Essay by PaperNerd ContributorCollege, Undergraduate September 2001

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Orchids                 The Orchid is one of the largest groups of flowering plants in the world. It is grown everywhere except Antarctica and some of the most arid desert zones of West Asia. This large group of flower, family Orchidae, has a number of species that vary from 15,000 to 25,000! That's a lot!                         Orchids have fascinated people since early times. They have been the symbol of love, luxury, and beauty for centuries. Greeks looked at them as a symbol of virility. The Chinese, as long ago as the time of Confucius, called orchids "The Plant of the King's Fragrance." In the middle ages, orchids played a major role in herbal remedies. They were also regarded as an aphrodisiac and have been one of the main ingredients in certain love potions. When orchids appear in a dream, they supposedly represent a deep inner need and desire to keep gentleness, delicacy, and romance in ones relationship.

                By the start of the 18th century orchid collecting was firmly established in many parts of the world.

Because of their attractive unusual flowers and intoxicating fragrances. A few orchids were brought back from far off lands by British sea captains in the 18th century. They remained curiosities for a handful of botanists and wealthy amateurs. This all changed in 1818, when a man by the name of William Cattley bloomed the first Cattleya. The strange thing about this whole event was he had been unpacking plants he had shipped in (not orchids), he noticed these strange plants that had been used as packing material. He potted some of them up and in November, one of the Cattleyas bloomed. The flower world has never been the same, it is still feeling the impact of that single plant.

                Entire forests were stripped of millions of orchids. Almost all collecting of orchids are now banned. Many are on the "endangered lists." Species are now being cultivated from seed. Orchids have been cultivated in Europe for 250 years.

                Orchids and their allies are distinguished from other flowering plants by a combination of floral characteristics rather than by a single characteristic. Orchid flowers are born on stalks called pedicels. During the growth and development of the flower, however, the pedicel rotates 180°, so that the mature orchid flower is born upside down! Of the flower's three sepals and three petals, all the sepals and the two lateral petals are usually similar to one another in color and shape. The remaining petal, always different from the others, is called the labellum, or lip. The labellum is usually larger, different in color and shape, and often being lobed or cupped. The labellum, which often acts as a landing platform for the orchid pollinator, may attract the pollinator to the flower through particular color patterns and shapes to which the pollinator responds in particular ways! The pollinator responds to the color and shape of the labellum!                 The sexual organs, the piston and stamen, of the orchid flower are fused together into a structure called the column, which lies opposite the labellum.

Orchids have only one stamen, and in most orchids it bears only one anther, which is a pollen producing structure. In a few orchids, however, two anthers are produced. The pollen is not granular, as it is in most flowering plants, but is put together in a number of sacs that vary in texture from smooth to rough. Three stigmatic lobes are usually present and located near the anther, although only two are functional. The ovary is below the other flower parts and is surrounded by pedicel tissue. The seeds are very small, and as many as 2 million seeds may be produced from a single orchid seedpod. Unlike most other flowering plants, orchids have no food-storage tissue.

                Orchid flowers are can be pollinated by flying animals, and their diversity in structure has resulted from adaptations to various pollinators. About half the orchid species are pollinated by bees. Other pollinators moths, butterflies, flies, and birds. Many orchid flowers are adapted for pollination by a single species of insect.

They also control when their fragrance is at it's peak.

                Apart from their phenomenal popularity among horticulturists, orchids have little economic importance, although vanilla flavoring is obtained from fruits of one species, the Mexican vanilla, widely grown in tropical areas. Orchids not only grow in tropical rain forest trees, many species actually grow on rocks. Terrestrial orchids grow in meadows, woodlands, and on mountain sides. Growers have produced thousands of new forms of orchids through hybridization.

                In conclusion, Orchids are amazing plants. There are so many species of this plant that there must be more. I have learned that these fascinating plants are very delicate, but are beautiful specimens. And from what I have read from my resources, the Orchid is an addictive plant to grow. Orchids are amazing!         From my studies, I believe that all biology students should have to grow orchids for the fun of it. It seems like a hard task, but sounds very rewarding.

Though I know teachers wouldn't spend time on orchids, they should do this as a project of the course of a semester. And could reflect as a grade or extra credit as a part of the final exam or final grade. That is my comment on orchids.

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