1. Home
  2. Plant Care Guides
  3. Houseplants
  4. Orchids
  5. Top 10 Fun Facts About Orchids You Need To Know
  1. Home
  2. Plant Care Guides
  3. Houseplants
  4. Top 10 Fun Facts About Orchids You Need To Know
  1. Home
  2. Latest Gardening Tips
  3. Top 10 Fun Facts About Orchids You Need To Know

Top 10 Fun Facts About Orchids You Need To Know

Check out these top 10 fun facts about orchids that shed light on their remarkable attributes. From the staggering number of species to their extraordinary underground existence. Whether you’re a seasoned orchid aficionado or a curious newcomer, prepare to be amazed by these weird and wonderful facts.

Top 10 Orchid Fun Facts

  1. Orchids are the world’s second-largest flowering plant family
  2. Orchids grow on every continent except Antarctica
  3. The world’s only underground flowers belong to an orchid
  4. Orchids have the smallest seeds of any plant
  5. Orchid flowers are upside down
  6. Many orchids have aerial roots that can photosynthesise
  7. The location of one of the UK’s rarest wild orchids has to be guarded 
  8. Vanilla comes from orchids
  9. Orchids can live for hundreds of years
  10. Most widely grown houseplant

1. Orchids are the world’s second-largest flowering plant family

With over 28,000 known species of orchid plants, the orchid family is the second largest in the number of known species (the daisy family, Asteraceae, is first). Although there are 28,000 accepted species, 129,000 different hybrids are listed in the International Orchid Register. This is because orchids are easily hybridised with each other to create novel plants. It is also thought that many species of orchids are in rainforests, waiting to be discovered.

2. Orchids grow on every continent except Antarctica

Orchids can grow almost everywhere, with the exception of Antarctica, some desert countries, and a handful of very isolated islands that don’t have native orchid species. This is due to orchids being a very versatile plant. They have adapted to growing in various conditions, from arctic tundra, tropical rainforests, swamps, mountaintops and desert-like environments. 

3. The world’s only underground flowers belong to an orchid

Orchids can grow in many places, such as on trees or rocks. But they can also grow entirely underground. Three of four critically endangered underground orchids (Rhizanthella) complete their entire lifecycle underground – including flowering. We understand that the western underground orchid “Rhizanthella gardneri” is the only plant to be pollinated by termites. As for the other three – scientists still need to learn how they are pollinated.

4. Orchids have the smallest seeds of any plant

An orchid seed is the size of dust and relies on fungi to germinate. Up to 3 million seeds can be contained in one orchid seedpod. 

5. Orchid flowers are upside down

Orchids commonly exhibit a distinctive petal known as the lip, which is larger or more complex than other petals. This structural feature serves a pivotal role in the pollination strategy of orchids.

During the developmental stages of an orchid flower, while still in bud form, the lip is positioned on the upper side of the flower. However, as the flower begins to bloom, it will rotate 180 degrees. This rotation effectively repositions the lip to the lower side of the flower.

Lip repositioning serves a crucial function in the orchid’s reproductive process. With the lip now situated beneath the rest of the flower, it functions as a specialised landing platform for potential pollinators.

Notably, while the rotation of the flower stalk and the subsequent repositioning of the lip are commonly observed in most orchid species, exceptions exist. Throughout the course of evolution, certain orchid varieties have evolved to lose this trait.

6. Many orchids have aerial roots that can photosynthesise

Around 70% of orchids grow on trunks and branches of trees, making them epiphytic. Unable to take up nutrients from the soil, these plants must find other methods to obtain nutrients needed to grow; causing them to absorb all the moisture they need from the air. The roots have adapted to reach into the air and have a spongy coating (velamen) that allows them to absorb atmospheric moisture and rain. These roots are usually green and can photosynthesise. 

Some epiphytic orchids have specialised roots that grow upwards to form a basket-like structure that collects leaf litter, which then breaks down to release nutrients that are then absorbed by the plant.

Some orchid varieties, like Taeniophyllum species, have also found a way to survive without leaves, carrying out all photosynthesis through their roots. Read more here.

7. The location of one of the UK’s rarest wild orchids has to be guarded  

Some of the rarest wildflowers in the UK are orchids, including the ghost orchid (which lives underground except to flower), the fen orchid and the lady’s slipper orchid. But the one we are talking about that has its location guarded is the lady’s slipper orchid (Cypripedium calceolus). This orchid was once widespread across northern England, but was wiped out by a combination of habitat loss and a Victorian craze for orchid-hunting. 

By 1917, the lady’s slipper orchid was thought to be extinct until 1930, when a single colony was rediscovered in a remote corner of the Yorkshire Dales. A small group of guardians managed to keep the orchid secret from collectors for almost 40 years before a dedicated committee was set up in 1971 to protect the orchids. The site’s location remains a closely guarded secret, and the colony is under protection throughout the year.

A reintroduction programme has now established colonies of lady’s slipper orchids at ten sites in the UK, using seedlings bred from the surviving wild plants. For more information read here, and here

8. Vanilla comes from orchids

The only orchid that can be grown as a commercial crop is the vanilla orchid (Vanilla planifolia), which has seedpods used to make vanilla. 

9. Orchids can live for hundreds of years

With the correct care and growing conditions, an orchid can have a lifespan of over a hundred years. For example, one of the oldest known orchids is the tiger orchid in Singapore’s Botanic Gardens. This orchid is estimated to be over 220 years old and is still blooming. For more information, read here.

10. Most widely grown houseplant

The most commonly grown houseplant orchid in the world is the Moth Orchid (Phalaneopsis species and hybrids). This houseplant now surpasses the Christmas plant and the poinsettia in popularity; with its sales increasing annually. 

You Might Be Interested In…

Updated on April 15, 2024

Was this article helpful?

Related Articles