The Amazing Orchid

     The Orchid Family contains some of the most beautiful flowers known. For this reason they are very popular among horticulturists. Close to ten percent of all seed plants are orchids. There are around 22,000 currently accepted species, and there may be as many as 25,000 species in the world, as 800 new species are described every year. In addition, horticulturists have developed more than 100,000 hybrids and cultivars of orchids. Orchids occur in almost every habitat except for deserts and glaciers. They even occur above the Arctic Circle and on Macquarie Island close to Antarctica. But the majority of species occur in the tropics of Asia, and Central and South America. 

     Most orchids are perennial epiphytes growing upon or attached to the trunks and limbs of trees. A few are lithophytes which grow on rocks. Others are terrestrial, growing in soil, and include nearly all temperate species. Some orchids lack chlorophyll and are myco-heterotrophs, meaning that they have a symbiotic relationship with a soil fungus from which they acquire their nutrients instead of through photosynthesis. A few epiphytic species, like the Ghost Orchid, lack leaves and depend on their green roots for photosynthesis. Epiphytic orchids have modified aerial roots up to several meters long which contain a spongy epidermis for absorbing humidity. Some store water and nutrients in specialized thickened stems for dry periods. Some terrestrial orchids have two subterranean tuberous roots, the extra one being used as a food reserve.

     Well known for the many structural variations in their flowers, many orchids have only a single flower, but most have their flowers in groups or clusters. Orchids have highly specialized pollination systems which greatly decrease their chances of being pollinated. Therefore, to increase their odds of being pollinated, they remain receptive to pollination for very long periods. The Eurasian genus Ophrys is an extremely specialized group of orchids in which the labellum (petal) mimics, by color, shape, and odor, a receptive female insect. Pollination happens as the attracted male insects attempt to mate with the flowers. Many orchids are pollinated by bees. Some bees gather from certain orchids volatile chemicals they require to synthesize pheromonal attractants. The Eastern Underground Orchid in Australia never sees the light of day and depends on ants and other terrestrial insects to pollinate it.

     The seeds of orchids are almost microscopic and are very numerous, with some species producing over a million per capsule. Seeds are dispersed by wind like spores. All orchid seeds lack endosperm and must enter a symbiotic relationship with various fungi which provide them the necessary nutrients to germinate. The chances of an individual seed meeting the proper kind of fungi is small, so only a small fraction of all the seeds released will germinate.

     Just as the orchid seed must enter into a relationship with a fungus to germinate, so we must enter into a relationship with Christ for the germination of our spiritual life. “The seed has in itself a germinating principle, a principle that God Himself has implanted; yet if left to itself the seed would have no power to spring up. … There is life in the seed, there is power in the soil; but unless infinite power is exercised day and night, the seed will yield no return. … The life which the Creator has implanted, He alone can call forth. Every seed grows, every plant develops, by the power of God. … The germination of the seed represents the beginning of spiritual life, and the development of the plant is a figure of the development of character. There can be no life without growth.” God’s Amazing Grace, 197.

David Arbour