The complex mechanisms that orchids have evolved to achieve cross-pollination were investigated by Charles Darwin and described in Fertilisation of Orchids (1862). Orchids have developed highly specialized pollination systems, thus the chances of being pollinated are often scarce, so orchid flowers usually remain receptive for very long periods, rendering unpollinated flowers long-lasting in cultivation. Most orchids deliver pollen in a single mass. Each time pollination succeeds, thousands of ovules can be fertilized.
A pollinium is a waxy mass of pollen grains held together by the glue-like alkaloid viscin, containing both cellulosic strands and mucopolysaccharides. Each pollinium is connected to a filament which can take the form of a caudicle, as in Dactylorhiza or Habenaria, or a stipe, as in Vanda. Caudicles or stipes hold the pollinia to the viscidium, a sticky pad which sticks the pollinia to the body of pollinators.
Disa is a genus of beautiful plants with rather triangular flowers, often red. They require VERY different care than other types of orchids, so it's easy to kill them if you don't know what you're doing. In particular, they like it wet and should never dry out. The best-known Disa is Disa uniflora, which in South Africa is known as the Pride of Table Mountain.
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.
If your orchid is potted in plastic, place it in an empty bowl, then add water. If you place the plastic pot in an already full bowl of water, the water will push the bark up and out, floating it away from the orchid roots. In this case, add water to just below the lip of the pot and let it sit for 10 to 15 minutes, then drain and return the orchid pot to its place.
The Cypripedioideae subfamily is known for its lady slipper orchids, which are named after their slipper-shaped pouches that trap insects and help the flowers get pollinated. There are 5 genera in this subfamily: Cypripedium, Mexipedium, Paphiopedilum, Phragmipedium, and Selenipedium. Cypripedioideae orchids have two lateral, fertile anthers, which is unusual in most other orchids.
In orchids that produce pollinia, pollination happens as some variant of the following sequence: when the pollinator enters into the flower, it touches a viscidium, which promptly sticks to its body, generally on the head or abdomen. While leaving the flower, it pulls the pollinium out of the anther, as it is connected to the viscidium by the caudicle or stipe. The caudicle then bends and the pollinium is moved forwards and downwards. When the pollinator enters another flower of the same species, the pollinium has taken such position that it will stick to the stigma of the second flower, just below the rostellum, pollinating it. The possessors of orchids may be able to reproduce the process with a pencil, small paintbrush, or other similar device.
Do a finger test. This is the best way to determine whether an orchid needs more water. Stick your pinky finger into the potting mix, taking care not to disturb the orchid's roots. If you don't feel any moisture, or you feel just a little, it's time to water the orchid. If you feel moist potting mix right away, give it more time. When in doubt, you should wait an extra day.
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.
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Water thoroughly. When you do water, do it like you mean it. Different growers have different rules, but many professional growers turn on their sprinklers for 8 or more minutes. Successful home-growers sometimes dunk their plants, pots and all, into a bucket or sink of water. Some varieties, such as vandas, can be left floating in water for a surprisingly long time. The idea is to make sure the velamen is completely saturated. You want tiny droplets hanging on the roots after watering. This means the plant is completely hydrated.