Posted by: ktzefr | February 25, 2013

10 Facts about Orchids

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I was starting across a suspension bridge traversing the Sarapiqui River into La Tirimbina Rainforest Reserve in Costa Rica when I spotted a huge white orchid growing in the trees several feet above my head.  There was a trail of several blooms dangling through the hanging vines.  It seemed like an impossible place for such a gorgeous flower to be living, but it was obviously the perfect spot for an orchid.

I’ve seen orchids in shops and exhibits and botanical gardens.  Years ago I visited an orchid farm in Hawaii.  I’ve found lovely orchids growing in gardens high in the Andes in Ecuador and the Central Mountains of Mexico in places where wool sweaters and wood fires are necessary at night.  But there’s nothing quite like discovering an orchid growing in the wild.

Last week I saw the Smithsonian’s latest orchid exhibit at the National Museum of Natural History — Passport to Orchids of Latin America.  It’s a lovely exhibit that can make a DC-dweller feel far removed from the comings and goings on Pennsylvania Avenue right outside the door.  The orchids in this show are native to Belize and Colombia, Guatemala and Chile, Uruguay and Mexico and Costa Rica  — from jungles to vanilla farms to conservation rainforests.  It was nice to come in from the cold for awhile and journey through Latin America via orchids.

Did you know…

1.  Orchidaceae (orchid family) is one of the two largest families in the plant kingdom.

2.  There are approximately 25,000 natural species and more than 30,000 hybrids.

3.  Orchids are found on all continents except Antarctica.

4.  The first classification of orchids was around 300 BC by Greek philosophers.

5.  The 19th century bourgeoisie were so enamored by orchids that they sent orchid hunters on expeditions to harvest new specimens in the wild.

6.  Orchids were once sold at auction in London for exorbitant prices.

7.  Some orchids (epiphytes) grow only on trees, existing without soil and gathering all nutrients for growth from rainfall and decomposing materials.

8.  The vanilla orchid is native to Mexico.  It was introduced to the conquistador Hernan Cortes by the Aztec ruler Montezuma in 1520 and brought to Europe by Cortes.

9.  Many orchids in Central and South America are most abundant at elevations of 5,000 to 9,000 feet, thriving in temperatures of 55 degrees with 50 to 60% humidity. 

10.  Some types of orchids need periods of dormancy in which they look dead and dry, but suddenly the plant will burst forth again with new life and colorful blooms.

Orchids; Photo:KFawcett

Orchids; Photo:KFawcett

This last fact is what I’ve been waiting for as I have nine orchids at home.  They were all once beautiful and full of blooms.  Once the blooms fell, however, the orchids turned into regular-looking green plants with a tangle of dried roots.  I’ve been watering and not watering, moving from one place to another — in the sun, out of the sun, in cool spots, in warm spots — and fertilizing with powdered orchid food and orchid mist.  But I’m still waiting patiently for just one to burst forth with new life!

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