Orchids are a group of over 20,000 species of flower, growing on every continent but Antarctica.
In the moist tropics many grow on the trunks and branches of trees and so are called epiphytes.
A few, such as the Bird’s nest orchid, are saprophytes, living off rotting plants in places where there is no light.
Some species are found throughout the tropics, such as Ionopsis utricularioides. Others grow on just a single mountain in the world.
Orchids have a big central petal called the lip or labellum. It is often shaped like a cup, trumpet or bag.
The fly orchid of Ecuador has a lip shaped like a female tachinid fly so as to attract male flies.
To attract male bees, the bee orchid has a lip that looks just like a female bee.
The early purple orchid was said to have grown beneath Christ’s cross and the red spots on its leaves were said to be left by falling drops of Christ’s blood.
The flavor vanilla comes from the vanilla orchid.
Ancient Greek couples expecting a baby often ate the roots of the early purple orchid. They believed that if the man ate the flower’s large root the baby would be a boy. If the woman ate the small root, the baby would be a girl.
In Shakespeare’s play Hamlet, the drowned Ophelia is covered in flowers, including the early purple orchid, famous as a love potion. Hamlet’s mother says that ‘cold maids’ call the flowers ‘dead men’s fingers.