History of Orchids
The early history of orchids is only partially recorded. It is known that in 550 BC, the Chinese emperors coveted the indigenous species of cymbidium orchids for their sweet perfume. The man orchid (aceras anthropophorum) was once considered to be an aphrodisiac because the shape of the lip of the orchid flower resembled the figure of a man.
In Europe, history of orchid plants and interest in orchids can be traced back to Greek and Roman times. At that time, people knew only of the temperate orchids, which were vastly different from the tropical orchids. At the end of the 18th century, merchant ships from New World (colonies of British, French, Dutch and Portuguese) came back laden with newly discovered animals and plants, including tropical orchid flowers and orchid plants.
Orchid collectors started cultivating about 50 species of orchids and new hybrid varieties of orchid plants were raised from seeds. The interest in orchid plants gradually spread to all of Europe and America. Today there is hardly a nation where one cannot find enthusiastic orchid culturists.
Types of Orchids : Classification of orchids
Orchids can be classified on different criteria. Mainly used criterions for classification of orchids are (1) floral features (2) on how they live and survive.
On the basis of definite floral features, orchids are divided into different orchid tribes. Most interesting types of orchids under this criteria are the Lady’s Slipper orchid tribe, the Rein orchid tribe, the Bird’s Nest orchid tribe and the Tree orchid tribe.
According to the way they live and survive, there are three types of orchids.
1. Epiphyte orchids
2. Terrestrial orchids
3. Lithophyte orchids
4. Epiphyte orchid plants
Orchid plants that have evolved to live upon trees are epiphytes. They are not parasites but merely take advantage of the tree as a support. Epiphyte orchids obtain their nutrients from the moisture in the air and from any debris collected on the branches or beneath mosses where their roots penetrate.
Example of this type of orchids: Sophronitis Coccinea orchids
Scarlet flowers of the epiphytic Sophronitis Coccinea orchid plants sparkle like bright gems on the trees oh high ridges of the Brazilian coastal forest.
Terrestrial orchid plants
These orchid plants grow in the ground and there is hardly any area on Earth where terrestrial orchids have not adapted to grow. They are found in places as diverse as hot dry Australian deserts, to the gentler climates of temperate woodlands, to the very edge of Arctic Circle.
Examples of this type of orchids:
(1) The fragrant Zygopetalum crinitum orchids are found growing under the trees away from the Brazilian sunshine.
(2) Cypripedium calceolus, a lady’s slipper orchid, is a terrestrial orchid found in Europe and North America.
(3) Stenoglottis fimbriata is a terrestrial from South Africa.
Lithophyte orchid plants
These orchid plants take a middle path between the above mentioned two classes. Lithophyte orchids make their home on rocky cliff faces and sometimes on near vertical slopes.
Lithophyte orchid plants obtain their nourishment in a similar way to epiphyte orchids. But they sometime have to withstand longer period of extreme dryness. Extra water and nutrients are obtained from roots that penetrate into the crevices in the rocks.
Examples of this type of orchids:
(1) The species cytopodium andersoniae grows mainly on smooth, flat rock surfaces.
(2) Other examples are the pleiones and some species of paphiopedilum.
Exception: Some epiphytes can also become lithophytic when suitable opportunity arises.