The Compleat Gardener: An Introduction to Orchids

Welcome to the World of Orchids

If you want to learn about the magnificent world of orchids, this article will help you get started going through the morass of information on the Internet. Please understand that this is only an eclectic introduction to these wonderful plants. Very few persons who begin with one or two can stop there. Don't be surprised at wanting more and more. Orchids can quickly become the magnificent obsession of your life, maybe even extending to a spiritual participation.

Read on to discover your obsession . . . .

The Spectacular Orchids

More than any other plant growers orchid enthusiasts hear an awed "What is that beautiful flower?". Probably since our minds could consider beauth, orchid flowers have been considered the most beautiful flower ever created. Of course, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so there must be a person somewhere who doesn't like an orchid, but I don't know any.

The Orchidaceae family has been collected and studied for more than 200 years with taxonomists describing over 800 genera and 24,000 species plus. But, probably more importantly, orchid enthusiasts have cultivated thousands and thousands of varieties called cultivars. Actually, most of the plants you might see at an orchid sale/show would be cultivars, not the original species.

Orchids are monocotyledons which places them in the same group of plants as the grasses and palms. Such plants have the leaf veins running longwise as opposed to the dicotyledonous plants which have radially formed veins.

Orchids can be found in almost any ecosystem in the world, especially the tropical climates. In many countries they have been collected to almost extinction. Most countries recognize the inherent worth of these plants and protect them; however, that has been only semi-successful as their beauty places them under constant pressure from collectors.


Marie Selby Botanical Gardens - Orchid Research Center

The Research Center at Selby Gardens was established in 1975 to study and curate wild-collected and conservatory grown species of orchids and to serve as a center for their identification. Selby Gardens has been a recognized center for identifying orchid species and confirming identities of orchids that win American Orchid Society awards. It has provided determinations to institutions and individuals from around the world. The Research Center has amassed a collection of more than 20,000 taxonomic reference files, a large collection of photographs, and 24,000 spirit preserved specimens (orchid flowers in alcohol). It has particular strengths in collections from Mexico, Central America, Andean South America, and Venezuela. Additionally, The Gardens has a publishing arm that publishes books, journals, and papers (see latest publication on orchids below) concerned with epiphytes from the tropics around the world.

Selby Gardens is located in downtown Sarasota, Florida on lovely Sarasota Bay. Stop and see us when you are in the area. You won't be disappointed.

Orchid Dictionary, by Peggy Aldrich and Wesley Higgins

The Orchid Dictionary, published in Association with Selby Botanical Gardens Press, is a compendium of every name ever given to an orchid with pictures and descriptions. It is probably more scientific than most beginning orchidophiles might want, but soon you will want to know more about the orchids you acquire.

A quote about the book:

"The hundreds of orchid genera and thousands of species can seem unbelievably complex, but they are beautiful, mysterious, and alluring. Therefore we want reliable ways in which to refer to them--ways that will be understood by those who hear us or read our written communications about these plants. The Marie Selby Botanical Gardens Illustrated Dictionary of Orchid Genera will become a convenient reference for those many people who are fascinated by orchids. By referring to this guide, one can find a secure mooring for any species of orchid, one that makes it possible to understand its relatives and its place in the galaxy of orchid variation."--from the Foreword by Peter H. Raven,

The Marie Selby Botanical Gardens Illustrated Dictionary of Orchid Genera is the most comprehensive and extensively illustrated account of orchid genera to date.

A Book for The Novice

Probably you will want to get a guidebook to help you to grow your orchids. There are hundreds of orchids available, and each species/cultivar wants to be treated in a certain way to grow best. Some won't be able to grow in the environment that you can provide, so you will need information to help you decide on what to buy. The best beginners book right now is Understanding Orchids: An Uncomplicated Guide to Growing the World's Most Exotic Plants by William Cullina. However, there are many others that you can get that will be just as good by searching Amazon. You can even find some used books or you can read them on your Kindle. Click on the book below and then make your search and select the one that appeals to you.

American Orchid Society - Education, Conservation, Research

"The American Orchid Society is more than just a flower club. Throughout its 85-year history the AOS, in keeping with its vision and mission, has strived to bring our members timely and state-of-the-art orchid information, support basic and applied research in orchids, and monitor and support conservation effort both here in North America as well as throughout the World."

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There are many places on the Web that you can find orchid pictures. The ones below are shown just whet your appetite. Please feel free to use any photos for you own personal use. Please email me at for commercial use.


© 2014 Wes Rouse

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