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).
So you want to grow an orchid? There are tens of thousands of orchid varieties to choose from, in almost every color of the rainbow. Some exotic versions are rarely seen outside specialty shows, while others are readily available to the novice grower. Unlike the common stereotype, many types of orchids will thrive as houseplants, and don’t need to be kept in a greenhouse. The orchid you’ll choose to grow will depend on the environment in your home, as well as the way the plant looks.
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.
Orchids of all types have also often been sought by collectors of both species and hybrids. Many hundreds of societies and clubs worldwide have been established. These can be small, local clubs, or larger, national organisations such as the American Orchid Society. Both serve to encourage cultivation and collection of orchids, but some go further by concentrating on conservation or research.