orchid

Introduction

orchid, popular name for members of the Orchidaceae, a family of perennial herbs widely distributed in both hemispheres. The unusually large family (of some 450 genera and an estimated 10,000 to 17,500 species) includes terrestrial, epiphytic (see epiphyte), and saprophytic (subsisting on decomposing material) genera. Although the latter may sometimes lack chlorophyll, none is actually parasitic. Orchids grow most abundantly in tropical and subtropical forests, where they are largely epiphytic; the temperate genera thrive in all kinds of shaded habitats except excessively dry or cold ones. Most temperate orchids and all those of Arctic are terrestrial.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

See more Encyclopedia articles on: Plants