Forest Plants – Orchids

By Liliana Usvat

When the Earth loses large amount of forest also looses the biodiversity of the plants that live in the forest. We are focusing now on the orchids.


The world’s richest concentration of orchid varieties is found in the tropics, mostly Asia, South America and Central America, but they are also found above the Arctic Circle, in southern Patagonia, and two species of Nematoceras on Macquarie Island at 54° south.



The Greek myth of Orchis explains the origin of the plants. Orchis, the son of a nymph and a satyr, came upon a festival of Dionysus (Bacchus) in the forest. He drank too much, and attempted to rape a priestess of Dionysus. For his insult, he was torn apart by the Bacchanalians. His father prayed for him to be restored, but the gods instead changed him into a flower.


These flowers were previously called Orchis, Satyrion (Satyrion feminina), or “ballockwort”.

Stem and roots

All orchids are perennial herbs, lack any permanent woody structure, and can grow according to two patterns:


  • Monopodial: The stem grows from a single bud, leaves are added from the apex each year and the stem grows longer accordingly. The stem of orchids with a monopodial growth can reach several metres in length, as in Vanda and Vanilla.


  • Sympodial: The plant produces a series of adjacent shoots which grow to a certain size, bloom and then stop growing, to be then replaced. Sympodial orchids grow laterally rather than vertically, following the surface of their support. The growth continues by development of new leads, with their own leaves and roots, sprouting from or next to those of the previous year, as in Cattleya. While a new lead is developing, the rhizome may start its growth again from a so-called ‘eye’, an undeveloped bud, thereby branching.



  • A study in the scientific journal Nature has hypothesized that the origin of orchids goes back much longer than originally expected.An extinct species of stingless bee, Proplebeia dominicana, was found trapped in Miocene amber from about 15-20 million years ago. The bee was carrying pollen of a previously unknown orchid taxon, Meliorchis caribea, on its wings. This find is the first evidence of fossilised orchids to date.



The scent of orchids is frequently analysed by perfumers (using headspace technology and gas-liquid chromatography) to identify potential fragrance chemicals.


The other important use of orchids is their cultivation for the enjoyment of the flowers. Most cultivated orchids are tropical or subtropical, but quite a few which grow in colder climates can be found on the market.

Use as Food

  • The dried seed pods of one orchid genus, [[Vanilla] (genus)|Vanilla] (especially Vanilla planifolia), are commercially important as flavoring in baking, for perfume manufacture and aromatherapy.


  • The underground tubers of terrestrial orchids [mainly Orchis mascula (early purple orchid)] are ground to a powder and used for cooking, such as in the hot beverage salep or in the Turkish frozen treat dondurma. The name salep has been claimed to come from the Arabic expression ḥasyu al-tha`lab, “fox testicles”, but it appears more likely the name comes directly from the Arabic name saḥlab. The similarity in appearance to testes naturally accounts for salep being considered an aphrodisiac.


  • The dried leaves of Jumellea fragrans are used to flavor rum on Reunion Island.


  • Some saprophytic orchid species of the group Gastrodia produce potato-like tubers and were consumed as food by native peoples in Australia and can be successfully cultivated, notably Gastrodia sesamoides. Wild stands of these plants can still be found in the same areas as early aboriginal settlements, such as Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park in Australia. Aboriginal peoples located the plants in habitat by observing where bandicoots had scratched in search of the tubers after detecting the plants underground by scent.


Traditional Medicinal Uses

Orchids have been used in traditional medicine in an effort to treat many diseases and ailments. They have been used as a source of herbal remedies in China since 2800 BC. Gastrodia elata is one of the three orchids listed in the earliest known Chinese Materia Medica (Shennon bencaojing) (c. 100 AD). Theophrastus mentions orchids in his Enquiry into Plants (372–286 BC).


Bletilla striata  is used as a traditional haemostatic agent for haemorrhage from any cause in Chinese medicine.


  • Bleeding
  • vomiting blood
  • coughing blood
  • nose bleeds
  • bleeding from trauma
  • Tuberculosis

When employed in herbal remedies, the tuber is peeled and dried in the sun, then cut into slices or ground into a powder.

Dried Bletilla root is sold at many herbal shops


Usually, practitioners recommend between 3 and 15 grams of bletilla, taken as a powder. Larger amounts can be applied to the skin, usually mixed with sesame oil.

Experiments shows that Bletilla striata shortens the coagulation time, inhibits the degradation of fibrin, and promotes thrombosis and the closure of the wound Bai-Ji is very sticky and it may inflate when it meets water.


Nowadays, it is also widely used intra-arterially in the treatment of cancer of the liver, kidney and uterus. This way, Bai-Ji induces the necrosis of carcinoma in combination with other anti-cancer drugs.Bai-Ji has been tested in a controlled study and reported to be better than gelfoam embolization.

Other Species used in Chinese Medicine

Gastrodia elata 

Gastrodia_elata_1   root_gastrodia-elata

  • Headache
  •  Dizziness
  • Epilepsy
  • Cramps
  • Pains
  • Migraine
  • Hemiplegia
  • Deafness
  • Tinnitus

Dendrobium nobile


• Dry mouth
• Low grade fever
• Swelling
• Impotence
• Insects in the ear
• Menstrual pain
• Hyperglycaemia
•Perfumes clothes



  • Orchids have many associations with symbolic values. For example, the orchid is the City Flower of Shaoxing, China.
  • Cattleya mossiae is the national Venezuelan flower, while
  • Cattleya trianae is the national flower of Colombia.
  • Vanda ‘Miss Joaquim’ is the national flower of Singapore.

Blog 114-365


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