10 things about: Orchids

Across the UK orchids can be found in a vast array of different habitats from mountain peat bogs to coppice woodland to industrial waste ground. This diversity is in part attributable to our wide latitudinal range meaning we host both Mediterranean and sub-arctic species. Most are usually highly specialised, requiring very specific conditions in fragile habitats.

10 orchid facts;

1] Orchids are the most cosmopolitan of flowering plant families, found everywhere on Earth except dry deserts and cold glaciers. They are thought to be one of the largest flowering plant families and contain around 25,000 species.

2] Orchid species are most numerous in the world's tropical areas where big, showy flowers are produced, although the flowers of species found elsewhere are no less beautiful.

3] Orchids have developed some highly specialized pollination systems, often producing attractively shaped and colourful flowers that sometimes look similar to the insects that pollinate them. Some species of orchid are now very rare.

4] There are 56 species or orchid native to the UK, flowering from April to September. Of these approximately one third are threatened or endangered.

5] In the UK orchids are most often found in calcareous soils or soils with an underlying stratum of calcium carbonate, be it chalk or limestone. 

6] The legendary ghost orchid is the rarest of the UK species and is known to disappear for years at a time – it resurfaced on the Welsh borders in September 2009 for the first time since 1986.

7] The lady's slipper and the red helleborine orchids are so scarce in the UK that they are continually guarded on a tiny handful of sites and public access to them is more or less impossible.

8] The seeds of orchids do not have endosperm which provides nutrients required for the germination. Because of that, all orchids (including non-parasitic forms) live in symbiosis with fungi during germination. Germination can last from couple of weeks to 15 years. Orchids do not have usual roots. They have rhizome, tuber or aerial roots.

9] The bond between orchids and certain species of insects is highly specialized. Petals have similar shape and colour like female insects to attract males and ensure pollination. Due to high specialization of pollination, extinction of insect means extinction of orchid (there is no one else who can pollinate it in the wild).

10] People use orchids for numerous purposes. Substances isolated from orchids are used in industry of perfumes, spices and in traditional Asian medicine. Vanilla is one of the best known and widely used flavours. It is extracted from the pod of Vanilla planifolia, which is a species of orchid.

Stewart Parsons