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.
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.
Water your orchid early in the morning. This insures complete water evaporation on the foliage as well as the crown by nightfall. If your home is very warm or has low humidity you will most likely need to water more often. The best place to water your plant is in the kitchen sink. Use lukewarm water (do not use salt softened or distilled water) and water your plant for about 15 seconds and be sure to thoroughly wet the media. Then allow the plant to drain for about 15 minutes. It may appear dry but it has had enough water. After the plants are watered, they should be placed so that the pots do not stand in water. Some people like to place the pots on "humidity trays" or in trays or saucers of gravel or pebbles and water. The pot is placed on the pebbles above the water line. This helps to insure that the base of the pot is not immersed in water, increases humidity for the plant, and provides some air circulation under the pot.
The Lycaste orchid genus, similarly to its relative Anguloa, likes intermediate-to-bright light, intermediate-to-cool temperatures, and high humidity. The flowers look rather different, though; they are more-or-less triangular in shape because the sepals point outward while the petals point forward. These orchids are very fun to grow, and will thrive if you get their care right.
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.
Epiphytic orchids, those that grow upon a support, have modified aerial roots that can sometimes be a few meters long. In the older parts of the roots, a modified spongy epidermis, called a velamen, has the function of absorbing humidity. It is made of dead cells and can have a silvery-grey, white or brown appearance. In some orchids, the velamen includes spongy and fibrous bodies near the passage cells, called tilosomes.
Horticultural techniques have been devised for germinating orchid seeds on an artificial nutrient medium, eliminating the requirement of the fungus for germination and greatly aiding the propagation of ornamental orchids. The usual medium for the sowing of orchids in artificial conditions is agar agar gel combined with a carbohydrate energy source. The carbohydrate source can be combinations of discrete sugars or can be derived from other sources such as banana, pineapple, peach, or even tomato puree or coconut water. After the preparation of the agar agar medium, it is poured into test tubes or jars which are then autoclaved (or cooked in a pressure cooker) to sterilize the medium. After cooking, the medium begins to gel as it cools.
Most orchids are not heavy feeders. Many orchids bloom year after year with no fertilizer at all. During active growth, when new leaves are being produced, you may fertilize every other time you water at half the strength recommended on the fertilizer package. However, it's important to deliver water without fertilizer at least once a month to flush excess fertilizer salts from the bark mix and avoid fertilizer burn to the roots.
Special thanks to David Banks of Australia, Christian Kirsch; Dr. Rudolph Jenny, Peter O'Byrne***, Eric Hagsater***, Lisa Thoerle***, Mario Blanco***, Mark Whitten***, Adam Karremans, Hakan Halander****; Daniel Jimenez***, André Schuiteman***, Dr. E.F. de Vogel, Jaap Vermeulen, Rick Barry, Dr. Guido Braeme, Rogier Van Vugt; Rene Dishong, Tom Ballinger, Mac & Helen Rivenback; Dr Rubin Salueda; Rafael Govaerts***, Padre Pedro Ortiz, Dr Leslie Garay, Vena Read, Charles Lamb, Donald Tan of Malaysia, Joseph Dougherty, Dalton Holland Baptista, Rick Cirino; Prem Subrahmanyam, ROMAN MARUSKA Czech Republic, Michael Coronado, Alejandro Taborda, Greg Butler and Oak Hill Gardens, Bill Bergstrom and Bergstrom Orchids, Donna Nash, Oliver Lenhard, D. E Vermeullen, Americo Docha Neto, Richard Korber, Carl Withner, Mark Nir, Ekkehard Schwadtke; Dr Eric Christenson, Dave Alford, Igor Zhuravlev, Tony Watkinson, David Hunt, Jean Marie Vanderwinden, Glen Ladnier, Jeffrey W. Tucker, Jorge Alejandro Paulete Scaglia, Scott McGregor, Wilella Stimmell, Eric Thiessen, Geert Volckaert, George and Kathy Norris***, David Alford, Eric Hunt, Peter O'Byrne, Allen Black, Helen Milner, Al Pickrel, Greg Riemer, Marcia Whitmore, Phillipe Musschoot, Wilford Neptune, Jean-Claude George, Tony Walsh, Greg and Kerri Steenbeeke and their Orkology Kreations Website, Jim Hamilton, Robert Fuchs and RF Orchids, Gene Monier and JEM Orchids, Jerry Bolce, Andy's Orchids, Stephen Jones, First Ray Orchids, Robert Weyman Bussey, JEM Orchids, Carlos Hajek and his Peruvian Orchid Page, Bill Morden, David Morris, Noble Bashor, Patricia Harding, Nina Rach, David Haelterman; Craig Cooper, Rocky Giovinazzo, David Friedman, Bill Pinnix, Troy C. Meyers, Linda's Orchid Page, Pierre-Alain Darlet*, Guy Cantor, Tropical Orchid Farm in Maui, H&R Nursuries, Lois Greer, Ichiro "Haru" Ohsaka and his Bulbophyllum Page, Mauro Rosim from Brazil, A World Of Orchids, Bruce Norris of Canada, Nick Doe, Neville De La Rue, Nelson Barbosa Machado Neto, Jeff Aguillon, Dale and Deni Borders, Eka Mulja Tjipta, Rick Barry, Manfred Schmucker, Uri Baruk, Mike and Candy Joehrendt, Dan and Marla Nikirk, Walter Orchard, Christer Carlson; Guillerrmo Angulo, M. Max, Paula Vagner, Tennis Maynard, Greg Allikas, Malcolm Thomas, David Morris, Jacques Deschenes, Lourens Grobler; Gary Yong Gee; José Castaño Hernández; Judd and David Janvrin* for their photo and text contributions.

The term "botanical orchid" loosely denotes those small-flowered, tropical orchids belonging to several genera that do not fit into the "florist" orchid category. A few of these genera contain enormous numbers of species. Some, such as Pleurothallis and Bulbophyllum, contain approximately 1700 and 2000 species, respectively, and are often extremely vegetatively diverse. The primary use of the term is among orchid hobbyists wishing to describe unusual species they grow, though it is also used to distinguish naturally occurring orchid species from horticulturally created hybrids.


With over 300 species, this type of orchid is well-known but not as common as people think, in part because only a few of the species consist of showy flowers that catch people’s attention. The ones that do, however, come in colors such as yellow with white tips and dark red edges, or dark red with wide white stripes. They contain three separate lobes and beautiful, narrow leaves that perfectly complement the petals.

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.
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