The Orchidaceae or Orchid family has over 25,000 species under 880 genera. The family along with the sunflower family (Asteraceae) forms the two largest flowering plant families currently identified. The number of species in the family is twice the amount of Bird species present, and almost four times that of Mammal species on Earth. The flowers of the orchid family are often colorful and fragrant. The family also includes the Vanilla plant.
Identification and Characteristics of Orchids
Identifying orchids are simple since they have many common characteristics. However it would help to know the parts of a normal flower in order to understand the rest of this article better.
Basic Flower Structure
Sri Lanka’s more common subspecies of Basic Flower Structure
Since both structures are present and visible let’s check out the methods of identification and common factors between orchids.
1. The orchids have a highly modified petal called Labellum or Lip. The lip is of a larger size, different shape and/or colour and is used to attract insects for pollination.
2. The Labellum is always opposite the fertile anther and is usually on the downward facing end of the flower in a grown orchid.
3. The carpel section and stamen section of Orchids are fused in one column.
4. The pollen is not powdery and is held in a couple of waxy bundles on a sticky pad at the top of the column.
5. Orchids have three sepals in the outer whorl and three petals in the inner whorl. The sepals are very similar in size and appearance to the petals and hence are also called tepals.
6. Orchids are perennial herbs and do not have woody structures unlike trees or plants with woody branches and trunks.
7. They usually grow in clusters to increase the chances of pollination, but some plants of the family have single flowers too.
8. All plants of the family have extremely small seeds.
Uses of Orchids
• Perfumes – Perfumers often analyse various species of orchids for the identification potential fragrance chemicals.
• Horticulture – Orchids are grown as display plants, cultivated for the beauty and fragrance of their flowers. They are usually cultivated in tropical and subtropical regions, but there are some species that grow in cooler areas. Orchids are a highly sought after plant by collectors and a number of Orchid Societies exist around the world.
• Food – Vanilla is an orchid genus which has seed pods used to produce the commonly used flavouring, the essence of Vanilla. Vanilla is also used for aromatherapy and perfumes. Some other types of orchids have underground tubers which are ground into a powder and used in recipes such as the beverage ‘salep’ or Turkish ice cream. The dried leaves of yet another type of orchid are used to flavour the rum made on Reunion Island while some orchids of the genus Gastrodia produce potato like tubers eaten by aborgines of Australia. In other words, though it is true that not all orchids are consumable, there are some that play an important part in the world of food.
• Medicine – Records show that orchids may have been used in herbal medicine as early as almost 5000 years ago. It is still being used in many traditionl healing methods.
The Orchids of Sri Lanka and the Best Places to View Them
Sri Lanka with its unique tropical and cooler climates has over 185 identified species of orchids ranging over 78 genera. 74 species are endemic to Sri Lanka and many species found in the country are quite rare. The indigenous Foxtail Orchid (Rhynchostylis retusa) and the Vesak Orchid (Dendriobium maccarthiae) are highly popular for their beauty and rarity.
The diversity of orchids in Sri Lanka is one of the reasons that the island is named one of the top 25 bio diversity hotspots globally, while being the most species diverse in Asia when considering unit land area. All Sri Lankan Orchids fall under the protection of the Fauna & Flora Protection Ordinance.
Sri Lanka’s more common subspecies of Basic Flower Structure In addition to the wild or home grown orchids which grow in different parts of the island and are dependent on climates, there are also orchids cultivated and displayed for the public. Here are the best places to do your Orchid viewing when you vacation in Sri Lanka:
The Royal Botanical Gardens, Peradeniya, Kandy
The Botanical Gardens covers around 145 acres of land and thousands of species both endemic to the country and non endemic. The Orchid House is especially famous for its variety of over beautiful species, both natural and hybrid. The place is a must see for plant and flower enthusiasts.
The Gardens are a peaceful and inexpensive way to enjoy your holiday in Sri Lanka, especially if you are on a budget. Be forewarned though, the place is huge and a single day won’t be enough to do rounds and see the marvels of the Royal Botanical Gardens properly. A visitor is suggested to spend two to three days, complete with snacks/energy bars and drinks to avoid fainting from exhaustion.
Please contact Lakpura for more details and to get reservations arranged for accomodation during your tour of the Gardens.
The Sinharaja Forest Reserve
The best place to find wild orchids in their natural habitats would be the Sinharaja Forest Reserve. The rainforest is quite small comparatively at only around 21km by 7km, but it is densely packed with flora and fauna of various species. Sinharaja is a globally designated hotspot for its biodiversity as well as a World Heritage Site since 1988, and a World Biosphere Reserve since 1978.
The dense undergrowth in the forest means that it is very difficult to find what you wish to see. Hence it is essential to take a guide, both since they know the best places to find all the diverse species, and also since it is easy to get lost without a guide.
Please contact Lakpura for more details and to arrange a tour to the Sinharaja Forest Reserve.
The Horton Plains National Park
The Horton Plains, Ohiya is located on a southern plateau of the Central Highlands of Sri Lanka. It is covered in montane grasslands and cloud forest. The park is also the location for two major attractions of Sri Lanka; the World’s End and Baker’s Falls. Horton Plains also has a wonderfully diverse group of flora and fauna. These include many endemic species, quite a lot of which are endangered or threatened. The Horton Plains had over 16 endemic orchid varieties as well as as many other orchid species.
Horton Plains is a wonderful place to visit on your holiday to Sri Lanka. So make sure to contact Lakpura to arrange a tour and to book accomodation overlooking the beautiful park.