Updated: Oct 8
It’s Orchid season on PEI! To celebrate, I’d like to introduce you to some of the Island species whose paths I’ve crossed recently.
The Orchid Family (Orchidaceae) is one of the largest and oldest families of flowering plants, comprised of roughly 28,000 species and dating back some 100 million years. They’ve had a long time to evolve complex (and beautiful!) flowers and reproductive strategies. Orchids are pollinated by animals – mainly insects – and go to great lengths to attract pollinators. Some emit powerful smells that bring in insects, even when the flowers themselves offer no nectar. Others cleverly mimic female insects to trick males into landing and pollinating as they attempt to mate.
Once pollinated, Orchids produce huge quantities of seed per flower, ranging from tens of thousands to millions. Flowering plants often attach a food reserve (called an endosperm) to each seed to help it get started and germinate. Because Orchid seeds are so tiny, they lack this endosperm. Most species compensate by requiring a partnership with soil fungi to germinate, making them very difficult to grow in captivity.
Perhaps because of their beauty and difficulty to cultivate, Orchids have long captured humans’ imaginations. Historically, Orchids were collected from the wild in large numbers, leading to many species becoming rare. More recently, plant breeders have created hundreds of thousands of new, domestic hybrids and cultivars. Personally, I prefer seeing wild Orchids in their natural habitats.
PEI has more than three dozen species of Orchids. Across Canada, plant and animal species are ranked from S1 (very rare) to S5 (very common). You can learn about three more Island orchids - our Lady Slipper (Cypripedium species) in this recent blog post: https://www.pei-untamed.com/post/lady-s-slippers