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20 facts about the love-life of orchids, that every orchid-grower would love to know

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Orchid Phalaenopsis

Know your orchids while you grow your orchids

Let’s begin with something that points out to what makes a plant an orchid and then go on to what makes an orchid one of the most exotic and perhaps one of the most erotic plants on the planet.

  • An orchid is a plant that displays a unique reproductive mechanism. All orchids have both the male and female reproductive organs, resulting in  a single reproductive system formed by the fusion of the male stamens and female style, into a unified structure referred to as a column
  • The next orchid titbit is that orchid pollen is not airborne. Instead, it is stored in a waxy pollen packet called pollinia. This packet will stick to the pollinator who will deliver the packet to another orchid
  • Also important to note, orchids tend to have exclusive relationships with their pollinators. Every orchid species has its own favourites and will reject pollination by all others
  • For example, the flowers of the Christmas star orchids have an extremely long nectar-containing tube called a spur. However, only the African hawkmoth has a proboscis long enough to reach the nectar at the bottom of the spur. As a result, the African hawkmoth is the sole pollinator of Christmas star orchids
  • Bees, wasps and flies are the most common pollinators, but some orchids also dance with moths, butterflies, fungus gnats and birds to cross-pollinate their flowers
  • Most orchids have a single fertile anther where its pollen is produced. This anther is located at the tip of the column. Depending on the orchid species and depending on what attracts the pollinator of that particular orchid species, the column adapts itself. They can be wavy or fringed or covered with hairs or other structures – whatever captures the pollinator’s fancy!
  • The way to a pollinator’s heart is through its stomach. To be fair, not only stomach…Orchids, mostly use nectar to entice their pollinators, but often, they also entice them with colour, shape and/or fragrance
  • Orchids pollinated by hummingbirds and butterflies are most often red, orange or pink and tubular in shape. These frequently display yellow blotchy yellow patterns that resemble the anthers and pollen of the other plant types visited by these nectar lovers. Deception at one of its most creative forms…!
  • Orchids such as angraecoids have flowers that are green or white. They actually emit a fragrance only at night – to attract night-flying insects. Yup, you guessed right. Moths! Angraecoid orchids are moth-pollinated. Well, everyone loves someone!
  • On the other hand, flowers of orchids pollinated by flies or carrion beetles, such as many of the Bulbophyllum species, typically come in browns and fleshy reds and emit the odor of rotting meat. It has been said that the stench of Bulbophyllum beccarii is so foul that it smells like “a herd of dead elephants”. I guess there’s no accounting for taste!
  • Little iridescent euglossine bees can be seen buzzing in the canopies of Central American forests when bucket orchids (Coryanthes) bloom. The lip of the flower looks like a little bucket filled with a sweet-scented viscous liquid. These also have a rounded pad from which the male bees scrape off fragrant oils which they pack into sacks on their hind legs and use to court females. This is a very elaborate trap. The surface of the flower is slippery and occasionally a bee loses his footing and falls into the bucket. The only escape route to avoid drowning is through a narrow opening at the base of the lip. As the escaping bee squeezes its way through, it scrapes its back against the column and the two pollinia are deposited on its back. After drying itself and buzzing off, the bee will visit another flower and repeat the process. This time it deposits the pollinia on the stigma of the flower
  •  The orchid called Oncidium henekenii resembles a female bee. It is pollinated by male bees who tryto mate with the flower, believing it to be a female bee
  • Some orchids deceive their pollinators by impersonating the appearance and scents produced by female insects. European orchid species Ophrys, has flowers with a labellum that looks like the body of an attractive female bee or wasp—complete with the shapely body, iridescent colors, markings, and hairs. The impersonation is so complete, the labellum also exudes a scent that simulates pheromones, a chemical substance produced and released by animals, into the environment. In this case, the pheromones scent is produced by the orchid to alter the intelligence of its pollinator and to entice it into believing the flower to be a female bee. When the male bee lands on the flower, it grabs the labellum and attempts to copulate with it. In the process, the flower deposits pollinia on the insect’s head, only to be carried and placed on the next flower he visits
  •  The orchid species called Oncidium produces flowers that resemble the males of certain territorial bees or wasps.  Viewed by the macho males as competitors, these flowers are attacked. The flowers are shaped such that the attacking insect is inevitably placed in contact with the pollinia or stigma
  •  The structural differences in different orchid species ensure that the pollinia are attached to a part of the bee specific to each orchid species. In some cases, the pollinia may be attached to the insect’s eye, while in  another, it is attached to the top of the thorax, and in yet another, to a foreleg. When the pollinia-loaded bee encounters an orchid flower, only the pollinia in the proper position for that species will come in contact with the stigma and accomplish successful pollination
  • In the orchid genus Catasetum, the pollinia are ejected when the pollinator touches a specifically placed trigger in the flower. They literally shoot onto the insect’s back
  • Some species of Bulbophyllum and Porroglossum have hinged lips that snap shut temporarily, pinning the insect against the column so that the pollinia can be properly deposited on the pollinator
  • Orchids have an in-built, pretty fool-proof system of making sure that self-pollination doesn’t occur 
  •  It has been observed that the pollinator often hovers close to the labellum and visually scans the pattern on the labellum for up to a minute. It is assumed that variable labellum patterns are involved in flower-pollinator communication and perhaps help these plants to avoid geitonogamy or fertilization of a flower by pollen from another flower on the same plant
  • There are 20,000 – 30,000 known orchid species around the world. They grow in every continent, other than Antarctica

One Comment

  1. Sanjoy Das

    I want to purchase different variety phalonopsis small and medium size plant.

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