About 30,000 species of orchids come from all over the world, on every continent except Antarctica. As you can imagine, they come from a wide range of habitats and each type of orchid has different care requirements. Their incredible diversity also means you can always find another interesting orchid type to grow, which is one of the principal reasons the orchid hobby is so addictive!
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.
Catasetum orchids, along with the other members of the Catasetum alliance, have big, thick pseudobulbs with an attractive fan of thin leaves along their length. The flowers can be very showy, but are unisexual, so that male and female flowers look different. Lighting affects which kind appears. They need a dry rest after flowering when the leaves drop.
Once you develop more than a passing interest in orchids, you will quickly notice how diverse this exotic plant family is. Encompassing genera that yield both the vanilla you love to bake with and fragrances you love to wear, each flower has unique characteristics and care requirements. Compare your plants to some of the most commonly cultivated orchids to help you determine what type of orchid you are growing.
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.
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.
The Bulbophyllum orchid genus is the largest in the Orchidaceae family, with over 1800 species, making it the third largest genus of plants. (Taxonomists will probably eventually split it into several smaller genera, but with so many types of orchids it's a massive undertaking!) They differ widely in appearance, but all have a single leaf emerging from the top of the pseudobulb, flower stems coming from the bottom of the pseudobulb, and a hinged lip designed to tip insects against the column. Many are pollinated by flies, and stink like dung or rotting carcasses, which is a great conversation starter and gives you bragging rights for putting up with it! (They don't all stink, fortunately.) The rhizomes wander all over the place and often branch freely, so it's easy to grow an impressive specimen.