Voice: Dr. Jim Solomon, curator of the herbarium
Resource: Talking Orchid script, Bulletin articles, 2005 2006 Orchid Show brochures
Hi, I’m Dr. Jim Solomon, curator of the herbarium here at the Missouri Botanical Garden. Did you know that orchids are the largest family of flower plants in the world, with some 30 to 35,000 species? That’s approaching nearly 10 percent of all flowering plants!
They grow on every continent except Antarctica. While there are only about 200 orchid species in North America the tropical countries have many, many more. For example, there’s more than 3,500 species in Ecuador and more than 1,300 in Costa Rica.
Some orchid plants are less than an inch tall with flowers the size of a pinhead, while others grow up to 40 feet tall, with flowers approaching a foot in width.
Terrestrial orchids grow on the ground, where their roots absorb moisture and nutrients from the soil with the help of soil fungi. Epiphytic orchids on the other hand grow on tree trunks or branches for support and have no direct contact with the ground. They have adapted to grow where water and nutrients are limited, and a spongy covering on their roots helps them soaks up moisture.
Some orchids have roots that grow upwards, forming a basket to catch leaves and other debris that fall from the treetops.
Although many orchids are incredibly fragrant, not all of them smell nice! Some smell musty and others actually reek - of decay, or rotting meat, or even old tennis shoes. There’s a good reason for this – a strong scent attracts specific pollinators. And orchid are pollinated by a wide variety of different kinds of animals, bees, flies, moths, butterflies, wasps, birds and beetles all carry pollen from one flower to another. For orchids to make seeds, they must receive pollen from another orchid of the same species.
Their seeds are so small, as small as speck of dust, and weigh almost nothing, that they are easily picked up and blown about by the wind. That’s how they spread from one place to another.
Did you know that an orchid fruit can contain up to a million seeds?