Rich in bold, tropical colors and elegant blooms, orchids easily fascinate people with their dazzling appearance, but there is more to the dainty plant than meets the eye. Here are five fun facts about orchids you may not have known.
1. Orchids can be found all over the world—and lots of them. With about 25,000 documented orchid species in existence (and more continue to be discovered by scientists), the Orchidaceae family is one of the largest families of flowering plants in the world, preceded only by Asteraceae (sunflowers, daisies, etc.), found on every continent except Antarctica. The number of orchids worldwide is almost five times greater than that of mammal species.
2. They have historic and cultural significance in Costa Rica. June 15, 2014 marked the 75th anniversary since the guaria morada orchid (Guarianthe skinneri) was designated the country’s national flower in 1939. Commonly found in Costa Rican homes and gardens, tradition says the flower brings good luck and fortune. Orchids have also been associated with the beauty of the Costa Rican people. Two popular destinations to see the blooms of these vibrant flowers, especially between the months of January and April, are the Monteverde Orchid Garden and the Else Kientzler Botanical Garden, located in Puntarenas and Sarchí, Costa Rica, respectively. And in the spring, there is a National Orchid Show to display the floral gems.
3. They have literal and figurative symbolism. The name orchid is an abbreviated word derived from the family name Orchidacea, but the genus orchis comes from Ancient Greek word meaning “testicle,” named for the appearance of its tuberous roots. This is partially the reason many people believe the orchid symbolizes fertility. The ancient Greeks even believed eating different-sized orchid tubers from the plant could determine the sex of an unborn child. Other than general themes of maturity, more representations suggest the elegant flower symbolizes abundance and fragility of nature, peace, love, hope for the future, strength and energy. In the Victorian era, particularly in England, the purple-hued flower was an icon of luxury. Pink orchids embody pure affection and mature charm, so it is a popular flower to celebrate wedding anniversaries.
4. Their appearance can be likened to animals. Due to the abundance of different types of orchids, some species have earned themselves nicknames based on the animals they resemble. For instance, the Dracula simia is often referred to as the “monkey orchid” because of the primate-like “face” within its petals. Other examples include the Caleana major, which looks like a flying duck, and the Ophrys apifera, which uses its bee-like appearance along with its fragrance to attract pollinators. But the “bee orchid” isn’t the only species to deceive insects. Horticulture experts say there are several types of orchids that trick insects into pollinating them because their reproductive parts often have the same look and color as potential mates.
5. If vanilla is your favorite ingredient, you can thank orchids. Without the Vanilla planifolia species of this popular flowering plant, your morning coffee creamer, classic ice cream flavor and grandma’s cookies just wouldn’t be the same. It is the only orchid used for industrial food production, and its extract or “beans” can easily be found after undergoing a process that transforms the pods that yield its tiny seeds.