15 Shocking Rainforest Orchid Facts That Will Amaze You

The image that comes to our mind when we talk about rainforest orchids is their exquisite blooms with various shapes and patterns according to the species of orchids and their cultivars. Their living area is spread between South America and Central America, especially in the Amazon rainforest, Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines. But apparently, there are some rainforest orchid facts that few people still do not know about.

These orchids have specific characteristics that make them unique, such as having a remarkable symbiosis with fungi to survive, a bizarre pollination process, and fantastic adaptability.

If you are a lover or collector of orchids, our rainforest orchid facts will surely amaze you. Interested? Let’s take a look!

1. 1/3 of Species Thrive in Tropical Rainforests

Orchids are flowering plants with diverse species, consisting of approximately 25,000 to 30,000 species spread worldwide. Of these, one-third live in the tropical rain-forest, particularly in the rain forest canopy. Meanwhile, the number covers about 8% of all flowering species, the largest family in the world.

rainforest orchid facts
1/3 of Species Thrive in Tropical Rain-forests

These plant species are epiphytes, meaning that the orchids live on top of their hosts. However, unlike parasites, epiphytic orchids utilize nutrients from the air, falling rain, and natural compost from rotting leaves or tree branches. Furthermore, they have roots that hang on tall trees and use them to absorb water that drips through tree trunks.

2. One Pod Bears Millions Of Seeds

Like most plant species, rainforest orchids have seeds stored in seed pods.

Depending on the species and cultivars, the size of orchid seed pods varies from about 1 to 7 cm. However, their seeds can be blown away like dust due to their microscopic size, ranging from 0.3 to 0.8 mm. There is even a species whose seed diameter is only 0.05 mm.

rainforest orchid facts
One Pod Bears Millions Of Seeds
rainforest orchid facts
Orchid Seed Pods

Considering the size, one pod can store thousands to millions of seeds. In fact, according to research from Arditii written in the journal New Phytologist, several species can produce seeds up to 6 million, for example, Cattleya orchids. Furthermore, these seeds are actually one of the keys to their existence in the forest.

3. Have Exceptional Adaptability

Many species of rainforest orchids have good adaptability to their natural habitat. Some of them that live in tropical rainforests in South and Central America even can grow as shrubs or vines as their way of survival. 

rainforest orchid facts
Rainforest Orchids Have Exceptional Adaptability
rainforest orchid facts
Rainforest Orchids

In addition, their aerial root system helps to thrive by allowing them to absorb nutrients from the air or falling rain. Their secondary stem is also capable of storing water, preparing them when drought comes. Additionally, the velamen in the flowers plays a role in gas exchange into the atmosphere. With these extraordinary survival skills, orchids can live in the rain-forests.

4. Build A Relationship With Fungi

Since most rain forest orchid species are epiphytes, they build a strong relationship with fungi in their early stages of life. This condition is called mycoheterotrophy. As we know that most orchids need bees, insects, or flies to help them with pollination.

Meanwhile, mycorrhizal fungi are necessary for seed germination, seedling recruitment, and adult plant growth. This fungus supports minerals, carbons, and water for rain-forest orchids since their seeds do not have such nutrients to grow and develop. 

rainforest orchid facts
Rain-forest Orchids Build A Relationship with Fungi
rainforest orchid facts
Rain-forest Orchids

Moreover, some of them remain dependent on this fungus for the rest of their lives and the rest are autotrophic or share carbon supply modes. Considering this matter, some argue that the bond between orchids and mycorrhizal fungi has influenced the availability or rarity of these orchids. 

5. They Can Live Up To 20 Years

These factors are related to the increasing prevalence of illegal logging and global warming, which leads to climate change. Despite being exceptionally tolerant flowering plants, their growth is disrupted if the growing area is disturbed. 

Rain-forest orchids can live up to 20 years in their natural habitat, a bit longer than potted orchids with only 10-15 years of lifespan. And like most orchids, it highly depends on environmental factors, such as temperature, humidity, precipitation, sunlight exposures, and the presence of other plants and fungi.

rainforest orchid facts
Rain-forest Orchid in Tree

Massive deforestation has caused rainforest orchids to lose their hosts. Apart from being hosts, these trees also help them to carry out photosynthesis, pollination, and reproduction. Furthermore, it also reduces the shade of the forest canopy, protecting the orchids from sun exposure while keeping the soil moist. As a result, the forest floor can experience drought, resulting in reduced groundwater supply. 

Even though some species of rainforest orchids are drought-tolerant as they have organs to store water, they ultimately cannot survive if this condition continues. Reduced rainfall due to climate change further exacerbates this condition.

6. Their Habitat Defines The Leaves Structure

You can easily observe the different characteristics of rain forest orchids from their physical appearance. Those growing on trees (epiphytic) and rocks (lithophytic) generally have waxy and thick leaves. They also feature thicker cell walls, cuticles, and sunken stomata. These typical leaves preserve water when their hosts experience drought. 

rainforest orchid facts
Habitat Rain-forest Orchid Defines The Leaves Structure
rainforest orchid facts
Their Habitat Defines The Leaves Structure

Meanwhile, erect growing habits and hairy roots are seen in those orchid species that grow on the ground surface (terrestrial orchids). These types of orchids have rhizomes, tubers, and corms

7. Bulbophyllum Is World’s Largest Orchid Genus 

Bulbophyllum is a rain forest orchid that is the largest orchid genus in the world, having around 2,000 species. There was a debate about the origin of this genus. But some argue that it was first found in Papua New Guinea. Its distribution includes tropical rain forests worldwide, including in the Madagascar, Neotropics, Africa, and Asia-Pacific regions.

rainforest orchid facts
Bulbophyllum Frostii
rainforest orchid facts
Bulbophyllum Phalaenopsis

In addition, Bulbophyllum orchids are popular for their extravagant colors and shapes. Contrary to its appearance, this flower has an unpleasant odor, for example, Bulbophyllum beccarii, which some people think smells like a rotten fish, attracting flies to pollinate.

8. Produce Oil Scents

Some rain forest orchids produce oil scents that attract bees to visit. One of which is the bucket orchid. The bucket orchid belongs to the rain forest orchid family that produces oil scents with a distinctive aroma in its bucket, attracting specific male bees to visit. These bees also need the smell to attract the attention of female bees. They will fly into the bucket full of oil scents and unknowingly slip into it.

rainforest orchid facts
The Bucket Orchid

Frankly, the only way they can get out of that “pool” is by crawling on the tube of an orchid bucket full of pollen. When that happens, their bodies have attached a lot of pollen and fertilize other orchids once they fly and get into their tunnel.

9. They Can Be Invasive

Perhaps all this time, we thought rain-forest orchids were a rare species whose existence was near to extinction. However, when we searched for rain-forest orchid facts, we found that 90 species of orchids are considered invasive, including Arundina graminifolia.

Arundina graminifolia or Bamboo Orchid is a native rain-forest orchid to Southeast Asia. In Asia, habitat distribution includes India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Philippines, China, and Papua New Guinea. Meanwhile, this species has spread to North and South America.

rainforest orchid facts
Arundina Graminifolia or Bamboo Orchid
Bamboo Orchid
Bamboo Orchid

But how did it happen? Although they were not previously classified as invasive, some believed they have extraordinary adaptability when introduced to novel environments. They can quickly reproduce without human assistance. Furthermore, some characteristics of these invasive species are rapid development, self-fertilization, abundant seed production, disturbance tolerance, and broad distribution.

10. Vanilla Orchid Gives Us ‘Vanilla’ Flavour

It is one of the most jaw-dropping rain-forest orchid facts that we have discovered! As its name suggests, Vanilla planifolia or Vanilla Orchid is the most flavorful orchid that produces a sweet aroma and taste of vanilla. This flavor is particularly extracted from the orchid’s pods. Additionally, it is the only commercially grown orchid crop in the world.

rainforest orchid facts
Vanilla Orchid Gives Us ‘Vanilla’ Flavour
Vanilla Orchid
Vanilla Orchid

To begin, this orchid was first discovered in the 16th century by Aztec Indians before entering Europe. From this point, European royalty started to introduce this flavoring to their kitchen, and made its way to become one of the most famous spices worldwide. 

11. You Can Eat Some of Them

Generally, most orchids are edible. People add the flowers as a garnish to their dessert, while others eat the tubers. Some of the edible orchids you can consume are Disa, Habeniaria, Satyrium, and Cymbidium. However, little did we know that we can safely eat some parts of rain-forest orchids too!

rainforest orchid facts
Dendrobium Orchid
rainforest orchid facts
Dendrobium Speciosum

Besides the extracted seed pods of Vanilla planifolia, you can also eat Dendrobium orchid, particularly the pseudobulbs of Dendrobium speciosum. In Australia, edible pseudobulbs are usually consumed in an emergency. For example, when you got lost in the forest. However, make sure to grill or boil them first before eating them. 

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12. Great Traditional Medicines

One of the most exciting rain-forest orchid facts is its benefits as traditional medicines. In some areas in Indonesia, especially Sumatra and Borneo, several genera of rain-forest orchids, as it turns out, are already commonly used to treat various health complaints. For example, boiled and crushed Arundina graminifolia (Bamboo Orchid) can cure wounds, rheumatic, and snake bites by applying the orchid to the affected area.

rainforest orchid facts
Arundina Graminifolia (Bamboo Orchid)
rainforest orchid facts
Phaius Tankervilleae (Lady’s Tankerville Swamp Orchid)

Meanwhile, the pseudobulbs, leaves, or the entire plant of Phaius tankervilleae (Lady’s Tankerville Swamp Orchid) may cure coughs, cold fever, and dysentery. However, we do not recommend massively picking rain forest orchids since most of them are critically endangered. 

13. Cultivation Of Rain-forest Orchids Is Not Easy

Cultivating rain-forest orchids is necessary as a conservation effort, especially for endangered species. Fortunately, a group of researchers from Brazil tried to use in vitro culture and acclimatization methods for Cattleya xanthina, a threatened orchid species of the Brazilian Atlantic Rain-forest, to try growing them in a culture media.

rainforest orchid facts
Cultivation of Rain-forest Orchids is Not Easy

As a result, acclimatization using Spaghnum bark and bark culture media had the best results. Meanwhile, high concentrations of auxins and cytokinins stimulated root development, shoot growth, and photosynthetic pigments. However, there is still a lot to understand about the pollination process and mycorrhizal associations because these two components are critical in their growth and reproduction process.

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14. The Smallest Rainforest Orchid Is Only 2.1 mm Wide

Among all rain-forest orchid facts, this one is the newest fact we have found! While some orchid flowers generally grow a few inches of sepals (can be 2-9 inches, depending on species), Platystele jungermannioides is only 2.1 mm wide. And for that reason, this new species of orchid flower is the smallest orchid species in the world.

rainforest orchid facts
The Smallest Rain-forest Orchid is Only 2.1 mm Wide

It was first discovered in 2009 by Lou Jost, an American botanist, while observing the roots of a much larger orchid in Cerro Candelaria Reserve, Ecuador. So small, the sepals were only as prominent as a cell with a transparent color.

15. Pollinator’s Dependence

Unlike other flowering plants, they have a high dependency on one particular pollinator to help them pollinate. It can be bees, birds, or insects. Unfortunately, once the pollinator stops coming, it will also lead orchids to go extinct since it disturbs the reproduction process.

rainforest orchid facts
Rain-forest Orcid Pollinator’s Dependence

This reason is that each orchid species features a distinctive sepal shape with different pollen access spaces. Hence, there is only one type of pollinator that has the special ability to access this area to collect the orchid pollen.

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