It is believed that orchids have existed for millions of years—way back to the time of the dinosaurs. Today, they can be found growing on all continents except Antarctica.
- Many orchid species live in the tropics, while others grow on shady forest floors, and still, others inhabit cool meadows. Some are epiphytic (growing on other plants), some are lithophytic (growing on rocks), and some are terrestrial (growing in the ground). Some orchid flowers have beautiful fragrances that smell of honey, vanilla, or cinnamon. Others smell as foul as rotten meat.
So, what about orchids is so alluring? The first noteworthy feature of these plants is their flowers. Again, they can vary on so many levels, but a few characteristics remain the same. First, the flowers are bilaterally symmetrical, and therefore pleasing to the eye because each side mirrors the other.
- Second, each flower contains 3 petals, 3 sepals, and a column at the center where everything meets. This column is where the reproductive structures are housed, and thus the clumps of pollen are called pollinia. Typically, the bottom petal is quite showy and wide to attract pollinators, and it is therefore called the lip.
- The flowers will use mimicry in order to attract pollinator insects. They may appear like a butterfly, wasp, or even a completely different species of plant. Sometimes orchids will use scent to attract pollinators as well, like the rotten meat smell of the Foul Giant (Bulbophyllum grandiflorum), which attracts flies.