Orchid Programs - Orchidaceae

T he orchid family, known as the Orchidaceae (Or-kid-A-see-E) to botanists, is one of the largest families of flowering plants and contains over 25,000 species found nearly the world over. Orchids are most diverse in the tropics, and reach their highest diversity in Andean South America. As many as 70% of orchids are epiphytic and are of particular interest to Selby Gardens where the study and conservation of epiphytic plant groups is our mission. Orchids were central to the founding goals of Selby Gardens, and the two senior scientists tasked with establishing the Gardens as a research institution were both orchid biologists. Dr. Carlyle Luer, Selby Gardens’ botanist and founding scientist, designed the official seal of the Gardens that features prominently an orchid along with a bromeliad and gesneriad, the two other focal plant families studied at Selby Gardens.

The more common, often-showy orchids are easily recognized by plant lovers and can be characterized by flower parts in threes, normally with a lower lip, sometimes specialized into a cup or “slipper.” Other orchid species are less characteristic, often with small, nearly microscopic flowers and miniscule leaves. Many orchids have striking scents, sometimes quite pleasant but occasionally putrid in odor, the latter being meant to attract flies or beetles as pollinators. Orchids make up a major portion of epiphytic floras and are integral to canopy ecosystems in supplying food and shelter for a surprising array of animals.

To learn more about orchids and the collections, research and conservation efforts going on at Selby Gardens, please visit the Orchid Research Center (ORC) area.