ghost orchid

Observing Wild Orchids in Florida

The following pages provide some useful information about orchids in general and specifically about how to go about observing Florida's orchids in their natural habitat. Select a page from the dropdown to jump to a specific page or click the Next or Previous links to see all the pages in succession.

A brief description of orchids is as follows:

  1. They are a member of the class of flowering plants Liliopsida, also known as Monocotyledons or "monocots" for short...these include grasses, lilies, irises, palms, bananas, gingers, and the like.  Most monocots have leaves with parallel veins and flowers with floral parts in groups of three.
  2. Orchids in Florida fall into one of two large categories: the epiphytes, or tree dwelling plants, and the terrestrials, or ground-dwelling plants. A few of the terrestrials will sometimes grow in small pockets of humus among rocks, classifying them as lithophytes, or rock-dwellers. Some of the epiphytes will also grow as lithophytes. Finally, some terrestrials will grow up on bases of trees or on fallen logs in swampy areas, making them semi-epiphytes.
  3. Unlike lilies, irises and other monocots, orchids do not have separate stamens and pistils in their flowers.  Instead, the stamens and pistils are united into a single central organ known as the column.
  4. Like many other monocots, orchids have flowers in groups of three parts, the outer whorl of petal-like parts, known as the sepals, are often similar to each other (but not always).  The inner whorl of petal-like parts are the actual petals.  Two of the petals are similar in size and shape, but the third petal, the labellum or lip, is often different from the petals.  Orchid flowers are usually bilaterally symmetrical--that is, you can only cut the flower in half and still have each part be a mirror image of the other.  Many other flowers, such as many lilies, daisies, and the like are radially symmetrical--that is, they can be cut in many directions and still end up with mirror images of each half.
    The following illustration should make this clear:

    illustration of orchid flower anatomy
Orchids then take these basic flower characteristics and end up with thousands of wildly diverse variations on the same theme...which is what makes them such a fascinating group of plants.

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