The Secret Life of Flowers – 5 Orchid Facts to Surprise You

Is there a more mysterious flower than the orchid? People have tried everything, including ice cubes in their pots, to grow them. With blooms that look like everything from monkeys to lions, and even little men, these gorgeous plants have long fascinated florists and flower-lovers alike.  Orchid bouquets have even become popular as exotic romantic gifts. Would you believe that orchids are even stranger than you could have imagined? We’re here to prove it to you, and teach a little more about the amazing orchid. So without further ado, here are 5 facts about orchids we think will surprise you!

Flower Meanings in China_Orchids for Friendship

Orchid Fact #1: Orchids are the Largest Family of Flowering Plants

That’s right! Despite their reputation as rare and hard to find, the fact is there are more than 25,000 species of orchids that we know about. There are more kinds of orchids than there are birds OR mammals – by about four times! So, watch out if the orchid army ever tries to take over. There are a lot more of them than us.

Orchid Fact #2: Orchids Grow on Every Continent Except Antarctica

If you’re savvy about your geography, that means you’re wondering about the arctic circle. And yes, there are many orchids that grow even there. Among the most beautiful is the Rose Purple Orchid, which grows throughout the Aleutian chain of Alaska. But there are others as well, including the Round Leaved Orchid that opens its tiny blooms on the edges of the Alaskan forests in June. There’s even odd little Northern Twayblade, a totally green orchid that thrives in the Yukon and blends into the mossy regions where it grows. Given their beauty, it’s nice to know there are gorgeous, unique orchids no matter where you are.

 

Dactylorhiza_aristata_(flowers)

Image from Wikimedia Commons by Alpsdake / CC BY-SA

Orchid Fact #3: Some Orchids are Great Tricksters

A number of orchids have such a close relationship with the insects that pollinate them that they’ve evolved to look like the female of an insect species, so males will try to mate with them, and – in doing so – spread the orchid’s pollen from flower to flower. For instance, take a look at the sneaky Bee Orchid from the UK. It has a specialized petal that’s colored like the female bees in the region. Its special petal even has fuzzy flaps on the sides to look like wings. When the male lands thinking he’s found a partner, he gets enrobed in a cloud of pollen to carry with him from bloom to bloom. But here’s hoping he finds a real mate soon enough.

 

Bee orchid (Ophrys apifera) in Monte Catalfano (Sicily), temperate climate Orchideacea, common in the Meditearranean region

Orchid Fact #4: There’s Even an Orchid that Looks Like a Naked Man!

That’s right! The Italian Orchid, or Naked Man Orchid, features a large, central petal that looks a whole lot like a tiny, anatomically correct, little man. Some Italians even believe that eating it can boost a man’s – ahem – stamina in the bedroom. We suspect a healthy diet and exercise will do that better, but it is a funny little flower, isn’t it? This little orchid is so funny, in fact, when they first appeared on the internet, they were labelled a hoax. But they’re real, and they grow in the Mediterranean in clumps of little men on stalks about two feet tall.

 

Naked Man Orchid (Orchis italica)

Orchid Fact #5: Orchids & Fungi are Best Friends

You might be thinking, ‘Eww, gross!’ But hear me out. Without the beneficial fungus found in soil all over the world, we wouldn’t have the beautiful orchids that we do. Why? Well, tiny orchid seeds don’t have an endosperm. That’s the part that gives a seed nutrients until it germinates. Without an endosperm, miniscule orchid seeds depend on the fungus near them to survive until they can pop open and grow into a beautiful plant. And sometimes that process can take up to 15 years! Some orchids are even parasitic, and completely unable to produce their own food through photosynthesis. These kinds of orchids are dependent on their fungi friends for life.

 

Dried vanilla fruits and vanilla orchid on wooden table. Close-up.

Bonus Orchid Fact: Vanilla is a Type of Orchid

That flavor we all know and love? It wouldn’t be possible without the vanilla orchid. The vanilla orchid is unique even among the oddities of the orchid world. For one, it’s the only fruit-bearing orchid in the world. Second, its gorgeous yellow bloom only lasts for one day. Of course, the bloom isn’t why we love it – those expensive vanilla beans truly interest us. And why are they so expensive? Well, the vanilla flower can only be pollinated by the Melipona bee, from Central America. Anywhere else and people pollinate the flowers by hand with a wooden needle. Plus, those aromatic vanilla pods are hand-picked, carefully wrapped, then dried. The process can take up to 6 months. Consider that the next time you’re enjoying your vanilla ice cream!

Now you know surprising facts about orchids, what’s next?

  • – Share the mystery and beauty of orchids with someone you love, send an orchid bouquet today!
  • – Learn more about the world of flowers in our blog: The World’s Weirdest Flowers.
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