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Medicinal and aesthetic value of orchids – Mysuru Today

Dr C Hemavathi

By Dr C Hemavathi

Different types of orchids have different appearances and personalities which are suited to different uses and occasions. The ancient Greeks had considered orchids a symbol of virility. The Greek language had a significant impact on the names of various orchids. People across the globe had used orchids for medicinal purposes. But, the use of orchids in medicine has declined in the absence of scientific research on their effectiveness and adverse effects.

The medicinal properties of orchids were first discovered by the Chinese emperor Shen Nung, known as the Father of Chinese medicine. He had referred to the Dendrobium species and Bletilla striata in his medical writings way back in the 28th century BC. The orchid family includes more than 25,000 individual species that come from various continents except for Antarctica.

Most people are interested in orchids for their vivid flowers. Orchids often have very interesting, showy blooms. The fragrant orchids make up one of the largest and most diverse groups of flowering plants in the world. Some of the best types of flowers deserve a place of pride in the garden. The high volume of orchid varieties is due to the competitive plant environment like tropical areas.

Orchids compete with other plants to attract pollinators since the reproductive strategies vary widely. Most have a single pollinator, or a small selection of pollinators. Some are truly specialised. Plants in the genus Orchids are even more unusual. The flowers mimic female bees and are pollinated by male bees which mate with the flowers. They bloom in every colour except blue and black. Orchids are known for their showy and sweet-smelling flowers that make them the best fragrant outdoor plants.

Orchid flowers share the same fundamental structure – three sepals, three petals, two lateral petals to the sides and a lip, or labellum, positioned at the bottom of the flower which is typically large and showy. The sepals and petals are together called tepals. The pistil and stamen of an orchid flower are fused into a single structure called the column, which is positioned at the centre of the flower. In most types, pollen occurs in hard lumps called pollinia. The ovary of an orchid flower is always located behind the flower. If the plant is pollinated, the seeds grow. Orchids have special characteristics called Resupination with upright flowers which have a 180° twist in the ovary.

There are as many as 1,800 different species of Dendrobium orchids that can be grown in small pots at home. They often have tall, top-heavy blooms that require staking for support.  Temperate orchids are generally terrestrial, while tropical orchids tend to be epiphytic. Epiphytic orchids’ roots have an outer whitish layer called velamen, which absorbs moisture from the air and helps them cling to tree bark.

Dendrobium orchids require cooler temperatures and less humidity than other orchids. Dendrobium orchids are a joy to grow. Dendrobiums are divided into sections or types. There are as many as 1,800 different species of Dendrobium orchids. They grow in small pots with tall and top-heavy blooms that require staking for support. In China, the plant is used to treat rheumatism.

Phalaenopsis orchids are known for their simplicity and elegance. They are widely used in modern floral arrangements. One of the most common types of orchids, Phalaenopsis orchids are ideal for beginners in gardening. Cymbidium orchids were once the official orchid species used for making Mother’s Day corsages. The name ‘Cymbidium Orchid’ is derived from the word ‘Kymbos’ meaning boat, which is descriptive for this flower’s bottom lip.

Cattleya orchids were highly-favoured by brides in the 1940s and 1950s. They were used in bridal bouquets and wedding decorations. The lips are usually large and the flower’s centre has a contrasting colour to the flower. There are different hybrids of cattleya which come in a wide array of colors and shades of white, yellow, purple, pink, orange and red.

Dried Dendrobium possesses medicinal properties for treating cancer, strengthening the immune system and improvement of eyesight. Salep in Turkey is a type of flour that is produced by grinding tubers of Orchis militaris, Orchis mascula and other kinds of orchids with ovoid tubers. It also cures sore throat, digestive problems, diarrhoea and gum disease. Orchids were often utilised for treating brutal coughs, lung diseases, eye diseases, kidney diseases and stomach deficiencies.

Orchids are known for their aesthetic qualities and used as decorative items at homes, offices and public places. Orchids are indeed an extraordinary symbol for love, refinement, beauty, charm, fertility and thoughtfulness. It is also a symbol of luxury and refined taste. Rich people are obsessed with collecting orchids as a matter of pleasure and pride.

(The writer is Associate Professor and Head, Government College for Women, Vijayanagar, Mysuru)

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