Our earth is adorned with millions of beautiful specimens of flora and fauna, the plant group ‘orchids’ is one of them. They have probably been around much before man appeared on earth. Many ancient texts refer to the medicinal qualities of orchids, Theophrastus mentions ‘Orchis’ in his Enquiry Into Plants. Ancient Indian and Chinese text also have references to medicinal qualities of orchids. These plants have evolved and adapted to changing times as well as to different habitats. Apart from regions having extreme weather conditions like the Polar Regions, the desert areas and the aquatic habitats, orchids are found growing all over the world. They, however, grow in abundance in the tropics.
The congenial conditions of high humidity and temperature in the tropics support a vast diversity and huge population of orchids. Though, a large number of orchid species have been discovered from these regions, many may still be hidden in the womb of the equatorial forests. Sadly, many regions with rich orchid growth are being exploited for a variety of reasons, leaving behind denuded areas. Resultant loss of orchid population is irreplaceable, unless strong and early measures are taken.
Fortunately, many countries have taken up conservational measures such as preserving the germplasm and undertaking in-situ as well as ex-situ propagation programs. Many growers, researchers as well as hobbyists have started producing orchid hybrids, thousands of which have already been registered. Production of hybrids has been a boon for orchids commercially, with both cut flowers as well as whole plants selling from about $1 (in countries like India) to $55 (in the international market).
Orchids have gained huge popularity in the cut flower market because of the long shelf life of the flowers, some last for a week to about one month. Their uniquely shaped colourful flowers make them a good choice as houseplants. In countries like India, several projects are underway to encourage housewives to grow and sell these plants to supplement the household income. Apart from being commercially useful, many orchids also possess medicinal properties, which local people have been exploiting since centuries.
Growing orchids is not a tough cookie as thought by many. To grow them successfully, information regarding that plant’s natural growing habit should be available. The grower must know whether the plant is a terrestrial (growing on the ground), an epiphyte (growing on the trees) or a saprophyte (growing on decaying matter). This will decide the requirements of that plant. For propagation purpose, a grower should know whether the plant is a monopodial (having single growing point, e.g. Aerides species) or sympodial (having multiple growing points, e.g. Dendriobiums, Cattleyas).
Equipped with this basic knowledge, growing orchids should not be difficult, especially with the hardy species which require low maintenance. It would be better for the beginners to start with the hardy orchids first and then move on to more delicate only!
Other plants will no longer appear attractive, once caught on orchids. Such is their beauty that they almost become addictive. Orchids can be used in multiple ways, as ornamentals, for medicinal purpose, for commercial use. It is the ingenuity of the grower how to best use them!