The grower of orchids is favored above other men. He belongs to a starry-eyed fraternity, to whom each small chore, accomplished in its turn for the better culture of his orchids, is a source of never-ending and absorbing delight. The beauty of the orchid's line and color is known to all who bask in the offerings of the florist's window.
The appearance of each new growth and root is cause for rejoicing; the slimy mark of a snail or the cottony warning of the presence of scale is cause for distress. The habits and idiosyncrasies of every species and plant are subject to absorbed study. Different methods of growing and the relative merits of hybrids and species are endlessly discussed among fellow growers. The orchid grower checks his mundane worries at the door of the greenhouse and enters a world that offers surcease even to the heart heavily burdened with sorrow and loss.
The beginnings of the orchid family are shrouded in mystery. Since most orchids are epiphytic - that is, having aerial roots through which they receive sustenance from the minerals in the moisture-laden air of the tropics - they have left no traces such as the fossilized remains of ground-growing plants.
Dr. E. Soysa, writing in Orchid Culture in Ceylon, advances the delightful and plausible, if unproved, theory that orchids antedated the fossil era, but in their love of light ascended trees to escape the advancing jungle. There they lived, died, dried up, and floated away, leaving no trace. Whatever the genesis of the orchid family, it cannot be doubted that the orchid family is very old, judging both by its great variety and its highly complex structural development, attainable only through the passage of time.
The orchid is among the largest and most highly developed of the plant families, with some fifteen to twenty thousand species. A provident nature has lavished every means to insure the perpetuation of this favorite child. She has provided the flower with all the charm and allure of a fairy princess to win insect vassals to perform the service of cross-pollination.
The insects performing the service of cross-pollination vary with the species and are as diverse as the ingenious contrivances by which the orchids utilize them. It is in every case a reciprocal arrangement, the plant receiving the benefits of fertilization, the insect the largess of food and drink. Each species usually has its particular insect, as is shown by the special means each flower uses to attract its insect.
Darwin first noted a striking example of this specialization. On a trip to South America he had an opportunity to see a plant of Angraecum sesquipedale. This starry-white flower, a rare orchid of Madagascar, has a weirdly elongated lip containing a nectary, about eleven inches long, that holds one-and-a-half ounces of the sweet fluid produced by the sugar-secreting glands.
Darwin immediately predicted that some day a moth with a proboscis at least twelve inches long would be discovered to be responsible for cross-pollination of this peculiar orchid. In time such a moth was found and was duly named Xanthopan morgani praedicta.
This specialization is reflected in the extremely varied forms of the reproductive organs. These organs lie within the lip, more scientifically known as the labellum, along a fleshy enlargement called the column.
The labellum serves in three capacities: it provides storage space for the pollen, an antechamber to the ovary, and a banquet room for the insect. On entering any orchid flower the insect must first brush the empty stigmatic cavity in his search for the nectar or other food.
Drunk with the repast, he blunders out, the narrow passage compelling him on the way to brush past the pollen masses, which become dislodged and, because of the sticky fluid, adhere to him. These masses hold firmly until he enters another flower of the same species. The feeding position is ideal for depositing the pollen.
Such are some of the secrets of the orchid. The wonders continue as the orchid grower learns more and more. Enjoy a lifetime of interest and delight with orchids!
How to Grow Breathtaking Orchids - Even If You've Never Raised One Before. Simply Orchid Plant Care Website Reveals All The Secrets.