The orchid family of plants is the most diverse plant group on Earth, comprised of approximately 25,000 botanical species gathered in 750 genera, which rep- resents 10% of all plants growing on our planet. There are 76 species and subspecies native to Slovenia.
Orchids are unique plants in all respects.
Scientists discover and record each year almost 300 new species of orchids around the globe, therefore we can surely say that final number in this diverse family of plants will remain unknown for a long time. While orchids can be found on all continents, except the poles, they are most numerous in the hilly areas of the tropics, where in only a few hectares of pristine tropical rainforests one can find dozens of different orchid types and genera together.
Due to humid environment, which allows most orchid types to grow, fossil remains are rare to find. This is also the reason why we know so little about their evolutionary history, while the reasons for their immense biodiversity continue to remain an unsolved puzzle to scientists.
History of orchids
In ancient records we can find numerous references to orchids, which have been assigned supernatural powers and effects, on all continents. The author to the first reference to orchids, the Greek philosopher Theophrastus (about 300 BC), named the plants Orchis due to the similarity of the bulbs found in local Greek orchids to male testicles. Later on, the botanists named this plant family Orchidaceae, also called the Orchid family. Theophrastus thought that, since they were so similar in form to the said body part, a drink made from crushed orchid bulbs would help improve men’s sexual performance and it is really outstanding that, in Turkey, one can still purchase such a drink, which is called Salep by the locals.
he Aztecs used fermented fruits of the widely known Vanilla orchid and mixed it into a porridge made of cocoa beans, thus making a “drink for the gods” – today, in a somewhat different form, known as chocolate. Japanese samurais grew some types of orchids, which were signs of or high position within their society and their wealth, for ceremonial purposes. People in Europe can probably better relate to this latter aspect in orchids, since these plants used to represent a symbol to the well off aristocracy, which could afford to purchase and grow them, even as late as the mid 20th century. However, there was also the dark side to the afore-mentioned appreciation for orchids, which was revealed through a long lasting process of devastating their natural habitats, causing final extermination of some of the orchid species in nature. Unfortunately it needs to be said that people today do not act any different – each year we can read news about confiscated supplies of wild-grown plants.
The present and the future of orchids
Due to the development in biotechnology, which provided massive creation of the most popular orchids, the plundering of their natural habitats has, to a certain extent, been reduced, especially since massive accessibility and popularity in orchids have been increased. Hybrids in the Phalaenopsis genus, which are not as demanding for nursing as the botanical species found in nature, are available at prices accessible for virtually any one, therefore the popularity of these pot plants among people is no longer something to be surprised at.