Origin, history and habitus of orchids

Orchids are found on almost every continent on Earth except the hottest deserts and cold zones, but they thrive mainly in places with specific microclimates such as Central American volcanoes, the border of the Andes, and the Atlantic coastal and central mountains of southern Brazil. and the mountain slopes of the Hawaiian Islands, the southeastern slopes of the Himalayas, the Indochina Islands and the mountains of New Guinea. Eighty-five percent of the family lives in the tropics and subtropics in an epiphytic manner, settling primarily on trees, but there are also a few soil-dwelling (terrestrial) and rock-dwelling (lithophytic) species.

The first tropical orchid was brought in from the Bahamas to Europe in 1732. The spread of orchids in collections has been hampered until the 19th century. In the 16th century, many greenhouses were not built in England. As the basic requirements for orchid keeping were not yet known, many imported plants perished and the surviving specimens were sold for fortunes. Mass cultivation only in the XX. century became possible thanks to sterile seeding and cloning in laboratories. This is when the creation of hybrids also accelerated, as orchids can cross with each other extremely well.

Today, the collection, export, and destruction of botanical species is banned in most countries, yet human collection passion and deforestation continue to pose an extreme threat to the survival of these beautiful plants.

Orchids reproduce with the help of insects in their habitat, which has led to the formation of extremely beautiful, fragrant and special-shaped flowers. Long-spurred Angraecums, for example, can only be pollinated by long stubborn nocturnal sleepers, and many other flowers are deceptively similar to some insects. Unfortunately, this dependence also hinders the spread of plants, because if the pollinating insect species does not live in an area, the climate is in vain, the plants cannot appear.

Cymbidium seed pods Orchid seeds ripen in 5-18 months, with a seed pod containing millions of seeds. For successful germination, the seed must meet a fungal filament that, in the early days, feeds in symbiosis on the small plant that grows in a protected, damp, semi-shady corner. As it ages, the plant crawls higher and higher up the tree until it reaches the sunnier parts where it can already bloom. By age, most species are already independent of fungi, but at least they produce substances that prevent the fungus from proliferating.

Under the temperate belt, fewer and more modest-looking soil-dwelling orchids live, which, as perennials, survive the frosty winter by retreating underground. Quite an amazing example of their adaptation is that a species called Platanthera hyperbola lives even in Iceland! Several species (Cypripedium, Orchis, Cephalanthera, Ophrys species) can be found in meadows and forest soils in Hungary. These plants are strictly protected, their tearing and digging will have criminal consequences! Strict rules are also needed, as by narrowing habitats, artificially changing the composition of the soil, man is constantly destroying the habitats of orchids and pushing them to the brink of extinction. In the case of temperate orchid species, it has not been as successful in propagating as in tropical species.