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Phalaenopsis hieroglyphica (top left) Wasp ragwort (Ophrys tenthredinifera) (top right) Paphiopedilum concolor (bottom left) Maxillaria tenuifolia (bottom right)

Phalaenopsis hieroglyphica (top left)
Wasp ragwort ( Ophrys tenthredinifera ) (top right)
Paphiopedilum concolor (bottom left)
Maxillaria tenuifolia (bottom right)

Department : Vascular plants (tracheophyta)
Subdivision : Seed plants (Spermatophytina)
Class : Bedecktsamer (Magnoliopsida)
Order : Asparagales (Asparagales)
Family : Orchids
Scientific name

The orchids or orchid family (Orchidaceae) are a family of plants that are found worldwide . The two testicle-shaped tubers of orchids (from Greek ὄρχις orchis , testicles ) have given the entire plant family their name. After the daisy family (Asteraceae), the orchids are the second largest family among the flowering plants with covered seeds. They are considered particularly beautiful , and many consider the orchid the queen of flowers . They belong in the class of angiosperms to the monocots plants (monocots). About 1000 genera with 15,000 to 30,000 species are recognized by botanists .



Cattleya warscewiczii

The plant taxa of the orchid family differ from other related plant families of the monocot plants only in a few clear characteristics . Despite the multiple characteristics that can be found in most orchid species, there are very few that occur in all.

The orchids have the following specific characteristics:

  • Orchids usually have a column ( gynostemium ). The partial or complete coalescence of the single fertile stamen (stamen) and the pistil creates a single flower organ
    (plants of the subfamily Cypripedioideae with two stamina and Apostasioideae with two or three stamina)
  • the pollen grains are the so-called pollinia agglomerated
  • Orchids form numerous very small seeds, which as a rule cannot germinate without symbiotic fungi
  • the bract of the inner bract circle (third petal = petalum), located in the axis of symmetry , usually differs significantly from the others and is called lip or labellum . It faces the fertile stamen (part of the column)
  • the flowers are usually zygomorphic (monosymmetrical, dorsiventral). Exceptions can be found, for example, in the genera Mormodes , Ludisia and Macodes . The flowers of most orchid species are characterized by the fact that they turn 180 ° from bud formation to blossom development. This is known as resupination . There are also species in which the flower stalk rotates 360 ° (hyper-resupinated).
Close up of a phalaenopsis flower

Orchids are usually perennial plants and could theoretically continue to grow indefinitely depending on the type of growth (one or more new shoots each year or permanent growth of a sprout). In fact, very little is known about the age orchids can reach.

Growth forms

Orchids can grow in a number of ways . A distinction is made between the following forms:

  • epiphytic , growing on other plants (not as a parasite)
  • terrestrial, growing on the ground
  • lithophytic , growing on rocks or stones

More than half of all tropical species grow as epiphytes on trees. They have special morphological ( Velamen radicum , pseudobulbs ) and physiological ( CAM mechanism ) peculiarities in order to cope with the sometimes adverse conditions such as drought and lack of nutrients in the crown area .

Their size is very different, they can be only a few millimeters ( Platystele jungermannioides , Anathalis manausesis ) up to a few meters ( tiger orchid ).

Lycaste xytriophora with pseudobulbs


Vanilla planifolia

A distinction is made between monopodially growing orchids, which have a uniform stem axis that continues to grow at the tip (sometimes also with branches) and sympodial growing orchids, which branch off and develop successive branches with limited tip growth. In the monopodial growing orchids leaves and / or roots serve as storage organs, while the sympodial growing orchids develop more or less thick single or multi-segment pseudobulbs for this purpose. Some types of orchids also form underground storage organs ( corms ). In addition to the two forms of growth mentioned, there are also rare modifications that do not conform to the normal scheme of monopodial vs. correspond to sympodial growth. For example, many species of the Pleurothallidinae (e.g. Pleurothallis , Lepanthes ) do not develop pseudobulbs despite their sympodial growth, but instead have fleshy leaves.


Orchids do not develop primary roots (tap roots), only secondary roots that arise from the shoot. Some of them differ quite clearly in their thickness. In the majority of orchids, the roots have a velamen . In addition to their function as an organ of absorption for water and nutrients, they often also serve as a holding and holding organ. This is particularly important in the case of epiphytically growing species. The shape of the roots largely depends on where they grow. While the roots of the epiphytes hanging freely in the air or the roots that grow completely into the ground are mostly cylindrical, the adhesive and holding roots that grow on the surfaces have a rather flattened shape. In some species, the roots carry chlorophyll in order to be able to continue processing nutrients even during climatic leaf shedding. The roots of the orchids rarely branch. They have a lifespan that depends on various environmental factors and is shorter than that of the sprout. The formation of new roots usually takes place with the growth of the new shoot at the end of the vegetation period or during the growth phase. In many terrestrial orchid species, storage organs or tuber-like structures form at the roots. In some genera it is possible that adventitious buds form on the roots, from which new shoots emerge.

In addition to the mycorrhiza , which is necessary for embryonic development from a seed, there are also mycorrhiza in the roots. The fungal threads grow into the outer or lower cell layers of the roots or rhizomes . In this case, too, the orchids absorb nutrients by digesting parts or excretions of the fungus. Since the fungus that attacks the protocorm (germ nodules) does not usually grow outwards with the new roots, the mycorrhiza has to be formed anew every year (with the formation of new roots). If there is a sufficient supply of light and nutrients, orchids are usually not dependent on these mycorrhiza. Exceptions are the myko-heterotrophic orchids.


The majority of orchids have parallel- veined leaves with barely visible cross connections. As a rule, they sit in two rows, alternating on opposite sides of the shoot. Many orchids only develop a single correct leaf, but the leaves are also double-rowed. The shape of the leaves and leaf tips, the firmness, the coloring and the leaf structure vary greatly.

Leaf shapes of various orchids
  • Leaf shapes (selection): circular, elliptical, ovoid, obovate, kidney-shaped, spatulate, spear-shaped, elongated, bristle-shaped
  • Shape of the leaf tips (selection): rounded, blunt, pointed, three-pointed, notched, incised, unevenly sharp toothed
  • Leaf margins: usually smooth, sometimes slightly wavy, only rarely clearly curled ( Lepanthes calidictyon )
  • Leaf structure: with and without petiole
  • Firmness of the leaves: varies from thin and soft to fleshy firm to succulent leaves
  • Leaf color: usually green in various shades (from light to deep dark green), but also completely or partially (undersides) reddish to reddish brown, or with little or no chlorophyll, completely or partially light to white

Many species lose their leaves due to climatic conditions in order to develop them again at the beginning of the next vegetation cycle. While in the majority of these species the leaves are actually only annual, there are also species that only shed their leaves under adverse site conditions or keep them under favorable conditions. But there are also species that grow completely leafless ( Dendrophylax lindenii ). But they have chlorophyll-bearing roots.


Section from a branched inflorescence of Oncidium flexuosum

The inflorescences of the orchids are usually grape-shaped, on which up to a hundred or more flowers can develop, depending on the species. If branched inflorescences grow (panicle-shaped), the shape of the grapes can be found on the outermost branches. In addition to the grape-shaped or panicle-shaped flower stems, there are also a large number of orchids that are only single-flowered. In some species, several flowers form one after the other on the same flower stem, but never more than one flower is open (e.g. Psychopsis papilio ). The inflorescences can arise at any point on the sprout of the orchid. A distinction is made between terminal (terminal (at the tip of the shoot), apical (central at the shoot base)) and lateral (lateral) inflorescences. Most of the flower shoots arise from a leaf axil. Due to the direction of growth, the inflorescences of the monopodial orchids are always lateral. The individual flowers are always supported by a bract, which is usually inconspicuous.


1: labellum, 2nd petals, 3: sepals
Vanilla planifolia flower analysis
Flowering diagram of orchis

No other family of plants has such a spectrum in terms of flower shapes and colors as the orchid family. The size of the flowers varies from a few millimeters (example Lepanthes calodictyon ) to 20 centimeters and more per flower (example Paphiopedilum hangianum ). The color spectrum ranges from delicate white to green and blue tones to strong red and yellow tones. Many of the orchid flowers are multicolored.

Except for some genera (for example Catasetum ) the threefold flowers of the orchids are hermaphroditic. The flower sleeve (Perianth) consists of two circles. There is an outer bract circle, which consists of three sepals (sepals) and an inner bract circle, which consists of three petals . The petals can be free or to some extent fused together. In some orchid genera, for example in the subfamily Cypripedioideae or Acriopsis , the two lower sepals are completely fused. The cladding sheet of the inner enveloping circle located in the axis of symmetry is usually significantly different in terms of size, color and shape. It forms the lip ( labellum ) of the orchid flower. In many orchids, the lip on the back is elongated to form a tubular or sacky structure, the so-called spur (examples Aeranthes , Aerangis ). There is either nectar in it or it is empty. Other species form a "shoe" from the lip (for example the genera of the subfamilies Cypripedioideae). In addition, the column ( gynostemium ) and the ovary are essential components of the flowers. In the basic structure, one differentiates between monandric (one fertile stamen, examples Cattleya , Phalaenopsis ) and diandric (two fertile stamens, example Paphiopedilum , Cypripedium ) orchids. The ovary is subordinate in orchids. The other parts of the flower (sepals and petals, column, lip) are completely fused with this and stand over it. As a rule, the ovary is only very narrow and only swells after pollination (formation of the seed capsule). With the exception of a few genera (example Cycnoches , Mormodes ), the flowers of orchids are bilaterally symmetrical (zygomorphic). This means that you can put a mirror axis through the center of the flower, and only one (monosymmetrical).

The special accumulations of pollen play a central role in the reproduction of orchids. The pollen formed by the stamens are glued together to form two loose or tight bundles (pollinia). These two lumps hang on a more or less long shaft with an adhesive disc (Viscidium), it adheres to the pollinator through a liquid from the adhesive gland (rostellum).


Capsule cross-sections

Almost all orchid fruits are capsules . They differ significantly in size, shape and color. Epiphytes tend to have thicker fruits with fleshy walls, terrestrial species often have thin-walled dry fruits. There are triangular, rounded fruits with a more (up to 9) or less (up to 3) large number of ribs or beaked fruits. Some are hairy or prickly or have a warty surface. The fruits develop from the ovary, which is already formed in the bud stage at the bottom of the flower, which consists of three carpels . When ripe, most orchid fruits burst lengthways without completely separating at the tip. As a rule, three or six longitudinal gaps form, in some cases only one or two. The seeds are almost always scattered dry.


Paphiopedilum godefroyae

Orchids can be propagated in different ways. There is propagation by seeds as well as vegetative propagation . Propagation through meristems is also possible under artificial conditions .


Almost all orchids have tiny seeds . Each plant produces hundreds of thousands to millions of seeds in one seed pod. Due to their small size, the seeds of orchids are only reduced to a shell and the embryo in it . Unlike other seeds, they lack the nutrient tissue or endosperm that is necessary for successful germination. This is only still present in a few genera (e.g. Bletilla). Orchids are therefore dependent on a symbiosis with mushrooms . In this process, known as mycorrhiza , the embryo, which begins to germinate, is infected by the penetration of fungal threads into the seeds . The embryo draws nutrients ( mycotrophy ) through this connection by digesting parts of the mushroom body or excretions from the fungus. As soon as the seedling is capable of photosynthesis , this takes over the supply of the plant with nutrients and the mycotrophy is no longer necessary for further development. However, there are some orchid species that are reliant on mycotrophy for their entire life due to the lack of chlorophyll, or only insufficient amounts of it (e.g. coral root ). This applies to all completely myco-heterotrophic species.

While the majority of orchids scatter dry seeds, there are some genera (e.g. vanilla ) in which the seeds are surrounded by a moist mass.


Diuris drummondii
Dendrobium bigibbum

In nature, orchids are pollinated mainly by insects (e.g. ants , beetles , flies , bees , butterflies ), but also by birds (e.g. hummingbirds ), bats and frogs . In some cases, species-species relationships (e.g. Drakea glyptodon and Zapilothynus trilobatus or the native Orchis papilionacea and Eucera tuberculata ) or genus-genus relationships (e.g. the orchid genus Chloraea is pollinated by bees of the genus Colletes ) formed. This specialization is usually only one-sided, as no species of insect is restricted to pollinating a single species of orchid. However, within the family there are also some genera in which some or all of the species reproduce asexually through self-pollination. These include the genera Apostasia , Wullschlaegelia , Epipogium and Aphyllorchis . The species Microtis parviflora is known to be able to self-pollinate if there is no pollination by ants. However, the pollinators of a large number of orchid genera are unknown or only little researched.

Orchids are usually not self-sterile.

In nature, the pollinators sometimes create hybrids between two related species (more rarely across genus boundaries); these are called natural hybrids .

Pollination Mechanisms

Sword-leaved forest bird ( Cephalanthera longifolia )

In comparison to other flowering plants, it is noticeable that, for example, non-tropical orchids often do not offer a reward in the form of food, but achieve their goal through mimicry or deception. If rewards are offered, they often do not consist of food, but of fragrances (for example sex attractants for insects, as is the case with some wasp species) or wax.

The evolutionary development of different flower shapes resulted in an increasing specialization in certain groups of pollinators and thus also in the way in which the flowers are pollinated. Some pollination systems and mechanisms are discussed below.

  • "Tubular flowers": The structure of the flower is designed in such a way that the pollinator has to enter a "tube" below the column, so that the pollen is usually attached to the insects' backs. Sometimes on the head or on the underside. (E.g. Cattleya )
  • "Keyhole flowers": The flower is constructed in such a way that the pollinator has to assume a very specific position in or on the flower, in which the pollen is usually attached to the head or sometimes even directly to the pollinator's beak or trunk. (E.g. epidendrum )
  • "Fall flowers": In this category, a distinction is made between snap or drop traps ( e.g. Porroglossum , Bulbophyllum ) and cauldron traps (genera of the subfamily Cypripedioideae). What all these traps have in common is that they force the pollinators to crawl through a certain exit, where they usually first brush the stigma and then the pollinia that are attached to them. This prevents self-pollination on the first pass.
  • “Pheromone flowers”: The shape of the flower resembles a female insect and may also emit pheromones. This attracts male insects willing to mate and pollination takes place during the supposed attempt at copulation. Pseudocopulation is a variant of mimesis and known from the native genus Ophrys .
Pollinia of a Phalaenopsis
  • "Alarm blooms": The blooms either send out alarms to supposed prey (e.g. honeybees) or produce signal substances inherent to the plant, which normally indicate that a herbivore is threatening the plant (e.g. a caterpillar). Female wasps and hornets in particular are fooled by it and react to it by pouncing on the orchid flower in anticipation of easy prey.

In orchids, the pollen is agglomerated to form pollinia with attached viscidia (Viscidium = adhesive disc, adhesive body) (the Cypripedioideae , for example, are an exception ). This makes it possible to position the pollen packets exactly, so that it is possible that the pollinators of different species can be attached to a pollinator without incorrect pollination occurring. Up to 13 attachment points were found on various types of bees ( Euglossinae ). In contrast to other flowering plants, orchid pollen does not serve as food.

An unusual pollination technique applies the epiphytic living Chinese orchid Holcoglossum amesianum to: the Antherenkappe opens and the male stamen turn active and without any tools by almost 360 degrees in the direction of the female stigma . The pollen grains attached to the flexible filament are then released when the stigma is touched, so that self-fertilization can take place. It is assumed that this technique is an adaptation of the orchid to its dry and insect-free habitat , which is possibly not so rare in plants of comparable biotopes . The already known self-pollination of the bee orchid ( Ophrys apifera ) follows a similar scheme.

Orchids and splendor bees : The best-studied floral scents are those of Stanhopea and Catasetum , which smell pungently of pineapple, vanilla, cinnamon, caraway or menthol and attract splendor bees , whereby these neither pollinate nor attack the flowers, but merely collect and collect the oil produced by the plant want to use for their courtship. There are innumerable species of splendor bees as well as the corresponding orchid species.

Vegetative propagation

Childhood in Dendrobium spec.

Different species have the opportunity to reproduce vegetatively through the formation of stolons ( e.g. Mexipedium xerophyticum ), tubers ( e.g. Pleionen ) or Kindeln (adventitious plants; e.g. Phalaenopsis lueddemanniana ). The resulting plants are genetically identical.


Propagation via meristems takes place primarily in commercial horticulture to produce large quantities of orchids for cutting and also for sale as a potted plant, which can often be purchased in garden centers or hardware stores. Large producers can be found mainly in the Netherlands or Thailand . In addition, it is the only possibility of producing large quantities of identical offspring from certain clones, for example award-winning plants, which may also bear the same cultivar name. In commercial horticulture, however, there is a growing trend towards mass reproduction by means of in-vitro sowing of orchid seeds and clustering through hormone administration.


Disa cardinalis

Orchids grow on every continent with the exception of Antarctica. Because of their enormous diversity, orchids can be found in almost every ecozone (not in deserts). Even above the Arctic Circle or in Patagonia and the islands off the eternal ice of the South Pole , z. B. Macquarie Island there are orchids. However, the majority of the species grows in the tropics and subtropics , mainly in South America and Asia . There are around 250 species in Europe.

The following list provides a rough overview of the frequency on the individual continents:

  • Eurasia - about 40 to 60 genera
  • North America - about 20 to 30 genera
  • Neotropic (Central and South America and Caribbean Islands) - about 300 to 350 genera
  • tropical Africa - about 125 to 150 genera
  • tropical Asia - about 250-300 genera
  • Oceania - about 50 to 70 genera


In the early days of the botanical system, Linné 1753 found eight genera that belong to the orchids. Jussieu first summarized them as the Orchidaceae family in 1789 . As a result, many tropical species quickly became known; so different Swartz in 1800 already 25 species, of which he himself set up new ten. In the same year Swartz published a monograph on the family and is considered to be one of the first specialists in the systematics of orchids.

Bulbophyllum bicoloratum

In the 19th century, due to the knowledge of ever new tropical orchids, further important works appeared. From 1830 to 1840 Lindley published The Genera and Species of Orchidaceaous Plants with almost 2000 species and a pioneering division into subfamilies and tribes . Bentham's systematics appeared in England in 1881 and was also used in Genera Plantarum , which he published together with Hooker . At the Heidelberg Botanical Garden, Pfitzer's design for a natural arrangement of orchids was created in 1887 . In 1926, Schlechter's work Das System der Orchidaceen with 610 species appeared posthumously ; it became the standard work for the next few decades.

Dressler's publications were influential in the 20th century, especially The Orchids. Natural History and Classification from 1981. The further development proceeds via the cladistic analysis of external characteristics for the evaluation of genetic investigations, which were published in large numbers by Mark W. Chase, for example .

From a phylogenetic point of view, there are five primary monophyletic lines Apostasioideae , Cypripedioideae , Vanilloideae , Orchidoideae and Epidendroideae , the relationships between which can be shown in a cladogram as follows: Orchidaceae family cladogram

According to this, there is no genetic evidence for the existence of the subfamilies Vandoideae or Spiranthoideae. According to these investigations, the subfamily Vandoideae is a component within the Epidendroideae, the Spiranthoideae a component of the Orchidoideae. The separate subfamily Vanilloideae was "classical" part of the Epidendroideae.

Within the monocot plants , the orchids are placed in the order of the asparagus-like (Asparagales). On the basis of external characteristics, the question of the closest relatives of the orchids could only be answered uncertainly, Alstroemeriaceae , Philesiaceae or Convallariaceae were suspected, and a classification in the order of the lily-like (Liliales) seemed possible. Genetic studies confirmed the assignment to the asparagus species and see the orchids as a sister group to all other asparagus species, that is, they moved away from the other plants of this order at an early stage.


Bletilla striata

The orchids were often viewed as a particularly young family. Using a fossil pollinium from Meliorchis caribea , the minimum age of the last common ancestor of all orchids was determined to be 76 to 84 million years. By the end of the Cretaceous 65 million years ago, the five subfamilies had already split up. In the Tertiary there was a great increase in the biodiversity of orchids. According to the “ molecular clock ” method , the origin of orchids dates even earlier, at least 100, if not 122 million years ago. It is believed that they developed first in a tropical area. The distribution of various primitive orchids (e.g. Vanilla , Corymborkis ) and the occurrence of the primitive genera (e.g. Cypripedium , Epistephium ) in almost all tropical areas is an indication that the development of orchids must have started at a time in Africa and South America closer together ( continental drift ). The main part of the evolution of orchids did not begin until the most important tropical regions were already further apart.

The epiphytic way of life of many orchids, especially the tropical and subtropical species, is the result of an evolutionary adaptation to different conditions. Periodically dry climates or well-drained locations, the tendency towards insect pollination that already existed when orchids were formed, as well as the at least short-term cycle of a myco-heterotrophic way of life and the associated development of small seeds seem to have been essential factors in orchids colonizing trees. On the other hand, the formation of fleshy roots with velamen or fleshy leaves as an adaptation to the periodically dry site conditions seems to have been a prerequisite or a possibility for moving from rocks or other well-drained locations to trees. It has not yet been clarified whether the route took place via humus epiphytes and subsequent settlement of the ecological niches in the treetops or the direct settlement of the trees.

With regard to the growth form of the orchids, it is assumed that the diversity of today's orchids has developed from a very primitive form that is still to some extent found in almost all subfamilies. The first orchids will have a sympodial growth with narrow rhizomes , fleshy roots (no storage organs), folded leaves and terminal inflorescences. Due to the lack of fossils, it is difficult to deduce the path in which the various growth forms developed and which are the main directions of growth evolution. It is similar with the evolutionary development of the various flower forms. It is assumed that the development and adaptation of the flowers is primarily associated with the pollinating insects. In the beginning there was certainly a lily-like flower that gradually lost its ventral anthers . This is likely related to the way the pollinators entered the tubular flower. Only the dorsal anthers were able to attach their pollen to a position that made sense for pollination. The formation of the lip probably resulted from the fact that the insects "landed" on the flowers in the same way over and over again. Presumably, plants with a lip-shaped lower petalum (median bloom of the inner bloom circle) were able to better support the respective pollinators, which should have been a decisive advantage in their evolution.

Genera and species

See also: List of orchid genera

Haraella odorata

Estimates of the number of species in orchids range from 15,000 to 35,000. Govaerts , who keeps a checklist for Kew Gardens , found in 2005 a level of 25,158 species in 859 genera. Between 1990 and 2000, 200 to 500 new species were described each year. The most species-rich genera have a mainly tropical distribution, these are:

In the temperate zone, the biodiversity is lower, with around 250 species each in Europe, East Asia and North America. Genera of the temperate zone include:

Endangerment of habitats and species protection

Paphiopedilum victoria-regina

Reliable information on the strength of the populations is only available for very few genera. Nevertheless, it must be assumed that the stocks of many species in nature are seriously endangered. This applies to the habitats in all regions of the world. Above all, the deforestation of the rainforests and the agricultural use of areas with orchid habitats are steadily reducing the stocks. In addition, they are endangered by uncontrolled collection. To protect the plants, regulations have been issued that regulate the trade and handling of them. All orchid species are at least in Appendix II of the Washington Convention on the Protection of Species (WA). The following genera and species are included in Appendix I due to particularly extensive collections in the past and / or the present and are therefore subject to even stricter requirements:

Aerangis ellisii , Dendrobium cruentum , Laelia jongheana , Laelia lobata , Peristeria elata , Renanthera imschootiana ;
all species of the genera Paphiopedilum and Phragmipedium .

The decline in many European species is also due to changes in rural management. Due to the enormous decline in grazing (sheep, etc.), especially in Central Europe, the habitats ( dry grasslands ) that were created primarily by human intervention are returning to their assumed original, wooded state. Orchid species that grow on dry grass are rarely found in these forests. From the point of view of the mega-herbivore hypothesis, however, this reforestation should be understood as a natural process only to a limited extent, and pasture landscapes such as dry grasslands would have existed naturally even before humans arrived in Europe.


“Orchids” from Haeckel's Kunstformen der Natur, 1904

See also: List of important orchid researchers

Orchids have fascinated and occupied people for more than 2500 years. They were used as a remedy, decoration, and aphrodisiac , or they played a big role in superstition.


The oldest records about orchids come from the Empire of China and refer to the culture of orchids from around 500 BC. (Tsui Tsze Kang: orchid culture in the Kum Cheong (appeared in the Song Dynasty 1128–1283)). The Chinese philosopher Confucius (551–478 BC) reported on their fragrance and used them as the character »lán« ( Chinese   ), which means grace, love, purity, elegance and beauty. In general, the orchid is a symbol of love and beauty in Chinese gardening, or for a young girl. Orchids in the vase stand for harmony.

The first monographic treatises on orchids originated in China during the Song Dynasty (Tsui Tsze Kang: Orchid Culture in Kum Cheong , Wong Kwei Kok The Orchid Culture of Mr. Wong ). Based on the descriptions in these works one can see that the orchid culture in China was already at a high level at that time.


Orchids have also been cultivated in America ( Mexico ) for a long time. Even before the Spaniards conquered the country, the fruits of "Tlilxochitl" ( Vanilla planifolia ) were valued as a spice. The Aztecs revered "Coatzontecomaxochitl" ( Stanhopea species) as sacred flowers and cultivated them in the gardens of their sanctuaries.


"Knabenkraut Männlin" and "Knabenkraut Weiblin". Otto Brunfels 1532. Old pictures of orchids from Europe: 6th to 15th century: Mainz herb book incunabula: 16th century:

The oldest European traditions, in which orchids are mentioned, come from the Greek Late Classic of Theophrastus of Lesbos (about 372–289 BC). In his work Historia plantarum he described a plant with two underground tubers and called it orchis , which corresponds to the Greek word ὄρχις “testicles”. Kurt Sprengel interpreted it as the species Orchis morio . The oldest surviving writing about orchids comes from Pedanios Dioscurides (1st century). He described four species (orchis, other orchis, satyrion and red satyrion) which, according to his information, are difficult to determine botanically. Medically, they should have a wound healing, stool-stuffing effect and relieve shortness of breath. Using the doctrine of signatures , Dioscurides distinguished two types of tubers in the round-bulb orchids: the large ones of this year and the small ones of last year. The large ones, consumed by men, were to bring about the birth of boys; the small ones, enjoyed by women, the birth of girls. In general, the orchid roots should act as an aphrodisiac . The descriptions of orchids by Pliny (1st century) and Galen (2nd century) as well as by later authors differ only slightly from those of Dioscurides.

Since the late Middle Ages, flat, hand-shaped orchid roots have been distinguished from round roots. The flat, hand-shaped roots were called “palma christi”, “manus christi” , “stendel wurcz das wyblin” or “hendel wurcz”.

"The woman has two rooted leagues / two equal ones / half of them also called Palma Chriſti. It also has ſonſt a beautiful sight / the women heymlicheyt the same. "

- Otto Brunfels : 1532

From the first half of the 16th century, orchids were also dealt with more intensively in Europe. For example, in the works of the fathers of botany , who arranged the previously known plants by combining related species, described growth forms, flowers and tubers.

Cattleya labiata

With the appearance of Species plantarum by Carl von Linné (1753), various orchid species were also given names according to binary nomenclature for the first time. With the publication of the work Genera Plantarum in 1789, Jussieu established the basis of the botanical classification and thus also the creation of the Orchidaceae as a family of plants. In 1800 the Swedish botanist O. Swartz was the first to divide the orchid family into two different groups (one or two fertile stamens). With his work The Genera and Species of Orchidaceous Plants ( London , 1830 to 1840) and countless individual arrangements, J. Lindley became the real founder of orchid science. His main work was the structure and description of species. His work was later supplemented, expanded and in some cases significantly revised by HG Reichenbach (Rchb. F.) , J. D. Hooker , R. Schlechter and others.

Brassavola nodosa

Before Europe began to import tropical orchids from overseas, native orchids were cultivated in gardens for a long time. The first tropical orchid in Europe bloomed in Holland in 1615 ( Brassavola nodosa ). In 1688 Disa uniflora was introduced to Europe from South Africa. Mainly due to its worldwide supremacy as a colonial power and the resulting connections, many species came to England, where numerous collections were created in the 19th century. Above all, C. Loddiges was an extremely successful cultivator. When W. Cattley 's first Cattleya labiata (later referred to as Cattleya labiata var. Autumnalis ) bloomed in 1818 , the large lavender-blue bloom was a sensation in Europe and led to an ever increasing demand for more tropical orchids. More and more collectors and explorers (including John Gibson , William and Thomas Lobb , D. Burke , JH Veitch ) were sent all over the world to find new unknown species and add these plants to the collections of the paying nurseries (e.g. C. Loddiges , J. Linden , F. Sander, L. van Houtte , Veitch and Sons ) and private individuals (e.g. W. Cattley, AL Keferstein, Senator Jenisch). The number of imports only decreased again when orchid breeding became more and more important (beginning of the 20th century). With the beginning of the stronger scientific investigation of the Orchidaceae family - among other things to clarify open family relationships - and the growing interest of amateurs, the need for and interest in the natural forms increased again. Even today, nurseries all over the world are interested in integrating wild forms into their stocks in order to freshen up existing plant material through crossbreeding. Even today, previously unknown species are being rediscovered.

In the last few decades the orchid culture has become more and more popular, the supply and availability of culture hybrids has increased and so more and more amateurs have tried to cultivate orchids in their own rooms, showcases and greenhouses. Today the culture of these plants is nothing unusual. It is primarily thanks to the mass production of orchids in Taiwan , Thailand and the Netherlands that the prices of the plants have fallen so that a flowering orchid in a pot (for example in Germany ) is sometimes cheaper than an average bouquet. This popularity has also meant that the hunt for the special, the unique, the possession of particularly high-quality plants is more topical than ever. The result is, on the one hand, that exorbitant prices are paid in Japan or the USA for particularly rare specimens or award-winning plants , and on the other hand, the natural stocks are often plundered out of greed, especially in newly discovered species, just to meet the demand of so-called "collectors" to satisfy. The discovery of Phragmipedium kovachii led not only to a dispute over the first description but also to the fact that the habitats that had become known in Peru were severely decimated. Orchids were also the focus of the artistic work of the American painter Georgia O'Keeffe , who associated flower motifs with the sexuality of female bodies. Worth mentioning are the pictures An Orchid or Narcissa's Last Orchid , each from 1941.

Economical meaning

Orchids as useful plants

Vanilla fruits
Vanda hybrid

Despite their great diversity, only a few species of orchid are used as a cultivated crop . This includes the spice vanilla ( Vanilla planifolia ) for spice production . Some types are also used to flavor / prepare tea ( e.g. Jumellea fragrans ) or as a perfuming agent for perfume and tobacco ( e.g. Vanilla pompona ). Where national nature conservation laws do not prevent this, various species of the genera Orchis and Ophrys (e.g. Orchis morio ) are used to extract jelly from “ Salep ”. The dug up root tubers are used in Turkey to flavor ice cream.

Orchids as an ornamental plant

Orchids are of great economic importance as ornamental plants or cut flowers . Many can be used for crossbreeding to a large extent, even across genus boundaries. Around 100,000 hybrids were created over the last 150 years or so . Thousands of these are in turn propagated and sold commercially as ornamental plants. The largest share of this in the ornamental plant sector are the breeds of hybrids of the genera Phalaenopsis , Cattleya , Dendrobium , Paphiopedilum and Cymbidium . In addition to potted plants, the flowering shoots of the genera Phalaenopsis , Dendrobium and Cymbidium are also often marketed as cut flowers.

In the Southeast Asian region, Thailand generates around 2 billion baht (around 40 million euros) annually with the export of orchids, with the main markets in the USA, Japan, Europe, Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea. This resulted in the export of over 3.1 million orchid plants in 2002. Since, according to the Thai agricultural authority, a trend with great sales potential has been recognized, an attempt is being made to further increase the quality and attractiveness of Thai orchids with certificates. In Europe, large quantities of orchid hybrids are produced for the mass market (hardware stores, plant and flower centers), especially in the Netherlands . In 2003 there was around 216 hectares of glazed acreage for the production of orchids for the sale of cut flowers alone. In the United States, sales of potted orchids were approximately US $ 121 million (2003).

The mass market is mainly served with plants produced in vitro . The importance of this line of business can be demonstrated by the development of production volumes. Within 10 years (1991–2000) the amount of orchids produced in vitro in Germany has increased almost fivefold (1991: approx. 2.5 million plants, 2000: over 12 million plants). Plants (mostly hybrids) of the genera Phalaenopsis (2000: over 9 million plants) had the largest share .


Oncidium hybrid

Darwin's discoveries Charles Darwin was already fascinated by a Madagascan orchid flower Angraecum sesquipedale with a spur up to 35 cm long. This flower also has to be pollinated somehow, and some animal has to get into this spur. In fact, the insect that went with the plant was found in 1903, the hawkmoth Xanthopan morgani praedicta .

Orchids as a psychoactive plant The Trichocentrum cebolleta is a type of orchid with yellow-brown spotted flowers that grows in tropical-subtropical America and the Caribbean. In Europe it has been cultivated as an ornamental plant for a long time. The leaves contain various phenanthrenes as effective ingredients . These have a hallucinogenic effect and are used by the Tarahumara (a Mexican Indian tribe) as a substitute for the peyote cactus Lophophora williamsii (main active ingredient mescaline ).

Orchid as a metaphor in language The special position of the orchid among flowers makes the word orchid a popular metaphor in language . The orchid is considered to be exceptionally beautiful and rare to find. Therefore, on the one hand, “orchid” often stands for something particularly beautiful . In connection with the sexual connotation, an extremely pretty woman is often referred to as an orchid, for example in the film Wild Orchid . On the other hand, “orchid” stands for something particularly rare . This second metaphor can also be mocking; a seldom studied field of study with unusual content is called the orchid subject .

Individual evidence

  1. Smallest species of orchid discovered hidden in larger plant at The Telegrah . dated November 30, 2009, accessed August 18, 2019.
  2. Researcher discovers the world's tiniest orchid in the Amazon rainforest on brasilienportal.ch, May 3, 2016, accessed on August 18, 2019.
  3. ↑ About flowers without bees . Wissenschaft.de, accessed on October 8, 2018
  4. ^ A b c Finn N. Rasmussen: The Development of Orchid Classification . In: Alec M. Pridgeon, Phillip Cribb, Mark W. Chase, Finn N. Rasmussen (Eds.): Genera Orchidacearum . 2nd Edition. tape 1 . Oxford University Press, New York / Oxford 2003, ISBN 0-19-850513-2 , pp. 3-12 .
  5. Mark W. Chase, Kenneth M. Cameron, Russell L. Barrett, John V. Freudenstein: DNA data and Orchidaceae systematics, a new phylogenetic classification . In: KW Dixon, SP Kell, RL Barrett, PJ Cribb (eds.): Orchid conservation . Natural History Publications, Kota Kinabalu Borneo 2003, ISBN 983-812-078-2 , pp. 69-89 .
  6. ^ Robert L. Dressler: Phylogeny and Classification of the Orchid Family . Cambridge University Press, 1993, ISBN 0-521-45058-6 , pp. 59-61 .
  7. Mark W. Chase et al. a .: Multigene analysis of monocot relationships - a summary . In: Aliso . tape 22 . Claremont 2006, p. 63-75 . ISSN 0065-6275  
  8. Santiago R. Ramírez, Barbara Gravendeel, Rodrigo B. Singer, Charles R. Marshall & Naomi E. Pierce : Dating the origin of the Orchidaceae from a fossil orchid with its pollinator . In: Nature . tape 448 , 2007, ISSN  0028-0836 , p. 1042-1042 , doi : 10.1038 / nature06039 .
  9. Thomas Janssen, Kåre Bremer: The age of major monocot groups inferred from 800+ rbcL sequences . In: Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society . tape 146 , no. 4 , 2004, ISSN  0024-4074 , p. 385-398 , doi : 10.1111 / j.1095-8339.2004.00345.x .
  10. P. Cribb, R. Govaerts: Just how many Orchids are there? In: Proceedings of the 18th World Orchid Conference . 2005, ISBN 2-909717-47-X , pp. 161-172 .
  11. Vagn Jørgensen Brøndegaard, Peter Dilg : orchids as aphrodisiacs. In: Sudhoffs Archiv 55, 1971, pp. 22-57.
  12. ^ Pseudo-Apuleius . Herba satyrion . Pseudo-Apuleius, Leiden (MS. Voss Q9), 6th century ( picture link )
  13. ^ Pseudo-Apuleius. Herba satirion . Pseudo-Apuleius, Vienna (Cod. Vind. 93), 12th century ( picture link )
  14. Vitus outlet . Unnamed orchid species ( Platanthera spec.? ). Vitus Auslasser's Herb Book. Bavaria 1479 ( picture link )
  15. Vitus Auslasser's Herbal Book. Primula veris fusca - Hymel key - "Handel wurcz" ( Dactylorhiza maculata ). Vitus Auslasser's Herb Book. Bavaria 1479 ( picture link )
  16. Vitus Auslasser's Herbal Book. Primula veris alba (?) Vitus Auslasser's book of herbs. Bavaria 1479 ( picture link )
  17. Herbarius Moguntinus 1484. Satirion - Stendelworcz . Herbarius moguntinus , Mainz 1484 ( picture link )
  18. Herbolario volgare (Italian extended translation of Herbarius Moguntinus ). Palma Christi. Herbolario volgare . Venice 1536 ( picture link )
  19. Herbolario volgare, nel quale se dimostra a conoscer le herbe et le sue virtu… Francesco Bindoni and Maffeo Pasini, Venice 1536, chapter 125: Palma christi , Textarchiv - Internet Archive
  20. Gart der Gesundheit 1485. Satirion knabenkrut or stendelkrut. Gart der Gesundheit , Mainz 1485 ( picture link )
  21. Hortus sanitatis 1491. Satyrion. Hortus sanitatis . Mainz 1491 ( picture link )
  22. Otto Brunfels 1532 Orchid male - Satyrion mascul . Otto Brunfels. Herbarum vivae eicones… , Strasbourg 1530 ( picture link )
  23. Otto Brunfels. Marsh Orchid - Satyrion foemina . Otto Brunfels. Herbarum vivae eicones …, Strasbourg 1530 ( picture link )
  24. Otto Brunfels. Orchid ( Ophrys holoserica ). Otto Brunfels. Herbarum vivae eicones… , Strasbourg 1530 ( picture link )
  25. Otto Brunfels. Ragwurcz - Cynosorchis . Otto Brunfels. Herbarum vivae eicones… , Strasbourg 1530 ( picture link )
  26. Otto Brunfels. Wol-flavored orchid - Satyrion odiferum . Otto Brunfels. Herbarum vivae eicones… , Strasbourg 1530 ( picture link )
  27. Otto Brunfels. Stendelwurcz . Otto Brunfels. Herbarum vivae eicones… , Strasbourg 1530 ( picture link )
  28. Otto Brunfels. Wylder through wax male ( Listera ovata ) Otto Brunfels. Herbarum vivae eicones… , Strasbourg 1530 ( picture link )
  29. Leonhart Fuchs 1542 Orchis militaris . Leonhart Fuchs. De historia stirpium… , Basel 1542 ( picture link )
  30. Leonhart Fuchs. Orchis mascula . Leonhart Fuchs. De historia stirpium… , Basel 1542 ( picture link )
  31. Leonhart Fuchs. Anacamptis pyramidalis . Leonhart Fuchs. De historia stirpium… , Basel 1542 ( picture link )
  32. Leonhart Fuchs. ??? Leonhart Fuchs. De historia stirpium… , Basel 1542 ( picture link )
  33. Leonhart Fuchs. ??? Leonhart Fuchs. De historia stirpium… , Basel 1542 ( picture link )
  34. Leonhart Fuchs. Ophrys apifera . Leonhart Fuchs. De historia stirpium… , Basel 1542 ( picture link )
  35. Leonhart Fuchs. Listera ovata . Leonhart Fuchs. De historia stirpium… , Basel 1542 ( picture link )
  36. Leonhart Fuchs. Platanthera spec. Leonhart Fuchs. De historia stirpium… , Basel 1542 ( picture link )
  37. Leonhart Fuchs. Gymnadenia conopsea . Leonhart Fuchs. De historia stirpium… , Basel 1542 ( picture link )
  38. Leonhart Fuchs. Dactylorhiza maculata . Leonhart Fuchs. De historia stirpium… , Basel 1542 ( picture link )
  39. Kurt Sprengel . Theophrast's natural history of plants. 2 volumes. Johann Friedrich Hammerich, Altona 1822, Volume II, p. 388 (Book 9, Chapter 18) (digitized version)
  40. Julius Berendes . Pedanius Dioscurides' medicine theory in 5 books. Enke, Stuttgart 1902, Book III, Chapters 131-134 (digitized version )
  41. Pliny . Naturalis historia . Book XXVI, § 95–99 (Chapter LXII) (Digitalisat Latin) ( Digitalisat of the edition Külb 1840–1864 German)
  42. Pliny. Naturalis historia . Book XXVII, § 65 (Chapter XLII) (Digitized Latin) ( Digitized from the Külb edition 1840–1864 German)
  43. Galen . De simplicium medicamentorum temperamentis ac facultatibus , lib. VIII, Cap. XV / 17, 18 (after Kühn 1826, vol. XII, p. 92 (digitized) ): Orchis; lib. VIII, Cap. XVIII / 5 (after Kühn 1826, vol. XII, p. 118 (digitized) ): Satyrium.
  44. Pseudo-Apuleius Herbarius (4th century), edition Ernst Howald and Henry E. Sigerist , Teubner, Leipzig 1927, pp. 49-50 (Chapter 15: Herba Priapiscus) (digitized version )
  45. ^ Avicenna . Canon of Medicine . (11th century) Book 2, Cap. 207: Digiti citrini (digitized version )
  46. Constantine the African . Liber de gradibus simplicium. (11th century) (= translation of the corresponding work by Ibn al-Jazzar from the 10th century) Printed in Basel 1536, p. 379: Satyrion (digitized version )
  47. Circa instans (12th century), printed Venice 1497, p. 209v: Satirion (digitized version )
  48. Gart der Gesundheit , Mainz 1485, chapter 355: Satirion knabenkrut or stendelkrut (digitized version )
  49. Matthaeus Silvaticus . Pandectae medicinae. (14th century) Printed by Bologna 1474, chapter 150 (digital copy) . In it:… Oribasius cap. de palma xpi (christi) venenis resistit ...
  50. Herbarius moguntinus , Mainz 1484, Cap. 128: Satirion stendelworcz (digitized version )
  51. Hortus sanitatis , Mainz 1491, Cap. 413: Satiron. (Digitized version)
  52. Hieronymus Brunschwig . Small distilling book , sheet 100v-101r (digital copy )
  53. Otto Brunfels . Contrafayt Kreüterbůch. Strasbourg 1532, pp. 38-39 Stendelwurtz. (Digitized version)
  54. Herbolario volgare, nel quale se dimostra a conoscer le herbe et le sue virtu… Francesco Bindoni and Maffeo Pasini, Venice 1536, chapter 125: Palma christi, Textarchiv - Internet Archive
  55. Otto Brunfels . Herbarum vivae eicones , Strasbourg 1530, Volume I, pp. 102–110 (digitized version )
  56. Hieronymus Bock . New Kreütter Bůch , Strasbourg 1539, Part II, Chapter 80 (pp. 59v-61v) (digitized version ) . See the determination of the species described by Bock in: Brigitte Hoppe. Hieronymus Bock's herbal book. Anton Hiersemann, Stuttgart 1969, pp. 299-303
  57. Leonhart Fuchs . De historia stirpium… , Basel 1542, chapters 209–210 (digitized version ) , chapters 269–270 (digitized version )
  58. M. Schmucker: Orchids - Exotics on the windowsill. (No longer available online.) Archived from the original on March 31, 2013 ; Retrieved July 24, 2009 .
  59. ^ Heinrich Marzell : The orchids in sexual folklore. In: Gender and Society 14, 1926, pp. 211–223.


  • Helmut Baumann: The orchids of Germany . Edited by Working group of domestic orchids. AHO Thuringia, Uhlstädt-Kirchhasel 2005, ISBN 3-00-014853-1 .
  • R. Schlechter: The orchids. 4 volumes and registers. Revised K. Senghas. 3. Edition. Blackwell, Berlin / Vienna 2003, ISBN 3-8263-3410-8 (The standard work on the subject of orchids)
  • Robert L. Dressler: The orchids. Bechtermünz, Augsburg 1997, ISBN 3-86047-413-8 .
  • Gertrud Fast (Ed.): Orchide culture. Botanical basics, cultivation methods, plant descriptions. Eugen Ulmer, Stuttgart 1995, ISBN 3-8001-6451-5 .
  • Helmut Bechtel, Philip Cribb, Edmund Launert: Orchideen-Atlas. Lexicon of cultural orchids . 3. Edition. Ulmer, Stuttgart 1993, ISBN 3-8001-6199-0 (extensive, well-illustrated reference work)
  • The flowers of paradise . In: The Gazebo . Issue 11, 1891, pp. 171–174 ( full text [ Wikisource ]).

Web links

Commons : Orchids  - Collection of images, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Orchidee  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations


Associations and societies

This article was added to the list of excellent articles on July 11, 2005 in this version .