Members of the Orchidaceae noted for their elegant flowers.
The Orchidaceae ("Orchid Family") are a very diverse and widespread group of monocot plants (order Asparagales). They are currently believed to be the largest family of flowering plants with between 21,000 and 26,000 accepted species in 880 genera. By comparison, this is about double the number of recognized bird species.
Due to the ornate and elegant flowers of many orchid species, they have proved very popular with horticulturists since the 19th century, and over 100,000 hybrids and cultivars have been produced.
Orchid markets have developed to rival those of tulips and new varieties can sell for hundreds of dollars at auction. As a very diverse group of plants, orchids have a number of other applications beyond beauty:
- The Vanilla genus is commercially grown as a flavor
- Food stuff (e.g. ground tubers of Orchis mascula used in Turkish ice cream)
- Dried leaves of Jumellea fragrans flavors Reunion Island rum
- Perfume scent
Most orchids are perennial epiphytes which typically grow anchored in trees or shrubs in tropical and sub-tropical climates. Temperate climate orchids are usually terrestrial. A few orchids are lithophytes growing on rock or very rocky soil.
Some orchids have little or no chlorophyll and are unable to photosynthesize. They receive their energy and nutrients through a parasitic or symbiotic relationship with soil fungi. Examples include Neottia, Corallorhiza, and Hexalectris - of which the latter has never been cultivated.