Orchid flowers are all bilaterally symmetrical with three petals and three sepals. Their seeds develop in capsules and are extremely tiny, sometimes mistaken for dust or spores. Because the seeds are so small, they don’t contain enough nutrition to grow a new plant themselves, so they develop a symbiotic relationship with fungus, which provides the nutrients for them to grow.
Like most monocots, orchids generally have simple leaves with parallel veins, although some Vanilloideae have reticulate venation. Leaves may be ovate, lanceolate, or orbiculate, and very variable in size on the individual plant. Their characteristics are often diagnostic. They are normally alternate on the stem, often folded lengthwise along the centre ("plicate"), and have no stipules. Orchid leaves often have siliceous bodies called stegmata in the vascular bundle sheaths (not present in the Orchidoideae) and are fibrous.
Check your water. For a long time, serious growers insisted that orchids could only be watered with rainwater. Nowadays, most people just use tap water, and this is fine. However, be aware that treated water may have higher salt content, and some water is high in calcium. If you see deposits forming on your plants, you should seek out a new water source.
The family encompasses about 6–11% of all seed plants. The largest genera are Bulbophyllum (2,000 species), Epidendrum (1,500 species), Dendrobium (1,400 species) and Pleurothallis (1,000 species). It also includes Vanilla–the genus of the vanilla plant, the type genus Orchis, and many commonly cultivated plants such as Phalaenopsis and Cattleya. Moreover, since the introduction of tropical species into cultivation in the 19th century, horticulturists have produced more than 100,000 hybrids and cultivars.
The seeds are generally almost microscopic and very numerous, in some species over a million per capsule. After ripening, they blow off like dust particles or spores. They lack endosperm and must enter symbiotic relationships with various mycorrhizal basidiomyceteous fungi that provide them the necessary nutrients to germinate, so all orchid species are mycoheterotrophic during germination and reliant upon fungi to complete their lifecycles.
Dendrobium species live as epiphytes and lithophytes in New Guinea, Southern China, Thailand, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Tahiti and more. As a result, it’s hard to generalize how to care for these types of orchids. Some of them require cool nights of 50 to 59°F (10 to 15°C) while some of them require warm temperatures in the 80s°F (27°C). That’s why it’s so important to understand their natural environment so that you can make them happy. Learn more about Dendrobium orchids.
With ageing, the pseudobulb sheds its leaves and becomes dormant. At this stage, it is often called a backbulb. Backbulbs still hold nutrition for the plant, but then a pseudobulb usually takes over, exploiting the last reserves accumulated in the backbulb, which eventually dies off, too. A pseudobulb typically lives for about five years. Orchids without noticeable pseudobulbs are also said to have growths, an individual component of a sympodial plant.
Many neotropical orchids are pollinated by male orchid bees, which visit the flowers to gather volatile chemicals they require to synthesize pheromonal attractants. Males of such species as Euglossa imperialis or Eulaema meriana have been observed to leave their territories periodically to forage for aromatic compounds, such as cineole, to synthesize pheromone for attracting and mating with females. Each type of orchid places the pollinia on a different body part of a different species of bee, so as to enforce proper cross-pollination.
Cymbidium carry tall stems with many flowers that have a more typical orchid shape. They are easily identified by their grassy leaves, and they readily form large clumps. Most common are the cool-flowering types, which need to experience a cooler winter (nights in the 40s for some time in the fall) in order to initiate flowering. Once the flowers open, they can last for up to two months or more, especially in a cool environment. These are very showy and rewarding plants, and a plant in a six-inch pot can carry three stems with 15 or more flowers each, depending on the type.