Saturday, 27 January 2018

Oh, Mr Orchid!

It's Saturday morning, and it's raining yet again. I wonder if the UK is ever going to be dry again. Amanda has been rough all week, and now it's my turn. The worst part is the sore throat, something that I always struggle with the most. It's a lazy day on the sofa for me, and before I finally crashed down, I checked our various orchids for watering. Predictably, nothing much had changed from last week, as it's that time of year for them, and they don't require much anyway, but they have made me think as I once again gave them a close look.

They are nothing if not overtly sexual in appearance, resembling the female of our species in quite graphic ways. The petals, once formed to encircle and form a lower platform for the pollinator are called labellum, from labium, meaning lip. The other similarities are just as strikingly obvious.
The name orchid is derived from the Greek word orkhis, meaning testicle, and the tubers of the plant explain why. 

I never used to be an orchid fan, but over the years we have been given many, and as time has passed they have grown on me (forgive the pun), and we now have many spread to different parts of the house. Apart from a few exceptions, they are tough plants, and extremely easy to grow, and so don't be put off by the tales of expertise needed in this particular field. They are epiphytic, and grow throughout all the continents except Antarctica, and so are tough little cookies. There are endless varieties available now, obtainable from garden centres to supermarkets, and all require nothing more than light, and very occasional watering. 

We have had many of ours for years, and once flowered, they are just left where they are, watered very sparingly, and then a few months later they flower again......and again....and again.

The tendrils are particularly fascinating. Not roots in the true sense as we know them, they are used to anchor the orchid to the host plants, and like the leaves, absorb water and any nutrients from the surrounding air. This one in our bathroom looks as though it's about to start walking, in a 'War of the World's' kind of way.

Orchids are a complex group of plants, with more than 25,000 species, beaten only by the Aster family, and have a huge variety of interesting facts throughout them. I'm on the sofa still, and it's raining......still, and so here are a few.

They often offer the pollinator the promise of sexual favour, by mimicking the pollinator, such as this Bee Orchid (Ophrys apifera), and scientists have discovered that the pollinating bee is so aroused by the experience that it actually orgasms, while the plant is covertly depositing pollen on it's back.

Some orchids rely on their surroundings a little bit too much, such as the Western Underground Orchid (Rhizanthella gardneri). Named after the farmer who discovered it while turning over his ground and smelling the fragrance. It's a leafless plant, with a white flower about two centimetres across, and lives below the soil surface. As if this doesn't make it fragile enough, it relies entirely on nutrients and water from any nearby Broom Honeymyrtle (Melaleuca uncinata), and if THAT isn't enough, it can only get this by connecting to the Broom Honeymyrtle via a fungus called Thanatephorus gardneri. PHEW! Not one of natures most secure success stories, especially now that the Broom plant in question is dropping drastically in numbers.

Vanda tessellata, a pretty little thing. The delicately frilled and spotted petals surrounding the mouth, with an exquisite purple tongue for the pollinator to stand on. Found around India, the flowers produce a chemical with the very romantic title 2,7,7-methyl bicyclo [2.2.1] heptane.

Impressed eh? You will be more so when you learn that if a man drinks an infusion of the flowers, the effect on him will be the same as Viagra.

The next time you enjoy a bowl of vanilla ice cream, think of this little yellow beauty, Vanilla planifolia, the source of the vanilla pod.

Of course, not all of hte orchids appear to get it correct as far as trying to entice a suitable pollinator goes. Monkey Orchids are a pretty graphic example.
Orchis simia looks like a cluster of playful monkeys playing in a tree.....

....while Dracula simia is just freaky!

So, if you want to grow an orchid or two, and have been too scared for any reason, do give it a go. You don't have to have a specialist glasshouse unless you become too addicted to them. A windowsill will do. If you have any questions then drop me a line and I will do my best to answer.

Who also has an orchid in their home?


  1. I don't have a single plant in the house. I killed a few plants years back and now as space has become at more and more of a premium I wouldn't know where to put one anyways.
    I remember a biology teacher surprising the class once with tales of the cats piss orchid. We thought she was taking the piss but it's real!

    1. Haha Kylie! I must admit I had forgotten about that little beauty. Unsurprisingly, we are rather obsessed with plants, and have them in every corner, both inside and out. Maybe we should send one over to you, only a wee one (tee hee) This is a good post about the orchid you mention: