but I have another one that bloomed for more than a year, so it's not impossible.
They do not require a greenhouse or a tropical climate. I've been growing Phals for about 6 years. Some of the things that I have done to keep them going -
When I buy a new phal, I take it out of the pot, and remove all of the growth medium from the roots. Then I replace it with a commercial bark mix designed for orchids. This works for me - it drains better than the usual moss that they are grown in commercialy.
I water them with the cleanest water that I can find. In my case, that's a barrel that collects rain water. I add a tiny amount of orchid bloom food, 1/4 teaspoon per gallon. This is called fertilizing "weakly weekly". When I water them, I water them in the sink, let the water drain through completely, then return them to the window. In my house that's about once a week in the winter, twice a week in the summer.