Orchid: The Plant of the King’s Fragrance
According to Wikipedia, orchids are “one of the two largest families of flowering plants, with between 21,950 and 26,049 currently accepted species, found in 880 genera. Selecting which of the two families is larger remains elusive because of the difficulties associated with putting hard species numbers on such enormous groups.
Regardless, the number of orchid species equals more than twice the number of bird species, and about four times the number of mammal species. It also encompasses about six to 11 percent of all seed plants. Moreover, since the introduction of tropical species in the 19th century, horticulturists have produced more than 100,000 hybrids and “cultivars.” Wow. Apparently there’s a lot to choose from.
Scientists believe that the origin of orchids goes back much further than originally thought. Wikipedia mentions that, “An extinct species of stingless bee, Proplebeia dominicana, was found trapped in Miocene amber from about 15 to 20 million years ago. The bee was carrying pollen of a previously unknown orchid taxon, Meliorchis caribea, on its wings. This find is the first evidence of fossilised orchids to date.
“This indicates orchids may have arisen 76 to 84 million years ago during the Late Cretaceous. In other words, they may have coexisted with dinosaurs. It also shows insects were active pollinators of orchids then.”
For centuries, the orchid has been a symbol of love, luxury and beauty. The early Greeks thought the orchid represented virility. The Chinese called it “the plant of the king’s fragrance.” In medieval times, the orchid was thought to be an aphrodisiac and was used in love potions. The 18th century ushered in orchid collecting, but because they were then so rare, only a few botanists and wealthy amateurs could enjoy them. William Cattley, in 1818, became the first person to bloom an orchid, the Cattleya, an event that electrified the flower world. A single orchid sold for thousands of dollars.
Orchids occur in almost every habitat other than glaciers. The richest concentration of orchid varieties is found in Nepal, in the Himalayan region. The majority are found in the tropics, in Asia, South America and Central America. However, they can be found above the Arctic Circle, in southern Patagonia, and close to Antarctica. Orchid is sure a versatile and adaptable plant.
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