The many forms and colours of orchid blooms
Orchids are Fantastic Plants, beautiful and minimalist
Most living creatures require some method to obtain nutrition and for plants, that means the nutrients suspended in the water, or from the ground in which they grow. For animals, it means that they have to devour plants at least, of in the case of carnivores, other animals. Lichens come close to being independent from any of this, digesting and living on solid rocks with the help of algae, but there is a life form that surpasses even this and that is the family of orchids. “A majority of orchids are perennial epiphytes, which grow anchored to trees or shrubs in the tropics and subtropics. Other species are lithophytes, growing on rocks or very rocky soil, or are terrestrial. Nearly all temperate orchids are terrestrial. ”(1)
There are some called epiphytes that are the closest to being breathairians. “An epiphyte is a plant that grows upon another plant (such as a tree) non-parasitically or sometimes upon some other object (such as a building or a telegraph wire), derives its moisture and nutrients from the air and rain and sometimes from debris accumulating around it, and is found in the temperate zone (as many mosses, liverworts, lichens and algae) and in the tropics (as many ferns, cacti, orchids, and bromeliads) – also called air plants” (2). So called air plants are thus more common than most of us think. They are among the most interesting species in nature due to their characteristic of being the closest thing we know of being a true breathairian. For the sake of clarity, a breathairian is any living entity that lives solely by breathing alone, requiring no water or food obtained by the usual means. Now any of these plants also require sunshine of some source of light in order to live from photosynthesis, so they can also be called light dependent feeders. They draw water and trace nutrients from the surrounding atmosphere. Thus they have a preference for damp misty climates like near waterfalls and where clouds form easily, such as in steaming jungles and windward sides of mountains or fog prone regions, such as where a cold current meets a warm current and the evaporate from the warm current is condensed to a fog due to air cooled over a cold current.
They come from tiny sized to the truly impressive in size. The leaves are spear shaped to ovate with parallel veins and often thick and grow in opposing pairs. When they flower, they typically produce a single spike with a row of flowers that bloom from the lowest to the last one at the end of the spike in succession. The flowers themselves will come in many fantastic shapes, too varied to discuss here.
Orchids grow the world around and are not restricted to the tropics as most people are inclined to believe; however, it is the tropical version that we find in most peoples homes or offices simply because of the long lasting and beautiful blooms. Typically, in their natural setting, they grow in branches of trees in regions where there is a lot of moisture such as near cloud condensation regions and waterfalls. The plant literally absorbs everything it needs from the air and sunlight. The roots are designed more for support than for absorbing nutrients. Some have a bulb from which the leaves, stem and blooms grow, while others have thick gnarly roots that serve to wrap around stones and branches for support.
People have become fond of these plants and the variety is stunning with every conceivable form and color. They are often placed in glass vases with marbles or some other decorative fill and then placed where they can get light and some moisture. The affectionadoes of these plants will mist them periodically with a mister containing water and a dilute mix of nutrients. Orchids do not bloom frequently, so patience is required to see the often spectacular flowers. Once in bloom, with care, the blooms will last for months, which is true for no other flowering plant where flowers last mere days. Due to their acquired popularity, orchids have been going through a population boom.
There are of course, other plants that are in the category of living from sunshine and what they draw from the air. Many of these live in almost bone dry climates like deserts and have learned by be self contained, often for more than a year at a time. When rain does come, they will gorge themselves, grow rapidly and flower to allow for the fertilization and production of seeds for the next generation. Then as the next prolonged dry spell ensues, they go into a quiet sustaining stage, where they live solely on sunlight.
2. Webster's Third New International Dictionary of the English Language, Unabridged . (1976). Vol. I, p. 764. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. Chicago.