Tuesday, July 17, 2007

All about orchids

Scientists discovered a new species of orchid yesterday. It has two peculiar characteristics: quarter-inch wide tennis-ball yellow flowers, and an odor of sweaty feet. Apparently there are some good pollinating bugs that like smelly tennis balls.

The word orchid comes from the Greek Orchis, meaning testicles, probably from how pseudobulbs look in some species.

Ranging in size from the Epidendrons at 3 inches to the Gramatophyllums at 20 feet plus, twenty-five thousand orchid species have been described, and at least 100,000 more hybrids have been bred.

The newly discovered orchid joins an interesting family. The Masdevalia orchid may be a cousin: it stinks even worse, and attracts lots the flies. Lady Slipper orchids trap visitors with a deep pocket, with just one way out that leads to pollination. A Eurasian genus has flowers that look like female bumble bees so that males flying nearby are fooled into doing the pollinating – of the plant not the female bumble bee. Another orchid species identified by Darwin can even launch its pollen sacks with incendiary force.

Vanilla is an orchid. Madagascar produces 40% of the world’s 7.3 million metric tons, and The Coca-Cola Company is the world's largest user of vanilla.

Want to see the new orchid for yourself? Park officials said they wouldn’t say exactly where the plant was found because even with sweaty feet and all they were concerned visitors might love it to death. Maybe they’ll support the orchid by staying home and drinking Coke.

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