I am often asked what is an orchid? The fact is that orchids vary tremendously. Some are little green jobs like this:
On seeing this tiny little flower, entirely green, who would ever think it is an orchid? But it is! It is called Green adders-mouth orchid (Malaxis unifolia). There are a number of orchids that are so plain we call them “little green jobs” as birders sometimes refer to plain birds as “little brown jobs.”
The other day I made a trip through my favorite place in Manitoba for orchids—the Brokenhead Wetlands Ecological Reserve. I plan on blogging about it. That day we found some tiny little green jobs, but we also found the spectacular Dragon’s-mouth orchid (Arethusa bulbosa).
What do these two orchids have in common? Well you need a magnifying glass (or loupe) to tell.
An orchid is a flower that has 3 sepals (part of the outside ring of modified leaves) and 3 petals (part of inside ring of modified leaves). As well 1 of the petals is usually modified to form a lip or labellum. That lip is famous on some orchids like the Lady’s-slippers.
This is the Showy Lady’s-slipper with lip that here looks like a pouch or lady’s slipper.
The lip usually stands out as looking like a landing pad for insect pollinators. This is obvious on the Dragon’s mouth, on the Green adders-mouth not so much.
This is not an orchid! It is the famous wood lily and clearly shows the separate sexual parts –stamens and stigma.
Unlike most flowers that have separate sexual parts, like the above wood lily, in orchids stamens in the case of male organs and stigma in the case of female organs are are fused together into a column that makes it all but impossible to tell those organs apart. As well all orchids have only one seed leaf.
There are about 25,000 species of orchids world-wide. In many we have 37 species from the far south to the far north of Manitoba.