The beautiful orchid, a God’s gift to humans, is actually a group of plants consisting of 600-800 genera and 25,000-35,000 species. Theophrastus, the Father of Botany, gave the name Orchids to this group of plants due to the similarity of the paired underground tubers to the male anatomy. Indian Vedic scriptures call these plants Vrinda. Orchids display an unbelievable range of variety in the size, shape and colour of flowers. They form the top cadre in being the most pampered plants among all the flowering plants, valued for cut flowers and as potted plants. Their flowers last longer and these bewitchingly beautiful flowers are highly valued in the international market.
Availability: Natives of tropical countries, these plants are found in the humid tropical forests in the wild. India has about 1600 species out of which 200 are found in South India, particularly the Western Ghats and another 800 species in Assam. 25 species of Orchids in 17 genera have been identified from Sirumalai in Tamil Nadu. Orchids abundantly grow in the 1500 mile Himalayan belt of Kalimpong. This area is called the Orchid Heaven. However, according to Mr. Ajit Joshi, Hon. General Secretary of National Society of Friends of Trees, orchids are found all over India.
Orchids are a specialized group of plants and are found in a variety of terrain that ranges from dark humid areas, rocky crevices, mass covered water dripping rocks and trunks of trees, etc. They present with a varied vegetative and floral structures. He explains, “Some orchids are epiphytic (growing on other plants-particularly trees) and some are terrestrial (growing on soil).”
However, the orchids in the North Eastern region are of the best type due to their exotic nature. Mr. Joshi enlightens that these orchids from the North Eastern region grow in cold and humid places.
Uses: The orchid is a delicate plant and highly coveted one among ornamental plants. The striking and elegant orchid signifies love, beauty, luxury and strength. In ancient Greece, orchids represented virility. Orchids represent delicate beauty. Pink orchids, which are called the 14th wedding anniversary flowers, express pure affection and mature charm is represented by Cattelya orchid.
Though many species of these genera are of ornamental value, these exotic plants have other uses too. One species of Vanilla planifolia and V. fragrans, yields our very own vanilla flavor for ice creams, cakes, etc. Many orchid species have medicinal uses too. Dendrobium officinale has been used for medicinal purposes for centuries. Dried bulbs and stems have been used to build the immune system, against cancer, for improvement of eye-sight and regaining strength for healing (for healers). Orchid tubers yield salep, which is used as emollient, demulcent and aphrodisiac. The sap of some species are extracted and used as styptic. These parts are rich in nutritive substances and help the plant in tiding over the dry season. Fungistatic compounds called Phytoalexins were first discovered in orchids. Phytoalexins are naturally produced fungicides as a reaction to fungal infection. Dried Dendrobium stems are made into herbal tea. Orchid flowers yield exclusive and finest quality tea. Orchid flower tea is a truly rare treat for not just the orchid lovers but also for tea enthusiasts and health conscious people.
Highly Prized: Orchids have been over-harvested in the recent years. Asked why they are high priced and out-of-reach for the floral enthusiasts, Mr. Joshi replies, “It works on the basis of demand and supply. Demand of orchids is more than supply. Production is less as compared to demand.”
Due to over-harvesting, the situation has come to this that many orchids have become rare and their population has dwindled to the extent of extinction.
Solution: Mr. Joshi suggests the following to create a supply channel for the high demand for orchids, “Orchids are grown in glass houses for commercial purposes. However, large scale production is by tissue culture and this increases the cost of production.”
The situation warrants sustainable and organic cultivation. Biodiversity protection, sustainable crop production and fair trade practices are the need of the hour.