Orchids have been used in traditional medicine in an effort to treat many diseases and ailments. They have been used as a source of herbal remedies in China since 2800 BC. Gastrodia elata is one of the three orchids listed in the earliest known Chinese Materia Medica (Shennon bencaojing) (c. 100 AD). Theophrastus mentions orchids in his Enquiry into Plants (372–286 BC).
^ Zhang, Guo-Qiang; Liu, Ke-Wei; Li, Zhen; Lohaus, Rolf; Hsiao, Yu-Yun; Niu, Shan-Ce; Wang, Jie-Yu; Lin, Yao-Cheng; Xu, Qing; Chen, Li-Jun; Yoshida, Kouki; Fujiwara, Sumire; Wang, Zhi-Wen; Zhang, Yong-Qiang; Mitsuda, Nobutaka; Wang, Meina; Liu, Guo-Hui; Pecoraro, Lorenzo; Huang, Hui-Xia; Xiao, Xin-Ju; Lin, Min; Wu, Xin-Yi; Wu, Wan-Lin; Chen, You-Yi; Chang, Song-Bin; Sakamoto, Shingo; Ohme-Takagi, Masaru; Yagi, Masafumi; Zeng, Si-Jin; et al. (2017). "The Apostasia genome and the evolution of orchids" (PDF). Nature. 549 (7672): 379–383. doi:10.1038/nature23897. PMID 28902843.
The orchid plant is also unique in its morphology (form or structure). We can begin with the leaves and work our way down to the roots. The leaves of many orchids in cultivation are unique in that they are specifically designed for water conservation (as is true for almost every orchid structure). They have a heavy waxy leaf coating and specialized stomata (openings through which the leaf “breathes”) that help to prevent water loss during transpiration (the act of the plant “breathing”). Many orchids utilize CAM photosynthesis as well, which in essence means that the plants collect materials during the day and then process them at night.
The vast majority of orchids grown in the home are epiphytes, meaning they live in nature by clinging to trees or even stones. The roots of these plants are highly specialized organs that differ dramatically from normal plant roots. Of course, it's hard to generalize about anything when it comes to orchids. This is the single largest group of plants in the world, so for every rule, there are 100 exceptions.
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.
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