What is an Orchid?

An orchid is a member of the very large plant family Orchidaceae.  Families are groups of related organisms (plants, animals, etc.) and made up of taxa (taxonomic entities) that have characteristics in common and share a common ancestry.  The orchid family contains 15 to 30 thousand  species in 800 genera, with a nearly cosmopolitan distribution.  Orchids are especially abundant in warm and moist habitats, but are also found in dry or seasonally cold regions.  For example, the state flower of Minnesota is a lady slipper orchid.  Many orchids are epiphytes (growing on other plants), or lithophytes (growing on rocks), and many have attractive flowers, hence are important ornamental plants.

Outside of horticulture, the only valuable orchid product is vanilla flavoring from several species of Vanilla.

The orchid family is vaguely related to the lily family but is distinctive in the following characteristics:

1).  The sexual organs (stamens and pistil) are fused into a structure called the column.

2).  The perianth is composed of three sepals (outer whorl), and three petals (inner whorl).

3).  One of the petals is modified into a lip, usually with a distinct structure and color.

4).  The pollen is usually compacted into waxy masses (pollinia).

5).  Fruits are dry capsules containing many dust-like seeds.

Many orchids are commonly and easily cultivated in Central Florida, requiring only occasional watering and fertilizing and protection from freezing.  Some examples are species and hybrids of Cattleya, Epidendrum, Oncidium, Phalaenopsis, and Vanda.  The study of orchids was an important part of Selby Gardens.  Many kinds of orchids, some rare and unusual, can be seen in the Gardens Tropical Display Greenhouse.