Inside The New York Botanical Garden

What Makes an Orchid Different from Other Flowers?

Posted in Exhibitions, The Orchid Show on March 17 2010, by Plant Talk

Jessica Blohm is Interpretive Specialist for Public Education.

Orchids are one of the largest genera of flowering plants, with about 30,000 species worldwide. Orchids vary widely in their appearance. Many have stunningly beautiful flowers with stripes and spots, while others are almost ugly with hairs and even warty bumps. What do all these striking flowers have in common?

In describing a plant genus so vast and so diverse, it is almost safe to say that there are no rules. However, botanists generally agree that one feature above all others defines the orchid and differentiates it from virtually all other flowering plants: the fusion of the male portion of the flower (stamen) and female portion (pistil) into one structure called the column—often visible protruding from the center.

Look for these orchid parts on the more than 7,000 orchids in The Orchid Show: Cuba in Flower. (Click on the image to view it larger.)

Sepal—one of the three outer parts of an orchid flower that protects the petals
Pollinia—a solid mass of pollen found in the anther
Column—the fused sexual organ of an orchid flower
Petal—the three petals on an orchid are the true flower; one is modified into a lip
Lip (or Labellum)—a specialized petal, unique to orchids
Ovary—the part of the flower that develops into the fruit
Ovule—a small protuberance in the ovary, capable of forming a seed when fertilized
Stigma—the sticky area of the pistil that receives the pollen

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Lorraine Alexander said:

Jessica, I visited the Orchid Show this spring with friends from the Millbrook Garden Club, and I am writing a small article for our newsletter (due by the 27th!). My tape recorder malfunctioned, and my naming of the flowers is thus lost. I have about 6 photos‚ and wonder if anyone at the NYBG could i.d. them for me. I would be so very grateful. I could send the photos via email of course.
Also, is there any written account of the exhibition put out by NYBG? ( I was unable to enlarge my photos of the narrative boards that were part of the show.) I only need something pretty abbreviated, but I did not buy the catalogue—if there was one? Thank you. Lorraine Alexander

Terri Andrews said:

Jessica, This is the first article I have found that points out individual orchids parts with their names. I have been looking everywhere.

I appreciate the effort and the great info :) I will be posting a link to your site on mine…

Thanks again,
Terri A.

Check out some info on orchid type.

Terri Andrews - Caring for Orchids said:

Here’s another link to share with anyone who is looking for more info on growing orchids:

I hope you don’t mind if I use this picture on my site as well :)