Courtesy photo The butterfly orchid is deemed the showiest of the natives, producing small but attractive flowers.
published: Sunday, June 30, 2013
Wild orchids are unique, beautiful
Florida is host to numerous species of flowers. In fact, our beautiful state was deemed "La Florida," which means "place of flowers," by Ponce De Leon when he landed on the east coast in March of 1513. Perhaps of all the different types of flowers, the orchids are the most interesting. Florida houses about half of all of the orchid species found in the United States and four of those are found nowhere else in the world.
Orchids are members of the class Liliopsida, which includes lilies, irises, grasses, palms, and bananas. They are monocots which fall into one of two categories: epiphytes or terrestrials. Epiphytes are simply plants that grow in trees while the terrestrial varieties grow on the ground. Orchids may also be found growing on rocks or posts where pockets of organic matter settled providing a home for the flowering plant. These rock dwellers are called lithophytes.
Orchids are not like other flowers. They start out with the basic flower characteristics and from there, countless variations occur. Most flowers, such as lilies or irises have separate stamens and pistils.
Orchids do not; they sport a "column," which is a combined structure of the two organs into one central area. Although they do generally have three groups in their flowering parts, one of the petals is usually different from the other two. This dissimilar petal is called the lip or labellum. Most orchid flowers could be cut in half and you would have two mirror images.
The butterfly orchid is a very popular species among Florida's wild species. The height of flowering for this particular variety is from May to July. The butterfly orchid is an epiphyte, which grows throughout most of south Florida. It is somewhat common among orchids as it grows in most ecosystems.
The leaves are about eight to 12 inches long and the branches sporting flowers extend beyond the leaves. Like many orchids, it grows in nutrient poor substrate, which must remain moist. Its tiny seeds are disbursed by the wind.
The flower, which is fragrant, is greenish to reddish-brown with white and pink lip. The epiphyte produces the most flowers when it is in the full sun. It thrives in humid climates. This orchid is deemed the showiest of the natives, producing small but pretty flowers.
The ghost orchid is another popular variety and is a somewhat noticeable epiphyte, with its large single flower. This orchid does not sport leaves, but has radiating roots that perform the photosynthesis process for the plant. The ghost orchid is found in swamps and sloughs in the southern parts of Florida. It usually favors the trunks or pond apple or pop ash trees, but will make its home on a cypress, oak or even royal palm if necessary. The ghost orchid's bloom may be seen from May through September.
Another Florida orchid is the water-spider orchid, which may be found on marshy shores and even in floating mats of vegetation.
Runners that live underground help the plant to spread. It can also reproduce by seeds. The plant gets its name from the thin, narrow petals of the flower, which are a light-greenish color and resemble tiny spiders. It usually grows to be about one or two feet tall with thick, wide leaves. Resembling many other types of aquatic plants, the leaves are lance-shaped and taper to a point.
It is believed by many scientists that orchids date back to the days of the dinosaurs. Fossils of orchids and pollinators of the flowers have been discovered which are said to date millions of years old. Apparently there were orchids during the Late Cretaceous period.
Although orchids are known primarily for their value as ornamental plants, they have served mankind in other ways for many years. The scent of some of the orchid blooms is duplicated and used in perfumes.
The dried seed pods of the orchid genus Vanilla are used for flavoring in baking and perfumes.
Some terrestrial tubers of various orchids are ground up and used in cooking. For centuries, orchids have been used for medicinal purposes. China has used some varieties since 2800 B.C. for herbal remedies.
Many of the native orchids of Florida are rapidly disappearing because of habitat destruction and poaching. Most folks enjoy gazing upon the beautiful blooms of orchids, but taking them from the wild is not a good idea.
Many varieties of orchids have been hybridized and are available for sale at various nurseries and other venues.
So feel free to add orchids to your landscape, just make sure to get them from the store and not the wild!
Corine Burgess is and Environmental Specialist for the Highlands County Parks and Natural Resources Department. Guest columns are the opinion of the writer, not necessarily those of the News-Sun.
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